Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Monday, July 15, 2013
Diving, fishing on tap for wounded veterans
Families are also along for the fun

Ernie Saunders is putting together a fishing tournament to blow away all fishing tournaments.

The dockmaster at Key West Harbour Yacht Club called in a few of his buddies and amassed an army. An event was born.

For years, Saunders has been supporting the Task Force Dagger Foundation, which helps wounded soldiers from Special Operations Forces. Now he's managed to merge his boating and marina world with his military support priority.

Wounded Special Operations Forces and their families are descending on the Stock Island marina for a week of fishing, diving and thriving despite their injuries.

There will be a party and pig roast at the marina, 6000 Peninsula Ave., Stock Island, at 5 p.m. today to raise money for the foundation that helps wounded Green Berets and other Special Operations Forces and their families cope with the trials that come from being wounded in battle.

But Saunders is most excited about the fishing tournament for the warriors.

"I've been wanting to do it for years, but this year everything just clicked," Saunders said. We've got a bunch of boats and captains over here volunteering time, their expertise and gas to get these guys on the water."

The Task Force Dagger crew will be diving the Vandenberg artificial reef and the natural coral reef throughout the week, David said.

On Friday, a training session for veterans and their families took place at a pool on Navy property. In the afternoon the new divers took a test run in the lagoon next to Florida Keys Community College.

The Texas-based nonprofit Task Force Dagger Foundation was formed in 2009 by retired Green Beret Keith David and three other Army commandos, who saw the need for help when they retired. The organization's name honors the task force of Special Operations Forces that conducted the initial invasion in Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Modern military medicine is saving more lives than ever. Many men and women who would have died on the battlefield years ago are now being saved, but that saving grace is creating a new army of amputee veterans and those with other severe medical conditions.

That's why David and his comrades stepped in. Part of the goal, David explained, is for the injured men to develop new hobbies they can enjoy with their kids and wives.

Scuba diving is a great recreational therapy for those recovering from serious injuries, David said.

It seems appropriate for the Special Forces warriors to head to Key West as the area is home to the Army Special Forces Underwater Operations School on the tip of Fleming Key. It is considered one of the biggest gut checks in the Army with a one in three washout rate.

"The Special Operations Forces community continues to rack up casualties, while a lot of people think the war is over," David said. "There is still a tremendous amount of sacrifice being made by these men who don't really want publicity. For me, I want citizens to know that for these guys, the war is not over. It's far from over and the SOF community will be sacrificing for years to come even as their sacrifice fades from the consciousness of America."

Musicians Caffeine Carl and the Buzz will kick off a pig roast party dock side at 5 p.m. Monday. It's $25 for adults and $12 for children. All proceeds go to the Task Force Dagger Foundation.

For more information about the foundation and how to donate, visit www.taskforcedagger.org.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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