FLORIDA IS HOME to more than 1.5 million veterans who have served our nation proudly. Many of these brave men and women were wounded in the course of their service, and while we can never repay their sacrifice, we’re working to honor them here in Florida.
In 2011, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services launched a program called Operation Outdoor Freedom that invites wounded service members and veterans of the U.S. military to enjoy recreational activities on Florida state forests and private lands. This program is the result of collaboration between the department, legislators, and veteran groups to honor our nation’s men and women who have selflessly served and sacrificed to protect others.
Since the program’s creation, Operation Outdoor Freedom has hosted events on Florida’s state forests, private ranches and timber lands, as well as the state’s coast. In total, more than 1,000 wounded veterans have participated in the program. For some of the wounded veterans who participated, it was the first opportunity to get outdoors since returning home from duty.
So far this hunting season, wounded veterans have participated in outdoor activities like guided alligator hunts, deer and hog hunts, quail and turkey hunts, freshwater fishing, and canoeing.
We’ve also designated areas for Operation Outdoor Freedom within Florida’s state forests in honor of the men and women who have bravely served our nation. These special hunt areas are being fully equipped to accommodate any veteran, despite his or her injuries. One of these sites is named Camp Prairie and is in Lake Wales Ridge State Forest in Polk County. Hard work from Florida Forest Service staff and volunteers, and numerous donations from local businesses and organizations have made this facility possible.
When finished this spring, Camp Prairie will have two new sleeping quarters, eating space, hunting camps, and a shower and restroom facility. Camp Prairie will better provide outdoor recreational opportunities for veterans with a focus on hunting and fishing.
We invite you to join us in recognizing our wounded veterans by supporting Operation Outdoor Freedom or hosting events on your property. Every hunting season, private landowners— most of whom are cattlemen and farmers — host Operation Outdoor Freedom events.
Visit www.OperationOutdoorFreedom.com for more information about how we’re working to honor Florida’s wounded veterans and how you can get involved. All funding for Operation Outdoor Freedom is generated through private donations and support, and veterans participate in the activities at no charge.
article by FLORIDA COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE ADAM H. PUTNAM