Residents honor debt to veterans

Ron and Margie Stephens proudly display their award for dedication to the veterans and families of Task Force Dagger. (Caloosa Belle/Patty Brant)

Ron and Margie Stephens proudly display their award for dedication to the veterans and families of Task Force Dagger. (Caloosa Belle/Patty Brant)

America owes a debt to its military veterans that can never really be repaid. But there are ways to let them know that their sacrifices are appreciated.

Task Force Dagger Foundation was organized in 2009 and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and provides financial assistance for care and treatment not covered by the military, Department of Defense or insurance. Task Force Dagger is funded by all private donations – as a 501 3 c, but is applying for a VA grant this fall to do recreational therapy events.

For three years LaBelle residents Ron and Margie Stephens have given their time and talents to a week-long task force event in Key West – a large family event for disabled Special Operations veterans from all branches of the service and their families. This recreational therapy event took place in June of each year.

Margie was unable to go this year, but Ron was there again, coordinating busy schedules and recruiting additional massage therapists for the event held in Key West at the Westin Hotel. The week is free for the veterans, thanks to donations secured by the task force, and provides many ways for stressed families to reconnect.

Task force personnel are a mix of active duty, vets and civilian volunteers. Ron is, himself, an Army veteran who served in Texas as a member of the 17th Engineer Battalion 2nd Armored Division “Hell on Wheels” during the Cuban missile crisis. His son, Mark, is a disabled, retired Special Operations veteran and West Point graduate who originally brought Ron and Margie in to help, using their skills as a professional Licensed Message Therapists to relieve tension and soothe sore muscles. Margie said that, at first, therapeutic massage was a little harder for the male vets to get into but the second year they realized what they were missing. Now it’s a favorite activity.

Mark teaches scuba diving to his fellow vets and their families during the Task Force week, helping the veterans overcome the physical and emotional wounds they are left with from their service. They use the Navy’s elite dive school at Key West for the lessons.

During the task force’s recreational therapy event last summer, veterans and their families got to take part in activities including tours, a cookout, a concert, visits to the Mel Fischer Maritime Museum, Key West trolley cars and aquarium among others.

Mark, who serves on the board of Task Force Dagger, says the task force is always in need of financial support. He said there are a lot of groups helping veterans and most are genuine, but he points out that almost all donated funds go to help the veterans, not administration. He said the task force sometimes coordinates with other groups with great causes but takes care to avoid any confusion among the groups in the public’s mind.

TFD focuses on the immediate needs of both active duty military and veterans for rehab treatment including PTSD in the veteran and also the family. Recent indications are that wives of vets with PTSD have the same brain patterns – in fact, that they can display symptoms “by proxy.”

According to Mark, families can manage to move on from having a family member killed in action (not without difficulty, of course), but for veterans with disabilities and their families, there is never any closure. The family, including the kids, will always be impacted by the experience.

The task force helps ensure the veterans they serve are on a good path, and the task force remains involved for years to come, providing the support that can make such a difference in their lives. He wants people to “remember who allows you to have their freedoms.”

Mark pointed out that it helps when others understand – when they let the veterans know that they made those sacrifices were for something important.

Task Force Dagger is dedicated to helping those who went through their struggle and Ron said, “Don’t be afraid to get involved.” The hope is that, with a little support, these heroes can turn their life around.

Mark said, with Task Force Dagger, “Check politics at the door – it’s a matter of respect.

According to the task force “if a soldier is injured, the whole family is injured and they must heal together.”

Patty Brant, can be reached at

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