‘It’s the best kept secret’

Bentley Heyliger 

Bentley, born and raised in the projects of Manhattan, enlisted in the United States Army at the age of 19. He served in the infantry for 21 years out of his 39 years of service. During his service, he was deployed to Iraq in 2003 and Freedom 2.1 for a little more than a year. Bentleys service, also led him to working Ground Zero, an experience that is hard to share.

For four years he served in the light infantry before he was promoted into communications due to an injury during a training exercise.

“I was in the unit for three months and the call came up. I volunteered to go (to Iraq). They needed someone in communication.”

Instead of doing communication, Bentley did transportation while deployed.


“It was a lot of fun. I was in charge of sending all the convoys up north into the battle. I was in Kuwait for maybe a couple of months and then I was part of the advance party and went into Iraq and started setting up. I was sending trucks to different places. I had my hands full. I had eight people with me, but it was my job to make sure everything was right.”

During that time, Bentley was working 18 hour days, sleeping a maximum of six hours.

The extreme temperatures were hard to adapt to, especially with temperatures reaching over 140 degrees after first arriving in Kuwait. Bentley had to remain in full gear walking the base, often times resulting in carrying around more than 100 pounds.

“Come July through the beginning of September the temperature goes from 140 to 160. When they said you can drop an egg on the ground and watch it fry, it worked.”

When the temperatures hit that high, the commanding generals limited their time on the fire base for no more than 30-mintues to an hour.

Unfortunately he saw first hand what could happen.

“There was an incident that reported one guy came on from a convoy. He was standing behind a gun ship and he was dead because of the heat. Dead. And no one knew. Just standing straight up, dead.”

Bentley was treated for heat exhaustion even though he refilled his water bag often and suffered an injury after falling 8 feet from his bunk while sleeping.

“They found me asleep on the floor of my tent. I don’t know what I was dreaming that night, but I hit the deck apparently with a loaded gun on my chest with the muzzle up near my chin. It didn’t go off, thank God.”

Deployments can be hard for a family, especially when leaving behind three children. He promised his family he would be okay and was able to Skype with his family often, which helped tremendously.

Bentley enjoyed serving his country, the camaraderie of being with all different walks of life and rubbing elbows with people from across the globe.

“I come from a poor black neighborhood. My skills are limited. As far as me making six figures, I knew I would never be able to do that. They are going to pay me, clothe me, feed me and give me medical attention, more education, a home, travel, whatever and all I have to do is show up in the morning and do what I have to do. It’s the best kept secret on the face of the planet.”

March 30, 2015, Bentley moved to SW FL in an attempt to escape the bitter cold of New York. He stumbled upon Wounded Warrior Anglers and instantly felt as if he was back in the military again.

“That is what I needed. The organization has been great. It’s a great group of guys. I am getting a lot out of it.”

The organization has been good for the veteran because fishing leaves Bentley completely relaxed – the only thought crossing his mind – “just catch the fish.”

“When you wake up in the morning, you are relieved and relaxed and you have no worries in the world.”

Even with pains and images that are sometimes hard to escape, Bentley remains positive, often times flashing a huge smile.

Photograph 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.

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

WWA opens new headquarters

A vision imagined more than six years ago became a reality earlier this week when the founders of the Wounded Warrior Anglers of America signed lease papers for their new world headquarters and training facility on Pine Island Road in Cape Coral.

“To see it come to fruition is more than amazing. We will continue helping veterans and changing lives, one warrior at a time,” vice president and co-founder Judy Souders said.

The 1,600-square-foot facility, which currently has no interior walls, will include a reception area, two offices with ample privacy, a storage room, a custom rod and reel display area, a rod building workshop outfitted with Renzetti equipment and approximately 500 square feet designated to a multi-purpose room.

“This is going to be something totally different from anything else,” president and co-founder David Souders said. “This is a training facility, training people to occupy their time. To get their minds off of certain things and be able to do things. If they become members, it will give them a place that is constructive. It’s a safe place for them.”

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Wounded Warrior Anglers of America President and Co-Founder David Souders, Vice President and Co-Founder Judy Souders and Board Member Keith Campbell stand in the doorway of the new Wounded Warrior Anglers of America Headquarters and Training Facility.

The organization is in the process of getting a contractor in place to pull the permits needed to complete the space. Many business members of the community have already stepped forward to donate their skills, time and material to duplicate the Souders’ vision.

Jeff Asbury is donating all the building materials for the project from Coastal Building Material, and Chuck Chatter with 180 Painting offered to do the painting for the facility.

“This place would not have been possible without the help of people like Seafarers International, Miceli’s, Beavertail and Nautic Star. Those are our key strategic partners,” David said.

Board member Keith Campbell said when they have the permits in place and get everyone on the same schedule, the build-out should take three days at the most.

“This is the first I have ever seen,” he said of the facility. “It is not VA supported. It’s not government funded. It’s self-sufficient. Now the sky is the limit on how big it can get, how wide we can grow.”

Many of the veterans affiliated with the organization have already offered a helping hand throughout the construction process.

There are many items the organization is in need of once the organization settles into the new facility, such items as nice, welcoming, matching furniture for the two offices; four computers; printers; a phone system; a point of sale system; chairs; stools; two drying stations for the rod building; and a display counter.

One of the two office spaces will be used by certified veteran services officers. David said they are going to start with having two VSOs, one of which is Campbell.

Campbell said he wants to become certified, so he can help veterans at a higher level.

“I get a lot of road blocks doing it on my own,” he said of offering a helping hand. “I feel with being a certified VSO, it will open up some avenues to meet other people and make a lot of the roads easier.”

There is a national certification a person has to take through the Department of Veteran Affairs to become a VSO. After purchasing the books to become certified, people can go through the process as quickly or slowly as they chose, as long as they complete the testing within a year’s time.

David said once the individual passes the certification test, Wounded Warrior Anglers has to apply as a nonprofit organization with the certified veteran service officers at Veterans Affairs to become a patient advocate and VSO.

“Anybody can help a veteran, but being a certified veteran services officer means you have access to the VA system and access to the VA computers. It makes it easier and better for the veteran,” he said.

The multi-purpose room will be utilized for the national board meetings, rod building workshops, the raffle boat when activities are not going on and a gathering space for educational programs and entertainment.

The facility will also have space for custom rods and reels, the production line, Mission 23 and the Wounded Warrior Anglers shirts.

David expressed a great deal of excitement regarding the endless possibilities the new facility will have for its members with one of its programs – rod building. He said they will eventually have a window of time blocked out for the members to stop by the facility and work on their custom rods.

“As long as they are buying their equipment, blanks and material from us, which will actually help fund the organization, and they are a member, they are going to be able to come in and have access to use it,” David said.

In the future, he hopes to block out time for eight days every two weeks. The other four days will be used to work with two new warriors teaching them how to build their own rod, followed by a fishing trip using their custom rod.

“That’s long term,” David said. “That is my ultimate goal to train two warriors every two weeks.”

An open house will be held in the near future, which Judy said the public and their partners are more than welcome to attend.

“Anybody that’s in the community that wants to reach out to us and talk to us, we more than welcome their calls,” she said. “We are wanting our veterans to come in and be community oriented because veterans and their families are some of the strongest fibers of our nation.”

Once the interior walls are up and furniture is brought in for the offices, the facility will open with regular business hours.

The headquarters is located at 1490 Pine Island Road, Unit 5D. For information, call (239) 257-3410.

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