'Never quit, Green Beret'
Local charter captain Bobby Dove lost an arm and leg in Afghanistan
NICEVILLE — At first glance, there's nothing particularly unusual about Capt. Bobby Dove's fishing charter boat bobbing gently in the marina at Emerald Coast Marine.
But there's a reason his boat carries the name Hooligan Charters in red, white and blue script. Dove named his business after the Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) team — "The Hooligans" — with whom he served in Afghanistan.
There's also a reason the boat is berthed close to the shore, a courtesy extended by the management of Emerald Coast Marine. It's a courtesy Dove appreciates because he lost most of his right arm and right leg when an improvised explosive device exploded under his motorcycle during a combat patrol in Afghanistan almost six years ago.
"My front tire struck a pressure-plate IED, and it instantly cut the front half of the bike off," Dove said.
Then 25, Dove was riding ahead of a convoy moving through Kandahar. By the time his teammates got to him, Dove — a Green Beret medic — had already begun, as best he could, to assess and treat his injuries.
Dove was knocked unconscious for about a minute, he guesses. When he regained consciousness, he was instantly aware he was going to lose his right hand, which had been badly burned and mangled in the explosion. So he set about trying to address his other injuries — or at least the ones he knew he had suffered.
"I rolled over onto my right side to try to stop the bleeding in my arm," he said, "and when I rolled, I felt my left leg hit the ground where I thought my right leg was — so it was apparent then that I had lost my right leg."
As his teammates got to his side, Dove screamed "Tourniquet! Tourniquet! Tourniquet!" to get them to stop the blood loss from what remained of his right leg.
Incredibly, Dove remained conscious during the entire 40-minute wait for a medical evacuation helicopter. He remembers guiding his teammates through the treatment he needed during the wait.
"I ... just fell right back to my mode of 'never quit, Green-Beret, just keep trying,' " Dove said.
But today Dove also marks that moment as the start of his career as a charter boat captain.
As he lay injured and waiting on the helicopter, and later through 10 weeks — and 40 surgeries — stateside at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, followed by seven months of rehabilitation as he returned to duty, Dove found himself in a philosophical frame of mind.
"I was flooded with regret. Not of what I had done, but what I hadn't done in life," he said. "I wanted to propose to the woman I wanted to marry, and have kids, and I really wanted to experience the outdoors that I love so much. That kind of instilled a different mindset in me — that I'm always going to do what I feel is right, and not think about the dumb stuff that stops us from that."
He did propose to the woman he wanted to marry. He and his wife, Emmy, now have two children — 3-year-old Wyatt and Eva, a few months short of her second birthday.
For a time, though, Dove's fond memories of fishing and hunting in and around the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia where he grew up were pushed aside as he focused on the possibility of returning to duty. He would eventually go on a non-combat deployment with his team, and would return to the 7th Group's Eglin Air Force Base headquarters to work with other Green Berets recovering from combat injuries. But none of that, all away from the real action, was enough for Dove.
"It was much too painful for me to see other people doing what I wanted to do," he said.
Dove medically retired from the Army in July 2014. But during his final seven months with the 7th Group at Eglin, Dove bought a boat and spent a lot of time fishing in Choctawhatchee Bay.
"It did a lot for me psychologically and physically," he said.
Fitted with prosthetics, he began to learn how to maneuver the boat, how to keep his balance in choppy water, and how to tie fishing knots.
"I was not very stable at first," Dove said. "I was still getting used to prosthetics and everything, and being able to be stable and sturdy on a rocking boat took some practice. Being able to drive and dock a boat one-handed took some getting used to.
"The hardest parts were learning to tie knots," he added. "A lot of times after work I would sit in my living room and just tie knots. It probably took a few thousand iterations of tying knots to get to what I'd now call proficient."
A year and a half later Dove bought a bigger boat and began spending more time in the Gulf of Mexico.
Hooligan Charters got its start after Dove and one of his teammates, who left the military the same time as Dove, started talking about working together as fishing guides. His partner has recently moved on to other work, but Hooligan Charters is going strong. Dove recently hired a mate, and he's already thinking about buying a second boat.
"I loved every second in the Army, especially on my team," he said. "It's something that I miss and think about every single day."
But, he quickly added, "That doesn't mean I'm not thankful for what I do and what I have.""
Talking about life as a charter captain, Dove said, "I absolutely love it. I get so much satisfaction now after knowing I've put people on fish and seeing them smile and reeling them in, and having a good day."
To learn more about Hooligan Charters, go online to hooligancharters.com or call 850-462-7140.