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Community comes up big for Operation Open Arms

January 8, 2014
By CHUCK BALLARO ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

A calculated risk made by a local charitable organization has paid off big for area soldiers looking to go home for the holidays.

In fact, the community was so generous it was able to get the money to allow one more soldier to spend Christmas with his family.

Operation Open Arms, a charitable organization that provides U.S. service people visiting Southwest Florida every conceivable benefit during combat leave or return from a foreign duty station, got an overwhelming response to its campaign to raise money to bring three service personnel home after purchasing tickets with a credit card.

OOA raised so much money it was able to send home a fourth soldier from Maryland.

Capt. John "Giddy-up" Bunch, founder of Operation Open Arms, couldn't have been happier.

"It was an overwhelming response from the people of Southwest Florida to help three troops plus a fourth," Bunch said. "It's something I can't believe. It's not on our mission statement or something we normally do, but it was Christmas and it seemed like the right thing to do."

Bunch said the strategy was a risky one, but he was able to cover two other local service personnel seeking to have Christmas at home, one a Navy Seal stationed in California and another a Marine sniper stationed in Kuwait.

Soon, Bunch realized he had enough to send a fourth soldier home, who lives in Maryland.

"OOA Florida and Maryland share the same site. We sent the links from the papers to all our friends in Maryland and posted it on Facebook. We got a call from a woman in Maryland who said her son was coming home and asked if we could help," Bunch said.

The names of the service personnel were not released.

Bunch credited the local media for bringing attention to OOA's story, which, he said, went a long way toward getting people to give."Everything is fine. All the troops are coming home, the people were

understanding, compassionate and generous, and that's the kind of people who have helped us since 2005," Bunch said. "I couldn't be happier for the families of the young men they'll be coming home to."

Bunch said going forward, OOA would return to its mission statement of helping servicemen with post-traumatic stress disorder.

To make a tax-deductible donation online. visit

Checks may be mailed to either the Pine Island Chamber of Commerce, Attn: Operation Operation Open Arms, P.O. Box 101, St. James City, FL 33956, or Operation Open Arms, P.O. Box 1, Easton, MD 21601.



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