by COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE ADAM H. PUTNAM
Florida is home to more than 1.5 million veterans and more than 20 military bases, and my goal is for the Sunshine State to be the most veteran-friendly state in the nation. While there truly is not enough that we can do to show our gratitude, we should do everything we possibly can to thank our active military members and veterans for their service to our country. One way we’re working to show Florida’s veterans gratitude is through our “Operation Outdoor Freedom” program. I recently had the honor to help open a camp along a quiet stretch of the Peace River in southwest Florida solely dedicated to providing disabled veterans with outdoor experiences at no cost. The camp, the second of its kind in the state, is part of “Operation Outdoor Freedom,” a program we launched in 2011 to provide wounded veterans with hunting, fishing and canoeing activities. To date, nearly 3,500 veterans have participated in outdoor experiences through this one-of-a-kind program.
Thanks to generous donations of time, skill, and resources, this brand-new facility has two bunkhouses that sleep 20, a screened outdoor kitchen, a fire pit, a dining area, a restroom facility and more – everything one could need to enjoy an overnight stay in the wilderness. The serene camp is located in Arcadia in the Peace River State Forest, which spans 5,000 acres.
What started as a way to say “thank you” has become a form of therapy for our veterans. Therapy so often occurs in nature. All of us who spend time outdoors have a notion of that, but these veterans know it in a profound way. As beautiful as our natural resources are, and as wonderful as our creation is here in Florida, none of us would have the liberty or luxury to enjoy it if it weren’t for the freedoms that our veterans secured.
While the veterans enjoy Florida’s beautiful outdoors with their brothers and sisters in arms, they experience much more than just hunting or fishing. They share their common experiences, share their common frustrations, and share tips and ideas on ways they’ve dealt with challenges in their recovery and rehabilitation. The therapeutic value of “Operation Outdoor Freedom” hunts and fishing trips takes place at the top of a tree stand, on the bow of a boat and sitting around a campfire at the end of the day.
This new facility is a permanent commitment from the State of Florida to the men and women who put it all on the line to make our liberties and our freedoms, that we so often take for granted, even possible. “Operation Outdoor Freedom” is a special way of connecting our natural resources that we’re blessed to have in our state with our most precious natural resource, which are the men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line for the rest of us.