Give thanks for many things this holiday season

As many of us are enjoying the holiday season, we may stop and think about the things for which we are thankful. Our freedom, family and friends, the beautiful Florida weather, hunting and fishing opportunities this winter and camping and hiking trips surely make the list.

Some other blessings to remember are the people who fight for our freedom, those working to keep us safe in our daily lives and those keeping the resources plentiful and the environment beautiful. Often, they may actually be one and the same.

More than 200 members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement have previously served in the military, are currently on active duty or are active in the reserves or National Guard.

These folks serve triple duty by protecting us, our natural resources and our country.

They represent all branches of the military and bring a variety of skills and experiences to the FWC. For example, they include a Navy SEAL, platoon sergeants, dive team members, military police officers, engineering technicians, combat instructors, infantrymen and more. Some are currently serving in leadership in the military as well.

They have been involved in operations Desert Storm, United Shield, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and others and have been trained and deployed in many areas across the United States and overseas, including Germany, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Trinidad, Russia and Somalia.

These military veterans and current military members serve throughout the Division of Law Enforcement, from operations to training to administration. Some are members of FWC’s Special Operations Group (SOG), where they put their experience and expertise to work in Florida. Some fly aircraft or teach at our academy, while others patrol the woods and waters of our great state. Still others are members of the FWC’s leadership or support staff.

Their service, as well as the efforts of all FWC officers, is invaluable to Florida’s people and natural resources.

Last week, on Thanksgiving night, three duck hunters were stranded when their boat capsized on Lake Monroe in Volusia County. The two men and a woman found themselves in cold, waist-deep water. To get as much of their bodies out of the water as they could, they climbed on top of the sunken boat. Luckily, their cell phones still worked so they were able to call for help.

The FWC responded along with local law enforcement and fire personnel. FWC officers Aubrey Ransom, Maxwell Edson and James Yetter, a former U.S. Coast Guard reservist, were successful in finding and reaching the hunters. They took the trio safely to shore.

In another recent case, Officer Paul Mendez, a retired member of the U.S. Navy, responded to a complaint of someone hunting in a closed portion of the Triple N Ranch Wildlife Management Area. He tracked a vehicle for approximately 2 miles and found the illegal hunter. After talking with him, the suspect admitted to loosening boards to a gate and lifting the chains and locks over it to enter the closed area. Mendez cited him for operating a vehicle in a closed area and hunting in a closed area – both misdemeanors.

The FWC is proud of all levels of its military involvement. In addition to military service, FWC staff supports Wounded Warrior hunts, participates in the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve program and coordinates license exemptions for disabled veterans, military members stationed out of state and those participating in a Military/Disabled Veteran Event.

The FWC also encourages veterans and current military members to apply to it for employment. Check for more information. You can also get involved by reporting suspected violations. To do so, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922 or text

Get out and enjoy all Florida has to offer this holiday season and remember to thank those who make it possible to do so.

Editorial note: “Protecting Paradise” provides a glimpse into the world of an FWC officer. Finding lost hikers, checking boaters for safety gear and teaching children about fishing and hunting are just some of the contributions they make. This column is written by Katie Purcell, Division of Law Enforcement Community Relations Coordinator. It will feature different topics to help communicate with the public and foster the shared passion and teamwork that are vital to protecting Florida’s people and beautiful natural resources for years to come.