Operation Outdoor Freedom

Operation Outdoor Freedom

Bringing Wounded Veterans to the Great Outdoors

BY LAVERNE STEVENS

The state of Florida has a unique program in place whereby they purchase large parcels of property and agricultural lands. These lands are maintained so the original Florida landscape can be preserved for future generations. Operation Outdoor Freedom demonstrates one of the ways these lands are used along with other state owned lands.

Jonathan Pruden

Adam H. Putnam, Commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture, championed the Operation Outdoor Freedom program to provide recreational and rehabilitation opportunities to Florida wounded veterans. Ned Waters is the State Program Coordinator of this department and David Hunt is the Assistant Coordinator. Both Waters and Hunt are employed by the Florida Forest Service and oversee events for Operation Outdoor Freedom.

“It’s great to be part of an effort that involves the Florida Forest Service and local communities from the Panhandle to the Keys, offering outdoor opportunities for those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom. The program’s success has been overwhelming,” said Waters.

UNGUIDED EVENTS, GUIDED EVENTS, and PRIVATE EVENTS comprise the setup of activities. UNGUIDED EVENTS have wounded veterans choose which event in which they want to participate. They submit an application. Applications are chosen in a lottery type drawing. Chosen participants are notified 30 days before the scheduled event. GUIDED EVENTS are guided by Florida State Forest Service employees and volunteers. These participants are selected by veterans’ organizations. Operation Outdoor Freedom partners with the Wounded Warrior Project and the Military Order of the Purple Heart. PRIVATE EVENT selection is the same as for guided events, but these events are planned and funded by private landowners, ranchers, timber growers and private organizations. For example the Wounded Warrior Sportsman Fund hosts fishing trips in public waters.

Camp Prairie on Turkey Hunt

Thirty-plus events are scheduled each year to provide wounded veterans approximately 250 opportunities for recreation and rehabilitation. Eligibility requirements exist. The wounded veteran must provide proof of a service-connected disability rating of 30% or greater from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or they must be a Purple Heart recipient.

All events are funded by private donations or support groups. Some of the sponsors include Florida Beef Council, Florida Cattlemen Association, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Forestry Association, Polk County Government, Southwest and Northwest Water Management District, and Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.
Wounded veteran Matthew Parris related after his first hunting experience. “I wanted to send my deepest appreciation for the recent hunting expedition I went on in Cary State Forest. The staff made this experience a wonderful trip, and your care and attention to lending an ear just to listen to me ramble meant everything to me. The days are few and far between that I can be granted some serenity from the racing thoughts of daily civilian life. I slept like a baby last night!”Wounded veteran, Jason Hewitt shares, “Words cannot even begin to express the wonderful experience it was for me to get out and do something for the first time in two and a half years.”

Lands large mouth bass

Camp Prairie is a new work in progress being built in Ridge State Forest east of Lake Wales on the shores of Lake Kissimmee. Completion is in sight for this coming year. So far completion has taken place for a summer kitchen and a pavilion. Soon to be completed will be a bathhouse, two bunk houses, a boat dock and a shooting range.

The schedule for this year is September 2013 thru April 2014.

Check the web site www.operationoutdoorfreedom.com for the new schedule of events or if you would like to offer a donation to this worthwhile non-profit venture. 

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