Taking a well-deserved break from active duty, Sergeant 1st class Steve Spaulding and his wife Tammy spent several days relaxing on Pine Island, thanks to the generous sponsors of Operation Open Arms.
"Before Steve got home, I went on line and found the OOA Web site and discovered all of the wonderful benefits they have to offer. When Steve is home on leave, everyone wants a part of him and I saw this as a way for him to take a break and do some of the things he likes to do like go fishing," said Tammy Spaulding. "The people involved with OOA are a wonderful blessing for these guys and any organization looking to raise funds for a worthwhile cause, this is the best one for them to contribute to. It would be such a loss to see this go away as it is one of the best ways to prepare these guys to go back because they will be refreshed and ready to do their jobs."
While staying on the island, the Spaulding were provided three nights lodging at the Tarpon Lodge in Pineland as well as several meals at island restaurants and a day of kayaking and sightseeing, all free of charge thanks to the sponsors of OOA.
Enjoying a greatly deserved break from military action in Afghanistan, Sgt. Steve Spaulding and his wife Tammy spend a day fishing with Pine Island residents, Capt. Steve Woodard and Capt. Larry Iacofano thanks to the generosity of Operation Open Arms and its sponsors.
"It has been amazing. The generosity of all those who give of their time and services is just incredible and I will be sharing my experiences here with my platoon when I return to Afghanistan," said Sgt. Spaulding. "It was really great to just relax. We spent one day in Matlacha walking around, browsing at all of the neat little shops and enjoying lunch by the water. It couldn't have been a better day."
Spaulding and his platoon are stationed in a very remote area of Afghanistan with no running water, electricity or means of outside communication with the exception of occasional letters, which Spaulding says can be difficult for some of his younger soldiers.
"My platoon has seen everything that the Taliban can throw at them yet these kids believe in what they are doing and are proud of what they do," Spaulding said. "The OOA program not only gives these guys a chance to relax and forget about the war, but also is a tremendous lift to their morale. The best thing I will be taking back to those guys is the fact that people still care and this is not another Vietnam."
On Friday, the Spauldings were treated to a day of fishing with St. James City resident Capt. Steve Woodard. Assisting him was Capt. Larry Iacofano, also of Pine Island.
"When I was first approached by Capt. John Bunch to participate in OOA of course I said yes. This was a good thing to do and the least we can do for them," said Woodard. "I have always considered my self patriotic and this is a way to give back to the guys who give so much to us."
Sgt. Spaulding has served in the military for the last 18 years and is a native Floridian. Many people will remember him from the recent news stories about how he surprised his daughter at school on his latest trip home.
"Our daughter had no idea that her dad was coming home that day and when he walked into her classroom she didn't even realize it was him until he stood in front of her teacher's desk," said Tammy Spaulding. "This was not a publicity stunt, it was a way to show people what these children miss when their dads are away in the military."
Sgt. Spaulding is scheduled to return to his duty in Afghanistan on Oct. 1 and remain until June of 2010. Shortly after that he will be close to retirement eligibility but says that he will be looking for an ROTC position at a college somewhere in Southwest Florida and continue to serve his country.
For more information about Operation Open Arms or to make a contribution, go to operationopenarms.com