Giving Back To U.S. Veterans

Redrum Sportfishing hosts free trips for servicemen
BY: LACEY STORER

Landing a 140-pound marlin is exhilarating for any fisherman. But it’s especially exhilarating when that fisherman, Hubert Gonzales, is a Marine Corp veteran who has spent the last several years recovering from combat injuries and a partial leg amputation.

This was Gonzales’ first deep sea fishing trip. The marlin, one of the biggest catches of the day, put up a good fight for about half an hour before being reeled in (and then released to re-join his family, once pictures were taken). “I thought I was in pretty good shape,” Gonzales says, “but I had to pace myself a few times.”

Gonzales, who served almost seven and a half years and did four tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and southeast Asia, is one of six veterans who came to Cabo as part of a trip organized by Veteran Outdoors and Redrum Sportfishing here in Cabo. The group spent five days fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding and just enjoying being able to get away from work, school, hospitals and everyday life.

This is the third trip Redrum has hosted for veterans with Veteran Outdoors. VO is a San Antonio-based organization that provides hunting, fishing and other outdoor trips for 500 to 600 veterans each year. The goal of these trips is to give veterans a chance to benefit from the therapeutic benefits being out in nature can provide.

“Getting out in nature is peaceful,” Gonzales says, “and it’s helpful for guys with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) whose switch is always on, they’re always alert.”

That feeling of being always on alert is something Hideshi Sasaki understands. He first visited Cabo nine years ago while on a short leave from the Army, and says he saw Cabo without really seeing it. He was looking at it as a soldier, not as a tourist. “I was only looking 300 meters ahead, because that’s the distance from which an enemy could kill you,” he says.

For Sasaki, who served for 25 years and was part of the U.S. Special Command before retiring almost five years ago, this trip is kind of like visiting Cabo for the first time. He’s seeing things like the arch and the marina in a new way than before. “You see how beautiful it is here,” he says.

Sasaki says Cabo was a good destination choice because it’s outside of the U.S., but is designed to appeal to American tourists. That’s important, because traveling overseas to a place that’s drastically different can be hard for veterans with PTSD.

Another benefit of trips like these is that they give veterans the opportunity to connect with other people who have had some of the same traumatic experiences as they have. That’s especially therapeutic for veterans with PTSD. Although Sasaki hasn’t had PTSD, he’s seen many of his fellow serviceman suffer from it. “Getting together and being able to share stories, it helps them heal,” he says.

Even though none of the guys on this trip knew each other before coming to Cabo, Gonzales says there was a bond between them that started as soon as they reached the airport.

“There’s that brotherhood,” he says. “I never met them before and I’d trust my life with them.”

John Donovan, owner of Redrum, says it’s amazing to see a group of strangers become so close over such a short trip. By the end of each trip, they all feel like family. “I call it five days of love, hugs, tears and celebration,” he says.

Along with bonding and healing, groups like Veteran Outdoors also give the veterans inspiration. Gonzales says the group motivated him to give back to the community. He’s currently in school studying rehabilitative science. He wants to get his degree in physical therapy and then work at the center where he went through rehabilitation, so he can help veterans going through what he went through. 

Giving, and getting, back

Donovan says he and his son, Ryan, tried for eight years to organize trips like this, but nothing came together until he heard about VO three years ago. He flew to Texas to meet with the organizers and make sure the group was legitimate, and had the same motivation and desire to help veterans as he did.

Veterans can either apply or be nominated for a trip, and VO is in charge of selecting the people who go on the trips. They also pay for all of the airfare. Redrum, with the help of sponsors and local businesses, provides housing, meals and even spending money for souvenirs so the veterans don’t have to spend a dime. Donovan says the trips cost around $12,000 USD, although that price doesn’t include the housing and fishing boats that Redrum donates, which would bring the total to more like $30,000.

But being able to provide a trip like this to those that have served their country, “it’s truly priceless,” he says. “We get more out of this than the veterans. We feel blessed.”

That sentiment is shared by Rusty and Dan Hoffman, a father-son duo from San Diego who help Redrum sponsor the trips. They’ve been fishing with Redrum for six years, and loved the idea of being able to give something back to the vets.

“A lot of these guys have never been to the ocean” Dan says, “so it’s a big deal.”

For Rusty, who served for four years in the Sea Bees, the U.S. Navy’s construction battalion, being able to bond and become friends with the veterans, “it’s something special,” he says, “that we can sit down and talk to people who’ve given so much.”

The VO currently has a list of 400 veterans who are waiting to go on trips. Redrum hosts VO trips twice a year, although Donovan says he would love to be able to do more trips, or be able to host more veterans per trip. To do that, however, would take more money and sponsorships. Or more people like him who are willing to help organize the trips with VO. It takes about four months of planning for each trip.

To learn more about Veteran Outdoors, visit their website at veteran-outdoors.com. If you’re interested in helping sponsor or host future trips, you can email Redrum Sportfishing at info@redrumcabo.com