Capt. John "GiddyUp" Bunch has done so much for troubled veterans to help make their lives a little better that it has earned more than the notice of local, state and national media outlets.
It has garnered the notice of the nation's military.
Bunch, a professional fishing guide who founded Operation Open Arms, a non-profit organization that offers fishing trips, weddings and other services to military personnel and veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder, will be one of the recipients of the Outstanding Civilian Service Award, given to those who support those who support our freedom.
Capt. John “GiddyUp” Bunch
Bunch, along with country singer Trace Adkins, will receive the award Sept. 15 from the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, Gen. Mark C. Milley.
The day will include an office call with Milley and the other honorees, a tour of the Pentagon, a wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery, a ceremony at Fort Myer and a reception and dinner at Quarters One, Milley's residence.
Bunch, who had strep throat and was unable to speak, e-mailed to say he is proud to receive the award, but added that it isn't his, but OOA's. It's simply going to be hung around his neck.
"I was surprised, shocked, and so happy. Upon learning this amazing US Army honor is only bestowed to six to eight other Americans in any given year told me how truly special Operation Open Arms really is," Bunch said. "This was the ultimate validation to all of OOA's other awards."
Operation Open Arms was founded in St. James City in 2005. Travis Downes of Pine Island was the first OOA recipient. The organization has helped nearly 3,400 U.S. troops, who have received more than $12 million in direct benefits.
Bunch has been able to call any one of his 326 businesses and individual partners to get anything U.S. Troops need upon returning home from combat.
He has also organized 101 free weddings and direct assistance for 34 OOA fallen alumni.
OOA has no payroll or salaries nor does it have any political or religious affiliation.
"This honor essentially makes Operation Open Arms and the U.S. Army partners. OOA is now endorsed by the U.S. Army. A four-star general is honoring our great charity. The ultimate validation to great resume," Bunch said.
OOA has been featured many times on TV shows. NBC's Today Show has featured OOA twice with hundreds of local media stories regarding some of the things it has done.
Bunch has even turned down a chance to see the president to fulfill a promise to take an Army sergeant on a charter fishing trip.
At the time Bunch said, "I made a promise to this guy six months ago and I made a promise to a father and son later that day and I am not the type of person who breaks a promise," he said. "Would it be worth breaking a promise for 45 seconds of having the most powerful person in the world slap you on the back, joke with you and say, 'Good job with Operation Open Arms'?"
Other honors Bunch and his organization have received include the key to the city of Fort Myers, the Southwest Florida Charitable Organization of the Year for 2012, the Junonia Award, and the Lee County Honor of Distinction.
The Outstanding Civilian Service Award has been presented since 1959. The Secretary of the Army or a major commander may award this medal for outstanding service.
Eligible recipients include individuals, federal government officials at the policy development level, and technical personnel who serve the Army in an advisory capacity.
Past recipients include talk show host Stephen Colbert, former Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, golfer Tom Watson and Audie Murphy, the most decorated U.S. Army soldier in World War II.
Bunch said it was amazing to be in such company, but added the honor puts the organization on even footing as recipients who may have better name recognition.
"My name has no higher or lower place than other past recipients. In the eyes of the U.S. Army we have given them our collective all. Instead of having nothing in common with Trace Adkins, Steven Colbert, Bud Selig, Tom Watson, and Bob Woodruff we can be mentioned in the same breath for one single achievement. To my best knowledge only one of us can claim the title of United States Marine. Me. And I'm proud of that! Semper Fi!"
Operation Open Arms is a 501c3 public charity. Tax deductible donations can be made on the OOA website at www.operationopenarms.org or by check to: OOA, P.O. Box 101, St. James City, FL 33956.