Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Treating Active Military to Paradise

Stepping Stones

Getting ready to board the Dolphin Explorer (From left): Bob McConville, Capt. Michael Tateo, the Alvarado Family (Giovanni, Jhonnie, Dani and Katherine), Brandi Tramazzo, Dawn Henderson and her dog Sunshine.

Imagine returning from an active tour of duty overseas, anxious to spend some quality time with the ones you love, and then the phone rings. Without hesitation you explain to your family that your country needs you and you must leave… again.

This is a lifestyle for active servicemen in the U.S. Army. For Sgt. Jhonnie Alvarado it became a habit, serving six tours overseas and three of them in Afghanistan. Sgt. Alvarado is a family man with a lovely wife, Katherine, a beautiful daughter, Dani, and a handsome son, Giovanni.

He lives for his family and the time they share but things don’t always go as planned.

Photos by Bob McConville |
The American Flag flies amongst our area palm trees, thanks to men like Sgt. Alvarado.

Sgt. Jhonnie Alvarado has important work to do. His team of mechanics accepts the responsibility as back-up to a Special Ops unit. If something breaks down they get the call to fix it. It sounds mundane, ordinary and unassuming… go fix a truck, go change a tire. It shouldn’t be a life threatening job, but sometimes things don’t go as planned.

On a routine call in Afghanistan, Sgt. Alvarado’s team came under attack. Enemy fire took his band of brothers by surprise. Knowing his duty was to protect his men, he did what was necessary to control the moment and save his comrades lives. He doesn’t like to talk about it but his actions earned him a medal, a badge of courage for heroism.

Not all of his buddies were presented a medal and, being the unselfish man that he is, he gave his prize to a deserving member of his unit.

Back home again, the Sergeant was anxious to spend time with his family, but how do you help reward someone of such character, of such unselfishness? After an event such as Jhonnie experienced it is important that the entire family take time to readjust, to heal and move forward. That need has been answered on Marco Island.

The Hero House Foundation addresses the needs for a program to allow the entire family of U.S. service members returning from hazardous duty to spend much needed time together. This program recognizes the sacrifices these Americans have made for all of us. Recipients are nominated by senior leadership in their respective branches and it applies only to active duty families.

Founded by Brandi Tramazzo, Hero House provides all travel expenses, housing, food and entertainment costs, plus the chance to spend quality time together in our slice of paradise. Realizing the sacrifices made by families to help keep us safe, several local businesses happily answered the call when asked to volunteer their services.

The Boat House Motel provided a weeks lodging for the Alvarados.

Corrie Billie Airboat Tours stepped up as well. The Naples Zoo awarded a day of fun and entertainment to the family, while the fine folks at Marco Movies chipped in a great dinner and some entertainment. Not to be forgotten, the Dolphin Explorer showed the family a look at our area dolphins and ecosystem.

Passionate about this program, local resident Dawn Henderson approached me about this family. Within seconds I could see the sincerity in her eyes and could feel the warmth from her heart when she told me the Alvarado family story. She had me at “Hello.”

Spending time with the family on board the Dolphin Explorer rekindled a fire within me. Daughter Dani was stalwart in her efforts to complete the entire dolphin challenge book during the trip while younger brother Giovanni did not want to let go of his hero dad. Mom Katherine was the loving symbol of light to her family and modest hero Jhonnie soaked in the calm, warmth of the day, not worrying about when the next call might come.

The family dynamics touched my soul. I will forever be grateful to those who put their lives on the line to maintain my freedoms, whether I meet them or not. I will never again take for granted my loved ones and the time I share with them; it is too precious. I WILL pledge allegiance and I WILL sing “God Bless America” and I do so because of families like the Alvarados. Thank you, Sergeant for all that you do!

For more information about the Brandi Tramazzo Hero House Foundation please call 239-394-0562 or email them at

Bob is the owner of Stepping Stone Ecotours and a naturalist on board the Dolphin Explorer survey program. He is a member of Florida SEE (Society for Ethical Ecotourism). Bob loves his wife very much!

Meet Your Area Dolphins

The Research Team on board the Dolphin Explorer is happy to share information about your area dolphins with the Coastal Breeze News readers. Each edition an individual will be profiled so that you, too, might get to know them. Dolphins can be identified by the nicks and marks on their dorsal fins.

Meet Double Dip

This sub-adult was born in October of 2009 and is the offspring of a very productive mom named Giza.

Frequently seen with other dolphins its own age, this youngster always seems anxious to play when an opportunity arises, and has a known travel range from the east side of the Jolley Bridge all the way up the intercostal waterway to channel marker 44.

The two snips at the back top of the dorsal fin earned Double Dip its name.

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