Operation Open Arms

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 10.55.31 AMWhen giving to charities, one of the first things people want to know is, ‘How is my moneyIMG_0049 being spent?’ Those who give to the highly regarded and award winning organization, Operation Open Arms (OOA), not only help provide vacations for troops returning from combat and foreign duty stations, but also very valuable Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) care and treatment.

Having just celebrated its 11th anniversary, the charity has assisted more than 3,300 troops with over $12.1 million dollars in direct benefits.

IMG_1479It all began in St. James City when US Army Specialist, Travis Downes asked Captain John “Giddy Up” Bunch for recommendations on where to fish before returning for his second deployment in Iraq.

Bunch says, “Instead of telling him where, I took him myself. It occurred to me after, how wonderful I felt, that others would feel the same sense of service to their country by doing the same thing.”

Bad weather over the next few days kept Captain Bunch docked. He called a handful of fellow fishing buddies, restaurants and hotels to see if they would be interested in doing the same thing for servicemen on leave from combat duty.IMG_0047

He calls Operation Open Arms a “total accident” explaining, “I never intended to find a charity, it found me.”

For years Captain Bunch returned all donations, funding fishing trips on his own dime and calling in favors from others to do the same. In 2009, he finally formed a 501c3 to help offset costs of the one-week vacations; OOA has no payroll.

Captain Bunch is not just dedicated to welcoming troops to SWFL before they return to overseas duty, but also to providing care and treatment for PTSD. It can take weeks to get appointments at Veterans Administration Clinics for IMG_1643mental assistance when Bunch says, “they don’t need it in two weeks they need it now.”

In addition, OOA has planned weddings and helped fund a touching funeral for Fort Myers resident and Marine, Cpl. Thomas Jardas, killed in a helicopter collision in Hawaii in January.

Captain Bunch is quick to give credit for the success of OOA to other locals who offer food, lodging and recreation for a mere charity stipend saying, “They give, then they thank me for finding a way they can serve our country by serving the troops protecting it, it’s quite unique and amazing.”

With unbridled passion for OOA, Bunch concludes, “I’m on the 16th hole of my life, but on the 18th I can get in a rocking chair and honestly say there are those who think they’ve made a difference and those who know. When all is said and done I can say I helped put the ‘fort’ back in Fort Myers.”