‘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.

‘The strongest fiber of our nation’

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.”


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.


“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.


“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.


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.


“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.”


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.


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.


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.


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

‘It’s a great way to give back’

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The Laishley Park Municipal Marina Community Room in Punta Gorda was transformed with rows of tables, as warriors were given the opportunity to learn a new skill – rod building.

Dan Watson
Dan Watson

“I think it’s fantastic,” Dan Watson, a member of Mosquito Creek Rod Crafters, said of the workshop. “The people putting it on are special people. I’m honored to be a part of it.”

Wounded Warrior Anglers (WWA) held a rod building workshop Sept. 17, through Sept. 20 in partnership with American Tackle Company International. The two full days of rod building concluded with a half-day on the water fishing using the newly constructed rods.

“There is nothing more exciting than catching a fish on the rod you built,” Don Morse, with American Tackle, said.

Don Morse
Don Morse

The nonprofit organization, Wounded Warrior Anglers, offered the first rod building workshop for its warriors earlier this year in Oviedo, Florida. Since it was a huge success, the four-day workshop has been added to the many programs the organization offers for its warriors.


Morse said the company wants to promote rod building in any way they can. When the opportunity to work with Wounded Warrior Anglers presented itself, he said there was no better group of people to share the craft with.

“I feel a strong connection with these guys,” Morse said of the warriors he has worked with.

Although Mike Kosiba has been fixing rods since the 1960s, he found a passion in 1999 when he began creating custom fishing rods. The seasoned rod builder spent time with 10 Wounded Warrior Anglers sharing secrets of his craft.

Kosiba was joined by four other instructors, all members of the group Mosquito Creek Rod Crafters.

Mike Kosiba
Mike Kosiba

The process of creating a custom rod takes on many steps, all of which stem from selecting a blank depending on the type of fishing one wants to do. The next step, Kosiba said is deciding the dimensions of the rod to best fit an individual’s body type, followed by choosing the rod’s handle.

Guides were then placed on the rod depending where the blank flexes to ensure its efficiency. The guides are then wrapped with thread before an epoxy finish is placed on top.

The craft of rod building, Morse said is both artistic and useful.

“You are crafting something from scratch that is useWWA-Tourney-and-Rods-289-copy-2able,” he said. “Twenty years ago I started building rods. The sky is the limit on things you can use.”

The warriors were carefully walked through the process step-by-step, so they could create a rod they were proud of, a rod they could put to the test out on the water.

“It’s something they can do,” Kosiba said, adding that the warriors can pursue it as much or little as possible.

Tony DelleDonne
Tony DelleDonne

This is the second workshop for Wounded Warrior Anglers’ Tony DelleDonne. “I did a dragon scale on this one.” The style used dry wall tape, and metallic thread.


The workshop was very relaxing for DelleDonne as he continued to perfect his new skill.

“You have to concentrate,” he said. “You get away for a while, while working at it.”

The 21 year Navy veteran, who retired in 2006, joined WWA a year ago after meeting founders David and Judy Souders, at the Fort Myers Boat Show.

“I like it. It’s very good,” DelleDonne said about joining WWA. “It’s veteran focused (and you) hook up with other vets and you fish and you’re good.”

The workshop was also eye opening for the instructors.

The workshops helped Jr Alvey slow down and think about what kind of impact teaching a new skill has for the warriors.

“It’s a great way to give back,” he said.

Jr Alvey
Jr Alvey

Alvey, who was also a part of the first rod building workshop, said he hopes to spend more time with the warriors in order to get to know them better.

“The guys are invited anytime to visit and get one-on-one (instruction). We are just a phone call away,” he said.

The passion for many of the instructors formed many years ago.

Alvey fell in love with rod building eight years ago. Over those years he has found his signature look – incorporating cork into the rod design.


“I cut them up and make different sizes,” he said before gluing them back together. “It helps keep my mind busy.”

For Kosiba, rod building continues because it’s all about “building the perfect rod,” which has yet been accomplished. A perfect rod, he said would consist of every joint fitting perfectly with flawless, straight guides.

Watson said he became involved with the group Mosquito Creek Rod Crafters 15 years ago. He said the group gathers once a month in the Orlando area.

“I like the people. It’s a great bunch of people,” Watson said of Mosquito Creek Rod Crafters.

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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.

WWA Tourney and Rods 330 wm

WWA welcomes new board members

    On Thursday, Aug. 13, the Wounded Warrior Anglers of America board of directors approved three new board members, Keith Campbell, Brad Jessen and Kevin Purdy.

WWA logo

“I am deeply moved to have been selected to this board,” Purdy said. “I am grateful to Dave and Judy (Souders) for their unselfishness and dedication to our veterans. God has blessed me with some experience and abilities and I hope to be very helpful in any way I can.”

The three board members are joining President David Souders, Vice President Judy Souders, Treasurer Tate Hutchinson, Media Director Meghan McCoy and board members Tony Rogers and Kevin Santos.

Wounded Warrior Anglers received its nonprofit status in March 2012 after forming the idea of the organization, which began helping veterans in 2010. Since its inception, the organization has grown with both its chapters across the state of Florida and through the programs it provides for its veterans and their caregivers.

Keith Campbell

Campbell, owner of Campbell Consulting Inc., moved to Southwest Florida two weeks before Hurricane Charley swept through the area in 2004.

Keith Campbell
Keith Campbell

Before starting his consulting business he began in the restaurant industry where he managed a family-owned restaurant for 11 years. From there he ran a popular New England franchise for six years.

Once Campbell arrived in Florida he began working for corporate  7-Eleven for seven years.

“I decided to start my own consulting business where I assist business owners with such things as human resource issues, quality control, front (and) back office operations (and) profitability operations,” he said. “I’ll even assist in finding them new product to bring into their stores. I’ve been successfully growing my business for six years now.”

After having a conversation with one of the owners from Miceli’s Restaurant in Matlacha, Campbell learned about Wounded Warrior Anglers and decided to attend an event to become more familiarized with the organization.

“After meeting Judy and Dave Souders I knew I wanted to be part of it. They are dedicated, humble and have great knowledge about the needs of our vets,” he said.

When the opportunity rose, Campbell knew he wanted to submit his resume to be considered as a new board member of Wounded Warrior Anglers.

“Although I was never in the military, my father and other family members were,” he said. “I have a heart for our veterans and I feel it’s an honor to support our vets anyway I can,” he said.

Becoming a board member is a blessing for Campbell because it provides another way for him to give back to veterans who have done so much for this country.

As a board member, Campbell hopes to assist in fundraising efforts, as well as bring more awareness to the organization.

“I’d love to see new chapters across the country open to continue the ongoing PTSD support these veterans so desperately need,” Campbell said.

Campbell is married to his high school sweetheart of 23 years and has two grown sons.

Brad Jessen

Jessen moved to Southwest Florida in April 2014 after visiting his entire life due to his grandparents moving to the area in the early 70s.

Brad Jessen and his wife Kelli.
Brad Jessen and his wife Kelli.

After 21 years in the service, Jessen retired from the Air Force. He spent three years as a mechanic and the remaining 18 years as a flight engineer on the C-5 Galaxy while serving his country.

Two years ago he began his second career as a financial advisor representing Edward Jones in Matlacha, Florida.

During the fall of 2014, Jessen had the opportunity to learn about the organization after visiting Spa 33 in Matlacha.

“As I got to know Tammey and Nadine (both owners of Spa 33), they encouraged me to get involved after they found out I was a disabled veteran, retired from the Air Force,” he said.

Once he became involved in the organization, Jessen wanted to make a larger impact for veterans, which is why he decided to throw his hat in the ring to be considered as a board member.

“It was important to me to become a board member because I have such a deep belief in the organization’s mission,” he said. “It has been of great benefit to me personally and I intend to be a part of the leadership team to ensure we continue to serve those veterans and their families for years to come. I look forward to growing the organization to serve those we don’t have the pleasure of serving currently.”

While sitting on the board, Jessen looks forward to pursing a greater national presence that has deep seeded relationships serving veterans in need in each community where there are existing chapters, as well as future chapters.

His thoughts are “if we can keep out of our own way, there is no limit to where we might take WWA in the years to come.” Jessen said the possibilities are endless with an open mind while keeping everyone’s interest in mind.

“I am humbled to be a part of the team of leaders and look forward to where we might go as time moves on,” he said.

Jessen has been married to his wife Kelli for 18 years and has two beautiful daughters, Madison, 14, and Riley, 4.

Kevin Purdy

In 2011, Purdy moved to Cape Coral with his wife Heather to help her elderly father remain independent. Although their jobs allowed them to work anywhere in the United States, and the move was supposed to be temporary, they ended up falling in love with the area and decided to make it their permanent home.

Kevin Purdy
Kevin Purdy

Purdy is a United States Army veteran that has 30 percent service disability. He joined the service in 1973 when he was 17 years old after quitting high school. He later received his high school diploma from Frankfurt American High School, Bad Hersfeld, West Germany, while he was stationed on the border of west and east Germany in 1976.

His career afforded him the opportunity to gain extensive international experience as a business executive.

In 2000 and 2001 in China and Brazil, Purdy was responsible for startup development of two assembly plants, as well as assembling a large foundry green sand casting machine to be marketed and sold in Asia and South America. Branch offices were developed in India and Italy by Purdy, as well as expanding the International Sales Agent Network to include 39 countries on six continents.

His work also afforded him the opportunity to oversee and participate in industrial trade shows on five continents. The World Foundry Organization was among one of the industry conference panels he was asked to speak at during his career.

Purdy also served as a board of director for the Safari Club International Wisconsin chapter from 1994 to 2001. While he served as a board member he witnessed four new chapters being established in Wisconsin in four years.

After moving to Southwest Florida, Purdy learned about Wounded Warrior Anglers while the Souders were selling boat raffle tickets for their annual fundraiser at Miceli’s Restaurant. Soon after learning more about the organization, Purdy also wanted to help in a larger way by offering his experience.

“I wanted to be involved as board member with WWA as I feel strongly that many, many veterans and their families are in need of what WWA can provide,” he said. “As a member of the board I can lend my experience to many facets of WWA as they grow and assist not only national direction, but help to mentor individual chapter leaders and individuals.”

Purdy sees great things for the organization’s future, which all begins with assisting in the success and growth of the existing chapters.

“Of course like many things, it’s good to think in terms of growth, but at the same time we need to assist in the success and growth of the existing chapters as well,” he said.

When looking five and ten years down the road, Purdy hopes the organization will reach other regions outside of Florida.

“Hopefully in 10 years, our organization can become part of a synergistic network of veteran groups to see that the needs of all veterans and their families are being met in a timely and effective manner,” he said.

By Meghan McCoy