There is much I have to learn about the obstacles Veterans face when they return home. One would think that things would be easier for them when they return, but this isn’t always the case. Now, I am not speaking on behalf of every individual who has fought for our country or all the Veterans we have worked with. What I am trying to say is it is a process, and that is why we decided to do a Veterans Reunion trip.
We did not pick favorites. The caseworker I work with at the VA Tabitha discussed who would benefit the most from another trip. For some it was a fun trip down to the Keys, and allowed them to relax. The guys that we approached about another trip were ones that caught the fishing bug from the first trip down.
After Edwin’s trip down, he told me that he wanted to be able to give back like JWF does. He now works for the Mission Continues, which empowers veterans facing the challenge of adjusting to life at home to find new missions. Manny and Repo both found fishing as a new hobby and an activity to bond with their kids. Abdiel was inspired by Jose’s love of seeing the world and has been traveling South America since his trip. Rudy has been an avid scuba diver for years and now he pays more attention to different types of fish and their behavior in their environment. From his observations, he applies the different variables to his fishing tactics.
A few days ago I was on the phone with a veteran, Jose. He was venting about a man at a doctor’s office, who said to him, “I didn’t take the easy military route. I went to college and got my masters.” Obviously, this was disrespectful and ignorant for this man to say. Jose told me he then closedeyes and went to his happy place, which was on a boat in the Keys. After his appointment he went fishing.
Their first trip made a difference in their day-to-day lives. We wanted to offer another trip to help with the process of veterans acclimating to civilian life, and finding a place of peace. Now I do want to say to our other Vets: Diago, Ruban, David, Jose, AJ, Rams, Mike, Alvaro, Eddie, Jackie, Kathleen, Greg, Jeremy, Jason, Hipilito, and Andrew, don’t be mad at me. I know I will see you again, if I haven’t already.
Last but not least there is Iraq War Veteran, Petty Officer Ernesto Eljaiek, AKA ‘Mahalo’ (a nickname he earned on his last trip.) I can try my best to tell you about their trip, but it’s always better to hear it straight from them. ‘Mahalo’ shares his thoughts on his reunion trip with the Foundation:
“First, I would like to thank the Jose Wejebe Foundation for giving me a place with some peace and tranquility that I haven’t had in a long time. It felt so good to feel like I had a purpose in life again. By that I mean waking up and knowing what I was going to do everyday, instead of just laying in bed and trying to find something to do for the day.
This time it was even more interesting since my wife was able to join me. She had just had hand surgery. I got to go fishing, spearfishing, and just being able to be around the salt water helped me in so many ways that I can’t even put into words.
What I can say is it has changed my life in such a positive way that I will be forever indebted to the Jose Wejebe Foundation for the rest of my life. The impact it has had helped with my family, kids, and just overall socializing a bit more than is sual for me. I wanted to view the life of Jose Wejebe after my experience down in the Keys with the Spanish Fly Foundation. I can honestly say that he would be so proud of his daughter Krissy and son in-law David for what they have accomplished. They have embodied his thoughts and values in the plans for his foundation.
As an Iraq War Vet, I would have never thought that I could go somewhere meet new people, enjoy their company, learn, and relax with them and not shut down like I tend to do. There were times when I, or another Vet, would have a moment that we just regress, they knew how to handle it and make us feel ok and normal with our emotions. I am Honored to have had the chance to meet such amazing people and call them my Friends.
This feeling started on the first day when I was shocked at how beautiful the house was where they put us up. It was the icing on the cake. We all accommodated each other based on our needs. Later we went to go eat and plan for the next day. Even though the weather didn’t play nice, Krissy made sure we would be entertained no matter what. We had a BBQ. enjoyed the pool, and ate at the Square Grouper, a special place operated by great friends of the Foundation.
Once we were able to fish, Krissy took us on a deep sea fishing expedition with a very experienced fisherman, Jim Sharpe, who made sure we enjoyed our time out there. On our trip back the second time his wife, Barb, awaited us with a homemade key lime pie. That really touched my heart.
The simplicity of the life in the Keys has shown me what I need. To feel like I belong is part of feeling normal again. Our spearfishing trip was with a great couple. They took us slowly from a shallow area to dive, working our way to deeper water. I loved this trip the best. To be in a world that was so peaceful and full of beautiful colors made me appreciate the sea more than ever before.
I am amazed at how it felt with so many people that Krissy introduced us to. They were so accommodating and friendly to us without judgmental eyes, just with true, honest loving feelings. My time in the Keys felt like home, not even a vacation. Spending time with new people and old was a wonderful experience. Jose, Manny, Edwin, Tabitha, Repo, were great people that I’m proud to call friends as well. This experience has shown me that it is possible to enjoy life and do it with people as well. Thank you again Krissy and David and the Jose Wejebe Spanish Fly Foundation for all that you do.”
Petty Officer Eljaiek Ernesto, AKA Mahalo!