Wounded Warrior Anglers of America (WWA) treated some of its warriors and caregivers to a weekend of relaxation and pampering Friday, Sept. 24, through Sunday, Sept. 26 as part of its Warrior & Caregiver Retreat program.

WWA-Caretakers-Retreat-071-copy-2The warriors received a rod and reel combo at a special ceremony held during a captain’s dinner at the Olde Fish House Marina in Matlacha. The fishing rods were used the following day while they spent many hours out on the water fishing.

Their wives and caregivers spent the day at Spa 33, a business that closes its doors for the day, in Matlacha where they were treated to mimosas, chocolates, massages, facials, hair and make-up.

The day of pampering is held in honor of our caregivers because they are “the strongest fiber of our nation,” said Judy Souders, vice president of WWA.

Alicia Beesting

Alicia married Danny 13 years ago and now has three beautiful children – an 11, 9 and 5 year old with her husband who she met in high school.

The life of the Beesting’s forever changed when Danny enlisted and dedicated almost 10 years to the United States Air Force.

In 2004, Danny deployed to Iraq for six months leaving behind his wife and then 8-month old child.

“He came home. He was okay. Not 100 percent, but okay,” Alicia said after her husband returned from his first deployment.

The deployment was hard for Alicia who was in Alaska at the time, even with a great support group of other military wives.

Their daily lives were normal until 2009 . . . their family had grown and Danny crossed trained into intelligence.

Danny did aerial surveillance on the Reaper for three years. During this time, Alicia began seeing some major changes in the man she loves.

“The three years when he was on the Reaper was the hardest because we had three kids and he was never home,” she said. “They operated the drone stateside, but the drone was in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or wherever they were. I think that is what hit him the worst because I think even though it wasn’t boots on the ground over there, his state-of-mind was over there.”

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Alicia watched her husband remain in war mode 24-hours a day, seven-days a week for three years. With Danny being on flying status, his shifts were sometimes put on hold for 12-hours if there was a sandstorm.

“I was a single mom for pretty much three years with having him home one-day a week,” she said of him returning to do laundry “We didn’t live on base. Base was 40-miles north.”

Alicia kept in touch with the other Air Force wives, but often times they all had their own lives and children to care for. She said although they tried to find as much time as they could to gather, it was not the same kind of support she received while living on base.

The only way Alicia was able to cope while her husband was in the service, was to live without him.

“You learn to have them gone,” she said. “You learn to live independent. You learn to live your own life.”

Four years ago Danny retired from the service, which was a hard transition for the entire family due to the new adjustments that took shape.

“They are not the person you married. But he is still the man you married and he will never be the same person you married,” she said. “You are learning to live with him again and learning to be married again. You are learning a new person, their likes and dislikes and what sets them off.”

Alicia soon learned that veterans do not like to talk and share their experiences. She remained persistent and told her husband he had a problem, which resulted in the response “you are my wife; I am supposed to protect you.”

Danny tried pushing his wife away, but Alicia remained strong and told her husband she was not going anywhere. That unconditional, pure love led her husband to doing cognitive PTSD therapy as an outpatient with the VA. The therapy has helped her husband tremendously.

“He is never going to be the man I married. So it is just learning the new things about him. Learning to deal with his issues and how to balance everything together,” Alicia said.

With almost 10 years in the service, Alicia explained her husband to be “a hot mess” with his multiple injuries ranging from metal screws in his feet, torn muscles on his spine and coping with PTSD.

Those injuries have resulted in Alicia taking on the job as a full-time caregiver, while still raising their three children and remaining all of their support system.

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“My five year doesn’t know what it was like before daddy was broken,” Alicia said. “He doesn’t understand. For him daddy is broken and it is okay.”

Her girls, on the other hand, struggle with their father being hurt and away from home.

“They remember what it was like to have dad home . . . to wonder when dad is coming home,” Alicia said through tears. “My oldest, when she was in kindergarten they had daddy day at school. She started crying and started saying why isn’t my daddy at home? It’s hard. They still don’t understand.”

Her middle child wants her dad back, not “her broken dad.”

The retreat did wonders for the Beesting couple.

“It’s nice to be able to get out together. We don’t do very much things together,” Alicia said. “Even with him fishing, being out on the water with the guys . . . it’s healing for him and it’s healing for me knowing that he’s out there talking. It could be about football, I don’t care, but he is out of the house.”

A day of pampering gave Alicia the energy to tackle another week – another week taking care of her children and husband.

“ . . . knowing that I’m doing a good job. It’s easy to give up sometimes,” she said.

Although she loved being pampered, the retreat meant so much more to the mother and wife of three. The day meant that her husband, who now owns a fishing rod from the retreat, can spend time with his children fishing.

“He is new to fishing, but it’s very therapeutic for him,” Alicia said. “I’m excited for him to learn new things and just to be out there more . . . to be himself. It is something that he can share with the kids. It is something that they can do together. That means the world.”

Kristi Milligan

It was not until Kristi married her husband Patrick that she began to form an understanding of the military.

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“Before I met him I never had much of a military background,” she said. “He has completely changed; I shouldn’t even say changed how I thought because I really never thought about it. If you’re not exposed to it you really don’t think about it. But, now with him and the exposure and knowing what these families go through and have to deal with and the struggles, we try to give back what we can.”

Kristi met Patrick through Match.com two or three years after he was out of the service. Within five months the couple was engaged.

Since they grew to know each other after Patrick’s days in the service, Kristi said she does not know much, but that he was in combat and had to fire a gun.

“I never saw what he went through, or that side of him,” she said.

Patrick dedicated 12 years to the United States Army. For the most part Patrick left the service with very minimal injuries. Kristi said her husband is completely deaf in his left ear and has battled severe migraines, some so debilitating they would knock him out for three or four days at a time.

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He had brain surgery for a benign cyst over his left ear in 2001, which has helped the migraines.

Kristi said she does not consider herself a caregiver because her husband is very functional, able to work, and does whatever his heart desires. The only obstacle Patrick faces are the migraines that come every once in a while.

“ . . . And it’s not even for me,” she said while tears streamed down her face of the retreat. “Knowing what you guys do for them . . . it’s nice to know there are organizations out there.”

Kristi reiterated that the spa day was not only very relaxing, but comforting knowing that WWA touches the lives of veterans and their caregivers.

Amanda Crane

On Oct. 16, Amanda married her husband Tyler, eight years ago after meeting him through mutual friends in a parking lot while he was in ranger school. Aug. 24, marked a year since Tyler’s left the Army.

Amanda said that first year after getting out of the service was the hardest because he no longer had the job that he has had forever. Tyler, who served his country for nine years, was deployed twice.

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“It was difficult because I didn’t know what the military was at all,” Amanda said of her husband’s deployment.

Tyler’s first deployment lasted for a year and the second only five months due to an injury the second week he was gone. Those injuries – a fused back and a good amount of nerve damage.

She found some comfort with confiding in her friends and other military wives while the distance separated them. Although Amanda now lives close to her family, she still faces some challenges because not everyone understands why they cannot go certain places and do certain things.

Now that Tyler is home full-time he is faced with new challenges – playing with their two girls, now 7 and a 3-years old.

“He can’t play with them like he wants to because of his back,” she said. “He is usually in pain.”

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With his injuries, Amanda has become his caregiver, scheduling his appointments and whatever else he may need.

The retreat was beneficial for the Crane family because it provided a break from everyday life. The day also made them focus on taking care of themselves while being surrounded by others who have gone through the same thing.

“That is why fishing is his go to because he can mellow out,” Amanda said of her husband spending the day fishing during the retreat.

The day at the spa was a treat for Amanda, one that she enjoyed thoroughly.

Dana Pedigo

Dana, who met her husband Shawn in middle school, tied the knot almost nine years ago. The couple became acquainted again after Shawn’s mother visited her grandmother’s house with his email address.

“It was cute,” she said of the gesture. “He was home on leave (from Iraq) and we hung out the whole time he was on leave.”

When he returned from Iraq, Dana joined Shawn in Kentucky and got married a month later. The couple now has three young children.

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Shawn, who was in the Army for nine years, suffers from PTSD, traumatic brain injury, migraines and sleep apnea. Dana said while her husband was deployed, he was knocked unconscious briefly due to a car next to him containing an IED that went off.

“Everyone in the truck had been thrown out,” she said. “Ever since then he has had migraines. Sometimes he can’t get out of bed.”

Since her husband has returned, Dana has become his full-time caregiver.

“It’s extremely hard,” she said of the role. “It’s a learning process because you have to deal with your own things on top of trying to shield your children from seeing some of his issues.”

Dana and Shawn are also full-time students, which throws another challenge into the mix.

“There is a lot of stress in our lives,” she said.

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Dana is pursuing a science degree while her husband is still contemplating the exact direction he wants to take.

“He wants to be a cop,” she said. “His counselor said she has a lot of clients that are cops, or firemen, because they are so used to having the adrenaline from being in war. Their bodies are accustomed to it, so when they go back to real life they seek out the adrenaline.”

The day of relaxation was exactly what the couple needed.

“I’m really appreciative of it,” Dana said of the relaxation and quietness she experienced that Saturday.

She said while sipping on a mimosa that the massage was among the most relaxing of all the services she had at the spa.

WWA-Caretakers-Retreat-058-copy-2   Wounded Warrior Anglers is a nonprofit organization that helps rehabilitate the mind, body and soul of all service members who have been injured, wounded, or disabled in the line of duty no matter what their era of service. The organization also has a mission to actively support the wounded warrior’s caregiver and their immediate family.

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All photographs are courtesy of Dorene Lowe Photography – a Southwest Florida photographer out of Punta Gorda, Florida. To view more of her photographs, visit https://www.facebook.com/dorenelowephotography, or to schedule a session, call (941) 467-5015.

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Article written by Meghan McCoy, Wounded Warrior Anglers media director.