OOA celebrates five years of giving back to soldiers
For the last five years, Operation Open Arms has led the way when it comes to inviting local businesses and individuals to show their gratitude for the sacrifices being made each day by our nation’s soldiers.
Established in April, 2005, founder, Capt. John “Giddyup” Bunch called on local business owners to help him with a novel idea. The concept would involved businesses providing products or services, free of charge, to those members of the military who were in Lee County on a temporary leave from duties with orders to return to combat in the middle east.
“Back in 2005 I received a call from a local woman asking that I take her son fishing while he was home on leave. As a former Marine and charter captain, of course I said yes,” said Bunch.
“While fishing with the young soldier, I began thinking that perhaps others would like to do something to show how much we appreciate what these young men and women are doing for their country. I began by approaching a couple of businesses here on Pine Island to make contributions that I would have posted on a Web site to be accessed by soldiers on leave and the rest, as they say, is history,” he said.
Among the first to come on board was the Tarpon Lodge in Pineland.
“Operation Open Arms is a great idea and John Bunch is a genius for coming up with the program. We feel privileged to be a part of it and since the onset we have seen a number of people who are serving in the military that have come to dine at the restaurant. I enjoyed meeting these people and having the opportunity to thank them personally for risk their lives for our country,” said Tarpon Lodge owner Rob Wells.
“We look forward to having more members of our military as our guests and we will continue to be involved with OOA for as long as the program exists and there is a need.”
Benefits available to visiting soldiers include everything from hair cuts to hotel accommodations and much more.
“Our mission is to provide every possible benefit through a variety of sponsors before our service men and women have to return to their duty in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba or other foreign duty stations,” Bunch said.
As a result of his innovative approach to contributing to the American Armed Forces, Bunch has been recognized in the media both locally and nationally as well as by political dignitaries.
In addition to receiving VIP tickets to a rally for Barack Obama while on the campaign trail in Fort Myers, Bunch has been the guest of several senators and congressmen and, in 2007, the Lee County Board of Commissions presented him with a proclamation declaring a week known at Capt. John “Giddyup” Bunch week.
He also is a past recipient of the Lee County EAwards and was named citizen of the year by the Pine Island Chamber of Commerce. While spreading the word about OOA Bunch has been interviewed by all forms of the local media and has made several appearances on the Today Show.
Operation Open Arms, a non-profit organization, which provides a Web site for those who would like to post items like free hotel stays, fishing trips, meals, gift certificates, services and more. Benefits are generally limited to one of each type of contribution and may also include members of the soldier’s immediate family.
To take advantages of the many offerings found at the OOA Web site, members of the military are asked to produce a valid military ID and official orders directing the solder to return to a foreign assigned post.
For additional information about Operation Open Arms, to make a contribution or to view supporters of OOA, visit operationopenarms.com