Many take their freedom and safety for granted, but those luxuries come at a steep price, with the nation’s bravest footing the bill. When wounded U.S. veterans return home, Operation Outdoor Freedom allows them to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of outdoor activities while they hunt for alligator, turkey and deer, along with fishing, and more.
“It’s an honor to provide our nation’s brave men and women throughout Florida with outdoor experiences. Our veterans have sacrificed so much for us, and this is one small way we can repay them,” says Commissioner Adam H. Putnam, who in 2011 launched the program that has since expanded across Florida.
“The experiences veterans get are hard to find in typical daily life,” says David Hunt, assistant state program coordinator. “It’s a release for them to get out and be with other wounded vets around the campfire. It’s about camaraderie.”
Since its inception, the program has experienced some exciting changes and improvements. Along with the addition of more diverse outdoor experiences, Camp Prairie has been expanded to meet the growing demands. A screened kitchen and pavilion were the first renovation phase. Also built were two board and batten, cracker-style bunk houses. It was all completed with donated money, Hunt says. No state money was involved.
Operation Outdoor Freedom depends on the generosity of volunteers, organizations and businesses. For Wayne Shelby, president of the Wounded Warrior Sportsmen Fund, supporting Operation Outdoor Freedom was a natural choice.
“The wounded Warrior Sportsmen Fund is a nonprofit organization that raises money to take wounded veterans on outdoor events to let them know that we appreciate what they have done for our country and unites them with other veterans coping with similar situations,” Shelby says. “We teamed up with Operation Outdoor Freedom in 2011 at Camp Prairie. We use the land resources that Operation Outdoor Freedom provides with our contribution of guides, meals, logistics and support staff.”
The Wounded Warrior Sportsmen Fund built Camp Prairie’s new shooting range and solicited some of their supporters who furnished and installed the footers, block work, concrete, electrical, plumbing, and air conditioning units, at no cost. It has also sponsored over 60 events with Operation Outdoor Freedom in the past five years.
The Wounded Warrior Sportsmen Fund is just one of many organizations making these events and improvements possible. Other participating partners include Northwest Florida Water Management District in Polk County, Southwest Florida Water Management District, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, St. Johns River Water Management District, Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, Florida Veterans Foundation Inc., Military Order of Purple Heart, Wounded Warrior Project, Florida Forestry Association, Florida Cattlemen’s Association, Florida Beef Council and Friends of Florida State Forests.