Outdoor Recreation for Wounded Veterans in Florida
Operation Outdoor Freedom lets wounded veterans in Florida enjoy nature-based activities at no cost
Florida holds great appeal for veterans. Two of the state’s biggest draws are its outdoor recreational opportunities and its wonderful climate, which makes it easy to enjoy nature year-round.
Through Operation Outdoor Freedom, sponsored by Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam, wounded veterans have the opportunity to reclaim their passion for nature by participating in outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing at no cost.
The program launched in 2011 and as one of the only state-run, year-round programs of its kind in the nation, it is a true trail blazer. Says Putnam: “Operation Outdoor Freedom has hosted events on Florida’s state forests, private ranches and timber lands, as well as the state’s coast. In total, more than 1,000 wounded veterans have participated in the program. For some of the wounded veterans who participated, it was the first opportunity to get outdoors since returning home from duty.”
Eligibility Requirements for Operation Outdoor Freedom
To participate in the Operation Outdoor Freedom program, a veteran must have a service-connected disability rating of 30% or greater from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, or be a Purple Heart recipient.
Types of Events and Registration
The program incorporates two types of events:
- Guided Events, which provide complete guide services, housing and all meals, and meet all needs related to scouting, equipment, blinds and game processing, as well as handicapped needs. (Mobility assessments are provided for each Guided Event.)
- Unguided Events, which only provide the site, primitive campsites and portable restroom facilities. The veteran is responsible for all hunting equipment, tents and food (though some events may provide a meal). All scouting and hunting is the responsibility of the veteran. Each veteran is allowed to bring one non-hunting assistant who may go on the hunt and help, but is not allowed to use a weapon.
Veterans register online for events throughout the state, such as alligator, turkey and hog hunts; deep-sea fishing outings; weekend camping and family trips. View available recreational events and apply here. (Applicants are selected to participate in events via a random computer draw.)
“Operation Outdoor Freedom is a special way of connecting our natural resources that we’re blessed to have in our state with our most precious natural resource, which are the men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line for the rest of us.” –Adam H. Putnam, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture
Camp Prairie for Wounded Vets
In November, 2015, Operation Outdoor Freedom opened Camp Prairie, located on 14 wildlife-filled acres along the shore of Lake Kissimmee in Lake Wales Ridge State Forest in Polk County. Nestled under a canopy of lush oak trees draped with Spanish moss, the camp has a singular mission—to foster camaraderie and tranquility among the wounded veterans who come. “It’s so calm and peaceful, and this is real Florida,” says Army veteran, Tina Streeter in a news video about the camp produced by local Florida CBS affiliate wtsp.com.
With sleeping cabins, a screened kitchen, a dining area and showers, Camp Prairie may look like other camps, but it is infused with a uniquely caring atmosphere and a rich sense of community. Commissioner Adam Putnam’s goal is for wounded vets to know Florida cares about them. “You can’t put it into words how much these guys have earned this opportunity,” he writes in a statement about the camp. “What started as a way to say thank you has become a form of therapy for our veterans. Therapy occurs in nature. All of us who spend time outdoors have a notion of that, but these veterans know it in a profound way.
“While the veterans enjoy Florida’s beautiful outdoors with their brothers and sisters in arms, they experience much more than just hunting or fishing. They share their common experiences, share their common frustrations, and share tips and ideas on ways they’ve dealt with challenges in their recovery and rehabilitation. The therapeutic value of “Operation Outdoor Freedom” hunts and fishing trips takes place at the top of a tree stand, on the bow of a boat and sitting around a campfire at the end of the day.”
Support for Operation Outdoor Freedom
The success of Operation Outdoor Freedom depends on support from local communities and citizens. The program is funded entirely through private donations. There are a variety of ways in which business owners, landowners (from farmers to cattlemen) and ordinary citizens can help—from hosting a hunt and volunteering to providing meals and making a tax-deductible donation (from $5 to $5,000).
Contact Information for Operation Outdoor Freedom
Florida Forest Service
Florida Department of Agriculture
170 Century Blvd.
Bartow, FL 33830