There are 3.4 million veterans in America with a service-connected disability, and more and more are coming home wounded every day. Soldiers who once fought for their country are now striving to accomplish everyday tasks and struggling to enjoy their once-favorite pastimes.
Wounded veterans and service members across Florida are now spending some well-deserved time out in the woods with the help of a new program aimed at increasing hunting and recreational opportunities for those who were wounded while serving our country. Recently, the Florida Legislature established Operation Outdoor Freedom and designated areas of Florida’s state forests in honor of and for use by wounded veterans and service members.
Through Operation Outdoor Freedom, the Florida Forest Service partners with the Wounded Warrior Project and invites wounded veterans to hunt for deer, hog, turkey, and quail in state forests throughout Florida. In just three years, the Florida Forest Service has hosted more than 100 men and women on state lands for guided weekend hunts.
The designated hunt areas are designed to accommodate any veteran, despite his or her injuries, and hunters are outfitted with the necessary hunting gear – from camouflage to guns and ammo. The Florida Forest Service and local hunting groups guide the hunts and provide any other assistance needed. Veterans participate in the program at no cost, with the weekend-long hunts funded entirely through private donations and support. While this is a valuable experience for the wounded veterans, it is even more meaningful for those who can offer this experience to our American heroes, and I want you to have the same opportunity.
Veterans Day weekend, November 10, 11 and 12, will be Operation Outdoor Freedom Weekend. You, too, will have the opportunity to host wounded veterans for hunts on your property. My department will provide you with guidelines and help connect you with wounded veterans in your area who are interested in hunting. If you can’t host a hunt during Veterans Day weekend or if you live in a region that is not open for General Gun Season during Veterans Day weekend (FWC Zones A, B and D), then you can host a hunt on any weekend during the upcoming hunting season.
For many of these brave men and women, the hunts offer a valuable opportunity to spend time outdoors. In addition, the hunts can play an important role in their rehabilitation while overcoming injuries. But the program is most rewarding for those of us who host and support the hunts. Through Operation Outdoor Freedom, we’re enabling wounded veterans and service members to enjoy an activity we, too, cherish.
Operation Outdoor Freedom is a salute to the service and sacrifice of the men and women who risk their lives for our country. For more information about how to participate in the program or support our efforts, visit www.floridaforestservice.com.
column by COMMISSIONER ADAM H. PUTNAM
Adam H. Putnam, of Bartow, is commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He also is a former member of the Florida House of Representatives and the U.S. Congress.