Marine, wife spend ‘honeymoon’ on Captiva with help from OOA
A young U.S. Marine is visiting Florida for the first time to spend a week on Captiva with his wife, thanks to the efforts of Operation Open Arms and the non-profit organization’s partners.
On May 3, Lance Cpl. Londan “Chase” and Ashlyn Harper, both 20, received a warm welcome at Southwest Florida International Airport after flying in from the U.S. Marine Corps Base in Twentynine Palms, California. They are staying with Jensen’s Twin Palm Cottages until they fly home on May 8.
“This will be Operation Open Arms’ 3,793 U.S. serviceman or servicewoman since 2005 that have enjoyed over $15.3 million in benefits,” Capt. John “GiddyUp” Bunch, founder of OOA, said.
He explained that Ashlyn Harper had reached out to him, inquiring if they were eligible.
“I kind of chuckled to myself and wrote back and said, ‘Absolutely,'” Bunch said.
He noted that Twentynine Palms MCAGCC is in the middle of the desert.
“It’s one of the U.S. Marine Corps’ four more dreadful bases,” Bunch said.
The couple is originally from West Virginia and Chase Harper enlisted right out of high school, according to his wife. Residing on the base, the two were married in January 2017 but never got to celebrate their honeymoon as her husband went directly into infantry training at the same time.
“He’s been in for a year and eight months,” Ashlyn said.
“This is the first vacation we’ve actually been on for ourselves,” she added.
While her husband was serving his first six-month tour in Syria, which he completed in mid-April, Ashlyn learned from another military spouse about OOA, as well as two other organizations that offer military service members benefits. She reached out to all three and OOA was the right fit for them.
“He’s very flexible,” she said of Bunch and their unpredictable schedule. “He understood.”
After hearing back from OOA, Ashlyn was surprised and excited.
“Honestly, you couldn’t believe it because it happened so fast and worked out so well,” she said. “He knew from being in the military how to make it work and how to be flexible.”
Chase was still in Syria when he received the call.
“She, honestly, just kind of surprised me,” he said, adding that his wife had talked about doing something for them when he returned from his deployment. “Then I called her one day.”
Chase said Ashlyn explained that they were going to get to vacation in Florida.
“I was all excited,” he said. “I’m just super grateful to have this vacation.”
While it is his first visit to the Sunshine State, Chase will fit right in.
“I want to fish, I want to swim in the ocean,” he said. “I just want to do everything.”
Ashlyn noted that Chase loves to fish and OOA proposed a variety of activities to do like deep sea fishing, parasailing and a baseball game. She added that her husband grew up playing baseball.
“My husband loves baseball, so he definitely would be interested,” she said.
Bunch explained that with the help of partners, like Jensen’s, OOA can offer opportunities like fishing charters, round of golf and tossing the first ball at a baseball game, even PTSD care – all for free.
“We’ll give them anything that they want while they’re here,” he said of the service members.
In the process of planning the trip, Bunch asked Ashlyn where they wanted to go.
“She said, ‘We just want to go to the beach and relax,'” he said.
Bunch instructed her to look into Jensen’s and it was a go after that.
“We like being secluded,” Ashlyn said. “Kind of the small town feeling.”
Bunch noted that he asks all OOA participants to give him a list of 10 items to stock in their refrigerator, so they can enjoy from the start without having to run out and buy necessities. With the Harpers, it was hard to get even five items because the couple seemed to not want to impose.
“Water, white bread, creamy peanut butter, grape jelly and Dr. Pepper. That’s all they wanted in their refrigerator,” Bunch said in amazement. “After doing 14 years of this – they asked for nothing.”
He said he eventually got Ashlyn to add that she would appreciate any chocolate.
OOA stocked the room with 35 Godiva chocolate bars.
“She should be on a great sugar high the whole time she’s here,” Bunch said.
Despite having no family in the military, Chase enlisted.
“That’s just something I really wanted to do since I was a little kid,” he said.
Chase picked the Marines because it offered him the biggest challenge.
“I just knew it’d be the hardest thing for me to do,” Chase said.
“They’re always in the front of the fight,” he added. “I like that about them.”
Bunch reported that Chase’s sergeant major provided him with a “glowing report.”
“He is an exceptional young Marine,” he said.
Jensen’s Twin Palm Cottages & Marina Resort has been a long-time partner with OOA.
“They are probably one of the greatest MVPs of OOA,” Bunch said.
“OOA has been great and they’ve done so much,” John Jensen, co-owner of Jensen’s, said. “When he (Bunch) calls us, we’re usually able to provide what we can in terms of rooms, boat rentals, bait.”
It also provides an opportunity for the resort to give back to those serving the county.
“We’ve always been strong supporters of the military and we appreciate what they do,” he said, adding that servicemen and servicewomen keep the United States safe. “It makes us able to do what we do.”
Chase noted that Jensen’s had already been so kind and it had only been their first day.
“They’re really making sure we have the perfect stay here,” he said.
Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts and Cartwheel Golf Cart Rentals are also among those who have stepped up to the plate for the Harpers. Part of Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts, ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa invited the couple to its Songwriter Saturdays, featuring a Nashville county singer.
“We’re going to buy them lunch down here,” Tony Lapi, president and chief executive officer of the Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts, said. “Whatever they ask of me, I’m more than happy to help.”
He explained that the company regularly supports the community in any way it can.
“We do a lot of cash and in-kind donations,” Lapi said. “It’s just in our DNA to give back.”
For more information about Operation Open Arms, visit www.operationopenarms.com.