When we met him in 2010, Army Sergeant John Moore was recuperating from an IED blast at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. The year prior, John was serving on his second deployment to Iraq as a Forward Observer when tragedy struck—an IED consisting of a double-stacked antitank mine exploded under the Stryker vehicle in which he was riding.
All the soldiers riding in the vehicle survived that day, but John’s legs were crushed. Doctors amputated his left leg and salvaged his right—but not without multiple surgeries and the aid of a fixator, an external stabilizing structure which consists of rods screwed into the bones of his shattered ankle. He was in this state when he attended his first Freedom Alliance event.
Fast forward to December 2019: John is happily married (to a young lady he met at a Freedom Alliance event, no less). He is blessed with two daughters and two sons, and he is mobile with the support of a prosthetic leg and brace. He and his family recently moved to John’s home state of Tennessee.
Freedom Alliance has stood by John during his decade of recovery, providing him with an all-terrain wheelchair and including him on numerous hunting and fishing events. We thought he and his wife, Amy, would be the perfect candidates to experience our Offshore Experience, newly reformatted for married couples.
Since we had allotted resources for another veteran and spouse, John recommended Army Staff Sergeant Brian Furniss-Roe, who he had met after being transferred to Fort Belvoir in 2012.
Brian, from Greensboro, North Carolina, was a combat medic who served in Iraq in 2007 and 2008 and then was assigned to the Pentagon in 2009. During that assignment, Brian was fighting an autoimmune disease that doctors didn’t diagnose until 2012. He continues to receive treatment for that illness. Brian’s wife, Mandy, is his high-school sweetheart, and they have two daughters.
After arriving at the beautiful Los Sueños Resort and Marina in Costa Rica, the couples were shown the condo that would be their home for the week. Generously donated by Brennan O’Donnell, this condo features a patio that opens onto a pool overlooking the resort. All four of our guests wore jaw-dropping expressions as the reality sunk in: this would be theirs each day for the next week!
That evening, Freedom Alliance Board Member Gerald Lindholm and his wife, Virginia (who are homeowners at the resort), treated the couples to their first meal in Costa Rica at Al Fresco’s. This open-air restaurant provided a spectacular sunset as the four experienced their first taste—and sight—of Pura Vida.
The next morning, the couples enjoyed breakfast at the Hook-Up Restaurant, which overlooks one of the most sought-after marinas in the world. The friendly staff and management extend a special welcome to Freedom Alliance guests, and the resort has generously partnered with our program to provide any meals not covered by other supporters!
After breakfast, we headed over to see our good friend Jose Eduardo of Jose’s Crocodile River Tour. We boarded the boat with a few other tourists, and Jose and his crew introduced us to the wildlife gems of the Tarcoles River. After spotting a multitude of bird species and reptiles, Jose pointed out the main attraction of his tour—a crocodile! As an added bonus, howler monkeys and white-faced capuchin monkeys showed up, to the delight of everyone on the tour.
Vista Los Sueños Adventure Park was our afternoon destination, and the couples were in for a treat. The park guides led us to a collection of Honda Fourtrax 420cc ATVs and, following a safety brief, took us over to the practice track. After warming up to the ATVs, we commenced a two-hour tour, cruising through mud puddles and streams.
We eventually drove into the canopied jungle and parked the ATVs. Following the guides for a short hike to a suspended bridge, we arrived at a beautiful waterfall. The couples took turns posing for romantic photos, and the genuine happiness was contagious. The sun started to set as we drove back, lighting the sky on fire.
After such an adventurous day, Gerald Lindholm treated the four to a relaxing dinner at Lanterna Restaurant, an Italian steakhouse in the Marina Village at Los Sueños Resort.
The next morning was clear and beautiful. After a hearty breakfast at the Hook-Up, the two couples walked down to the marina, in awe of the luxurious sportfishing vessels lining the docks.
We came to Pelagic Magic, a 51-foot Ricky Scarborough custom Carolina sportfisher, where Captain Carl Schloderer and his brother Kurt, who serves as first mate, greeted us. The fishing day was provided by the owner of Pelagic Magic, Mr. John McNally, who donated two days of fishing to Freedom Alliance earlier in the year.
We spent the morning fishing for live bait, and Brian reeled in a nice bonito, which we immediately rigged to troll. A wahoo ate our planar board (an unusual occurrence) and was quickly followed by a mahi taking our line. John was first on the rod and reeled the fish to the boat, where Kurt gaffed it into the cockpit. There was prolonged celebration because this was a fish we could eat that night!
Later that afternoon, the rod tip bent as a sailfish took the bait. All anglers enjoy the show when a hooked sailfish dances and leaps across the water. After a lively performance, the fish was safely released, and the cockpit resounded with high-fives.
A highlight for many tourists who go fishing in Costa Rica are the pods of dolphin that frequent the Pacific waters. Our whole crew enjoyed a sunset moment with dolphins swimming and jumping mere feet away from the boat.
That evening, we dined at Bambu, the resort’s sushi and Asian bistro. We brought our bag of fresh-caught mahi and gave the chef permission to prepare it as he saw fit. A few minutes later, we were eating mahi strips fried in tempura as an appetizer. Then, the server presented a sushi boat with the mahi prepared six different ways. We were blown away—AND the resort donated the meal!
The next day, we boarded the Costa Cat catamaran for a 45-minute ride to Isla Tortuga. Costa Cat Cruises and their owner, Jimmy Kitchell, have been supporting our Offshore Experience troops all year. Once we arrived at the white-sand beachhead and secured our gear in the shade of the palm trees, the couples were invited to go snorkeling. They enjoyed getting up close to numerous fish, starfish, and even an octopus!
After they returned, the Costa Cat staff prepared a big lunch, consisting of traditional Costa Rican fare: chicken, rice, potatoes, and salad. We met Mike on the tour, another veteran, who had served in the Navy and been wounded by an RPG in Ramadi, Iraq. He and his wife joined us for lunch. Mike had met our Freedom Alliance founder, Oliver North, while in Iraq and expressed his gratitude for programs like ours.
We spent the remainder of our time at Tortuga in a discussion about the war and how it relates to finding purpose after being discharged. The discussion part of our program uses a model developed by psychotherapist Dr. Ed Tick, using history and other warrior cultures to show how soldiers 3,000 years ago faced many of the same challenges. We read notes of appreciation written by the youth of Manassas Baptist Church in Virginia and discussed the importance of continuing the warrior identity after war.
In the condo that night, while retelling stories of the past few days, fireworks set off at the Marriott in the resort. We quickly stepped outside to watch the display from on high. Brian wrapped his arm around Mandy, and John held Amy. It was a beautiful ending to their getaway.
A day after returning home, Mandy posted this: “Just had one of the best experiences of my life! Thanks to Freedom Alliance and the work of Pepper Ailor and the most amazing Lindholms. We flew to Costa Rica and went fishing, ATV riding, crocodile seeing, island snorkeling, and so much more. It was very therapeutic for the soul! The beauty that surrounds Los Sueños is amazing to me. And I am not talking just the flowers and the animals—I am talking about the people. Everyone was so nice and happy and friendly. It truly was an experience I will never forget.”