KAILUA-KONA — Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish through the newly established Veterans Fishing Foundation and maybe you give him a whole lot more, starting with a support network to last a lifetime.
That’s what a fishing trip with VFF, incorporated in November, did for retired Army Capt. Destin Foree, who now works with the foundation on Hawaii Island. VFF also runs charters off Oahu and out of Florida.
“The fishing is the icing on the cake,” Foree said. “It’s more building the relationships with other vets and having somebody you can talk to that understands. (It) allows you to get some of that stuff out and that’s healing, being able to dump all that.
“I went out and laughed more that day than I had in the last eight months,” he continued. “It was like being back in (the service) for a little while. There’s just this camaraderie and sense of family. Since that day, if I need help with anything, there are people on island I can call.”
Foree, 37, was forced out of the service following a traumatic brain injury suffered in 2014 in Afghanistan. He continues to live with post traumatic stress disorder.
Originally from Alabama, he’s been living on Hawaii Island for more than a year and his involvement with VFF has given him more than fishing, friends and fun. It’s restored his sense of purpose.
VFF founder Cody McGuffin, of Wyoming, has developed two distinct elements to his organization. The first involves a 24-foot fishing vessel, dubbed the “Reel Mission,” which was donated by Oahu native and Big Island resident Dr. Rudolph Puana who runs a private clinic in Hilo.
Foree now operates the Reel Mission for VFF, every so often taking out a veteran or two down ono lane and then peeling farther offshore in search of marlin. The excursions don’t necessarily run on a schedule, Foree said. Veterans can just call him up, set up a time and take off for an 8-10 hour day on the water.
“When you leave the military, especially getting hurt and getting out, you don’t leave on your own terms and you kind of lose your sense of purpose,” he explained. “For me, that’s always been service to others. I was a combat medic and an engineer. I’ve always helped other people … and this gives me an opportunity to help other vets.”
Foree said McGuffin is hoping to expand the small boat, year-round availability to VFF locations on Oahu and in Florida. What helped get it off the ground so quickly on Hawaii Island was Puana’s generosity. The doctor had initially listed the boat for sale at $32,000 because his “wife wanted it out of the driveway.”
Foree called interested in purchasing the vessel but after hearing VFF’s story, Puana was inspired to donate the boat. He treated several military members out of Fort Hood during his residency at Scott &White Medical Center in Texas, describing them as the most courteous and appreciative group of people he’s ever met.
“It always struck me as odd. They’re giving so much to us and yet they’re the ones who are so appreciative and such a nice group of people,” Puana said. “I was blown away by the (VFF) story and so I just decided, well, here it is.”
Puana played down his donation, but Foree disagreed with the characterization.
“We are so thankful for Dr. Puana giving us this opportunity,” Foree said. “I’ve got people calling me left and right ready to go fishing.”
Continued donations will remain crucial to VFF’s mission, he added, as running the boat costs about $150 per day and there will always be a need for equipment. Sponsoring a veteran for one day costs roughly $37.
Information on donating to the VFF or sponsoring a veteran for a day can be found at www.veteransfishingfoundation.com or on the VFF Facebook page.
The organization can also be emailed directly at email@example.com.
The second element McGuffin has incorporated into VFF involves large-scale fishing excursions spanning several days. One such event, “Mission Kailua-Kona,” begins on Hawaii Island on Thursday and will run charter tours for 12 days.
Foree said 36 veterans have signed up to attend thus far and five seats remain unclaimed. Any active or honorably discharged veterans are eligible.
Such events also rely on charitable donations, which can be made using the contact information provided above.