On March 12, Col. Christopher B. Carlile, Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD) Commander, greeted three special guests who came to South Texas for a fishing trip.
SGT Kenny Fischer, LCPL Blake Watson, and LCPL Luna-Rodriguez, are injured combat soldiers recovering from injuries they sustained in Afghanistan. They're patients at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas and they all signed up for the chance to get a break from the hospital for some good All-American fun, courtesy of Combat Marine Outdoors (CMO).
CMO started as a way to give combat-injured Warfighters an opportunity to get away from the hospital to accelerate their emotional recovery through outdoor fishing and hunting excursions. More than 1,000 soldiers have participated in this non-profit organization since it started in 2005.
MGYSGT Arturo G. Garcia is the CMO's Director of Outdoor Operations. He walks through the hospital halls and sees what war has done to its American heroes.
"We have single, double, triple amputees. We have young men that are severely burned. We have young men that are paralyzed and some with gunshot wounds," he said.
"As our warriors come back from serving their country, whether they are injured or whether they have multiple combat tours, they need to be embraced," said MGYSGT Garcia. "They need to be thanked for their service. They joined when our country was at war, unselfishly, and we need to support them."
CMO makes it a priority to support these soldiers the Texas way.
"We go pick them up, we sign them out, we come out and have fun, and then we return them back to the hospital."
CMO believes that the chance to get away from the hospital for an adventure with the community has a healing effect on soldiers. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and hope, and restores their sense of belonging within an American community that is grateful for their service.
Recovering soldiers believe that these outdoor trips, like the ones they get here in Corpus, serve as a turning point in their emotional recovery.
For this trip MGYSGT Garcia coordinated with Ernie Butler, who has been a CMO volunteer in Corpus Christi for two years.
Butler owns Snoopy's Restaurant and Pier, a South Texas mainstay for saltwater anglers and seafood enthusiasts. As a way to give back to the Warfighters who gave so much, Butler offers his services as a fishing guide.
He outfitted his fishing boat with special features like access for up to four wheelchair-bound passengers and a custom-made seat to support disabled soldiers as they fight a trophy redfish, trout or even a shark or two.
In LCPL Hector Luna-Rodriguez's last trip with Butler and CMO, he had a halo around his right leg, making fishing a challenge. He now has a prosthetic and is learning that he can get around a lot easier these days.
"[Today's fishing trip] was a blast," he said. "It was a lot better because last time I wasn't able to get around as much but now that I'm doing a lot better, I'm able to move around the boat easier."
These fishing trips are just one source of adventure for the soldiers. They also go out for dinners or take hunting trips at one of approximately fifty ranches belonging to patriotic Texans participating in the program.
LCPL Blake Watson is a four-year duty infantry Marine stationed in California who was first approached by CMOs shortly after his release from the medical center.
"[CMOs] showed up and said they were taking people hunting," he said. "One of the other patients there talked me into going hunting one day and, ever since then, I've been signing up for every time I can."
LCPL Watson has taken ten trips with CMO so far and is spreading word about the work they do. "Any branch of service, veteran or active, if you're wounded or injured, [CMO is] more than willing to take you out. It's an awesome organization to get involved with."
The soldiers and CMO tried to get Col. Carlile to accompany them on their fishing trip, but he had to return to the Army depot to support the Warfighter the CCAD way -- by making sure the soldiers in combat have the best helicopter for their missions and for their flight back home.
The missions of CMO and CCAD are similar -- these injured combat soldiers are the very Warfighters that CCAD strives to support. CCAD supports them when they're away, and CMO supports them when they come home.