Tuesday, August 25, 2009

DRC Welcomes Soldiers; Rededicates Veterans Garden

Enjoying a Dolphin Encounter at Dolphin Research Center with Merina are (l-r) Damon Ziegler, United States Marine Corps; Michael Fradera, United States Army; and Adam McCann, United States Marine Corps.

If smiles are any indication of a program’s success, then the recent visit to Dolphin Research Center (DRC) by participants from the Wounded Warrior Project and the Disabled American Veterans was a triumph. On Friday, August 14th, DRC treated 13 soldiers, all of whom are recovering from serious war-related injuries, and 8 Vietnam veterans to a special experience in the water with the dolphins. The men and their new dolphin friends swam, splashed, and played together in the Dolphin Encounter program, and constant smiles were seen everywhere.

After the dolphin swim, the men enjoyed a pizza lunch, donated by Papa John’s of Marathon. DRC’s Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder Mandy Rodriguez served in the U.S. Marine Corps, seeing active duty in Vietnam. “It was an honor to welcome these men to Dolphin Research Center. All soldiers face challenges when they return home, regardless of whether they are injured. We’re delighted that spending time with the dolphins provided a welcome break from those challenges,” Mandy says.

After lunch, the soldiers joined DRC staff and other visitors for the formal rededication of our Veterans Garden. Ten years ago, military veterans participated in a special group program at Dolphin Research Center. As part of their experience, they built a lush, tropical garden area that the center then dedicated to veterans of all wars.

Since then, the garden has persevered through storms and other challenges, and over the last year has been replenished with new plantings, paved walkways and other additions. On Friday, August 14th, DRC rededicated the Veterans Garden in a moving ceremony attended by the Key West Navy Color Guard, soldiers from the Wounded Warrior Project and Disabled American Veterans, center staff and visitors.
A few months ago, Specialist William Carroll of the New Jersey Army National Guard Reserves returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq. He visited DRC and presented the center with a United States flag that flew over Baghdad along with a Certificate of Patriotism from the Special Operations Task Force-Central of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. At the garden rededication, personnel from the US Navy Color Guard performed a refolding ceremony with the flag

Mandy explained, “This garden is a peaceful oasis at DRC, and a place to remember and honor the service and sacrifice of our nation’s solders in every branch of the military. We are honored to receive this flag and certificate.”

U.S. Navy personnel from Key West refold a United States flag that was presented to Dolphin Research Center with a Certificate of Patriotism from the Special Operations Task Force-Central of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. Observing the ceremony are (pictured r-l) DRC’s Chief Operating Officer Mandy Rodriguez, and staff members Adam Keaton, Thomas Darapiza, and Stuart Strickland.


Max said...

This helps to dispel the stereotypes surrounding dolphin interactions and those who enjoy them. After all, even the roughest, toughest men in the country enjoy the company of a dolphin or two!