Nine years ago, life changed for Rob Roden. Everything he was, disappeared. It however ultimately made him a stronger man. A good deal of that help has come through the Wounded Warrior Sportsman’s Fund.
On Jan. 29, 2005, while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom on the USS Kitty Hawk, the Tampa Bay resident was on the flight deck as a plane was making an emergency landing. The craft went down over a resting wire and “it clipped off my left leg,” he said.
Reconstructive surgery was done on his right ankle and leg, and that was saved, but his left leg was amputated.
He spent more than a year in rehabilitation and he is now “somewhat ambulatory” but he found the world had become a very different place, he said.
“It was a dark period. I came back a different person,” he said when he was dismissed in May 2006. “My hometown was a different place. Central Florida was a a different place. Everybody was different.”
His friends, though probably not intentionally, treated him differently.
“People would get the door for you who never did,” he said. “That’s when you know you’re different.”
It wasn’t just from his friends. His family treated him differently, too. It drew a lot of introspection and caused him to question himself. But it was those same people who helped him return to some normalcy. He found that his involvement with the Wounded Warriors Sportsman’s Fund did that too.
Those who run the organization know that too, as Roden is going to be a speaker Friday at the second fundraiser. It takes place at 6 p.m. at the Bartow Civic Center, 2250 S. Floral Ave. The banquet and auction raises money for veterans like Roden. The project takes wounded warriors on hunting trips that last for days, which not only restores confidence in them, but also puts them with other soldiers who suffer from severe injures. It honors their service to the United States and it works toward keeping them productive citizens.
Last year’s inaugural event was sold out and the civic center was jammed. While the auction was successful in raising money for trips — of which there are between 30-35 a year throughout Florida — this year, Ned Waters, one of the organizers has said this year’s auction has better items.
“We’ve got about 15 guns, scopes, TVs … all kinds of good stuff,” he said. There are also fishing trips, yards of concrete and dozens of other items to raffle.
There are plenty of tickets still available, Waters said. The prices range from $20 for kids to hundreds for corporate sponsors. All the money, he said, goes right into the fund.
There will be inspiration from Roden to show what the club is doing for those who served their country and paid for it, both physically and mentally.
“I was a different person when I came back, both mentally and physically,” Roden said, who added he was hesitant to go out of the house, even to the gas station. “I’m not talking about going out on a fully sponsored hunt … just going to the grocery store, a Walmart or the gas station … it was a very uncommon thing going out in the world.
“You get that reservation that you don’t know what kind of people are around you or what they’re thinking,” he said. “People would ask what is wrong with you (to fight)? Or that this is your fault.”
But then he heard about the Wounded Warriors Sportsman’s Fund and tried to get aboard. He was selected and he’s gone on three hunts — two deer hunts and one turkey hunt — and two things happened. It helped turn around his life and he’s become a big fan of the challenges of turkey hunting, something he’d never done before, though he’d been hunting with his dad since he was a child.
The multiple day trips helped him, he said, in cementing in his mind what his friends and family said to him and the conversations he’s had with himself.
“(They said) this doesn’t need to defeat you. From the worst situation, you’ve got to stick your head up and you can’t let it defeat you,” he said.
He said there are some things you’ve got to be callous about, but a person “can’t look backwards. Look forwards and not backwards.” He said the Wounded Warriors helps him do that. He said those who run Wounded Warriors Sportsman’s Fund are here to help injured veterans and show them a different avenue to make it make it happen.
“I will do anything for them. They’re an awesome organization.”