December 7, 2015 Veterans Trip

Our second trip of December began with Fred’s arrival. A big house was donated to us to accommodate everyone, and we didn’t want it to go to waste.   It’s first come, first serve so Fred got the biggest room. I heard from another vet, Rick, who said his child was sick. He would be down as soon as he could. Isiah and Tyrone arrived a few hours later.  I showed them around the house.  We had 5 vets scheduled for this trip, but one had to reschedule, and Rick wasn’t sure when he would be there.  I called a few of our former vets, and two of them – Eddie and Ernesto (AKA Koi) – could make it.

The first day we caught a nice variety of fish; King fish, amberjacks, a bunch of yellowtail, and muttons.  It was Fred, Isiah, and Tyrone on the boat along with Captains Dave, Jared and Brandon.  Just recently we have started to use the same charter captains. I like to have a total of 3 captains on the boat.  This may sound crazy to have that many, but this is why I have started to use the same ones more consistently.  They all work well together. They are some of the best in the business and, most importantly, they do it for the right reasons. All of our guides had some kind of relationship with Jose, whether it was as a role model or a friend.  Using the same guides allows us to provide a common connection with all of our trip recipients. We are often visited by our kids/vets, and it allows everyone to be comfortable.  For one vet to know that one of his friends knows one of our captains helps in the process.

The second day was a rest day.  They went to explore the Keys.  Rick also was able to make it down.  The guys were out, and the gate clicker to the property was with them.  I had to let Rick in.  I got to the house and looked for another point of entry.  No luck. I decided to jump the fence.  FYI – I had talked to Rick before he came down here, and he’s a cop … so there I am jumping the fence as Rick pulls up.

After that unusual greeting I let him in and showed him around. He told me how he had watched my dad’s show for years, and being a Cuban-American, he was an inspiration to him. Eddie and Koi made it down a little later so we all got together for food at the Square Grouper.

We went fishing for the third day.   It was cool to see the new guys interact with Eddie and Koi.  Dave knew all of them. Eddie had visited Dave in the hospital when he fractured his skull last February. We had another nice variety of fish caught that day.  Koi unfortunately would have to leave because his faucet in his kitchen exploded.  The joys of domestic life!

Following this, all of them went spear fishing with Michelle, a captain who specializes in this. Rick, Eddie, and Fred really got into it.  That night we cooked the fish at the house and hung out for a while.

I am continually learning from watching the vets interact. This includes my husband, Dave, a Navy vet. Unlike in the past, today’s military can be a true melting pot of cultures. At its best, being politically correct doesn’t matter. Once trust and respect are established all are allowed to poke fun, use slang and say whatever. Dave, for example, used slang while playing the card game Spades with the vets that in other circles might sound racist. I started to cringe and then realized it was okay. There is a community of understanding that civilians don’t get. I have learned to go with the flow.  Fred also taught us all a new card game.  Rick, and Eddie had to leave later that night, but they stayed while Fred, Koi, and myself talked about ways to improve/partner with different organizations.  A lot of our guys do different things with the recreational department, and they had a lot of insight.

On the last day the group joined Captain Kenny Harris on Key West Extreme Adventures.  Kenny let them try out feeding the sharks from the set up he has.  This was quite a treat and a great way to see and appreciate sharks up close.

It is always hard to say goodbye to the vets. One thing that makes it easier is also what sets us apart from many large foundations. We continue the relationship with our participants if they choose to. Whether they are vets or kids and families, we welcome the networking and true teamwork. Who better to advise the Foundation on how to serve than the recipients of the trips?  Their input is invaluable.

The Foundation is ever-evolving, and I am thrilled with the authenticity of the teamwork and Spanish Fly family that has resulted. It just keeps getting better.

A note from participant Fred, and Rick:

“This was absolutely the best fishing trip of my life. From the gorgeous accommodations to the most experienced staff I’ve ever met, the Jose Wejebe “Spanish Fly” Memorial Foundation is truly top notch. The legend of Jose and the Spanish Fly is still alive through this amazing organization and the people within it. I would highly recommend this foundation and trip to any and everyone. Thank you for an absolutely amazing experience!”

-Fred Roger

“Thank you for making me feel like part of the Wejebe family.  Like I said before, I followed your father through his fishing shows and he is an inspiration to Cuban Americans.”

-Rick Valdes