OOA conducts 100th Marriage at Pink Shell Beach Resort

By BOB PETCHER (rpetcher@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

A 501c3 public charity without a payroll that has extended benefits to U.S. Troops for nearly 10 years conducted its 100th and final free wedding on Fort Myers Beach last weekend and has now dedicated its services to the care and treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that affects service people. Operation Open Arms, a nationally acclaimed military outreach program, organized and arranged the wedding service that took place between U.S. Marine groom Thomas Dailey Walker and U.S. Coast Guard bride Crystal Lydia Walker just before sundown last Friday on the beachfront at Pink Shell Beach Resort and Marina. The reception was held at Matanzas on the Bay directly afterwards. The two active duty service people didn’t have time or resources to have a ceremony two years ago when they were officially married.

“They got married on the fly before deployment,” said OOA founder Capt. John “GiddyUp” Bunch before the ceremony. “They never got a chance to have a conventional wedding ceremony. I thought that since their little girls would never get to see what their mom looked like in a wedding dress, why don’t I make the 100th wedding between two active duty service people. Not only will they have pictures now, people will get to witness the wedding.”

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OOA’s 100th and final wedding —between U.S. Marine groom Thomas Dailey Walker and U.S. Coast Guard bride Crystal Lydia Walker— took place on the beachfront at Pink Shell.

The main purpose now for OOA is to help service people that are emotionally affected by PTSD, a mental health condition that is triggered by a terrifying event while on active duty and involves symptoms that include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

“We have shifted our focus to PTSD. We will award all the normal benefits to those who go through PTSD appointments,” said Bunch. “We are certainly switching gears from just providing vacations to saving lives now.”

Founded in 2005, OOA had been providing benevolent services -such as weddings, restaurant meals and accommodations to name a few- through sponsors to those who serve our country.

OOA has covered more than 25 weddings of the 100 at the Pink Shell, including 9-10 on one day. At the 100th, Pink Shell not only supplied the ceremony location but also the resort photographer, who was dying to do it free of charge, according to Bunch.

“The Pink Shell has been an amazing partner to OOA. Dony Lubig has been an amazing asset when it comes to wedding planning and everything else,” said Bunch.

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Go to www.operationopenarms.org for more information on OOA.