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. servicepeople 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 serviceman 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."
The original plan was for Bunch to bring home Joel Grant Black, an Army specialist from North Fort Myers who is stationed at Fort Lewis in Seattle.
Bunch learned about and got approved for a credit card that gave 30,000 points after spending $1,000, enough to cover Black's ticket, used the points to bring home another soldier, and hoped to raise enough funds to bring home a third.
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 servicemen 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 operationopenarms.org/donate/
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.