Indiana Legionnaire Michael Dove enjoys fishing. And as a veteran, he has a concern for other veterans, especially those who have recently returned from active duty and are transitioning into civilian life.
With the help of other Legionnaires and a slew of sponsors, Dove is combining those two endeavors. A member of Post 331 in Brownsburg, Ind., Dove is using fishing to raise awareness about The Path Home, a joint project between Indiana Legionnaires and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars aimed at helping returning servicemembers reconnect with society. Dove competes in fishing tournaments, in a boat with The American Legion's name on it. He tows the boat with a truck that also features the Legion's name.
Dove expects more than 30,000 people will see the boat in person this year; the potential audience for it in various forms of media and in publications is much greater.
"I'm just a face, and I'm trying to get exposure for this program and for The American Legion," said Dove, a U.S. Navy veteran and Brownsburg's chief of police. "It's just about making people aware of what veterans need and what's available to them when they get home."
Dove met Legion and VFW member Bob Lunebrink with The Path Home and immediately understood the importance of the program, which offers free services ranging from help with VA claims to simply providing someone to talk to. Dove immediately wanted to spread the word about the project.
"Working in the police department, I see the seedy underside of society sometimes," Dove said. "These guys serving in the military, some of them see it every day. They're patriots, and they come home and it's not always easy for them. Some of them have survivor's guilt. For some, it's just getting used to being back to their regular lives. They need someone there for them."
Lunebrink, Post 331's service officer, said The Path Home is all about helping veterans. "It's not about The American Legion doing it, and it's not about the VFW doing it. It's about all of us working together for a common cause,"
Lunebrink said. "We're about helping veterans. That is the common goal."Dove expects that upwards of 1 million will see the boat in a publication. "I can't stop at any gas station in the state without someone taking a picture of the boat."
Sponsorship is a key to Dove's efforts, and Post 331 is one of those sponsors. Also helping out the effort are Bill Estes Ford in Brownsburg, Comfort Suites of Brownsburg, Big O Tires of Brownsburg, Flap Jacks Restaurants, Sign-A-Rama in Carmel, Ind., Simpson Racing, Skeet Reese Rods, Tro Kar hooks, and Wright and McGill Fishing. Dove also has latched onto a well-known national name: John Force. An NHRA drag racer and reality television star, Force is a 14-time Funny Car champion driver and a 16-time champion car owner.
"John is a great American, and it means a lot to me that he would sponsor this project," Dove said. "He believes in what we are doing."
So does Dove.
"These guys are putting their lives on the line for the rest of us," he said. "Three people who work for me have kids in harm's way. Those people really believe in what they are doing. We need to show them we believe in it, too. And that we care when they come home."