By Lisa K. Goodwin

He had been a U.S. Marine Corps enlistee and a mortarman in the Que Son Valley in Vietnam. He spent five years as a warrant officer, and then 24 years as a commissioned officer – an unusual leadership path for a man in uniform.

But these days, he is more likely to be seen riding his motorcycle with the Old Town Chapter Harley Owners Group and helping to lead a different kind of campaign.

For the sixth year, Col. Ron “Paladin” Rook will sponsor a four-person golf team made up of armed services members as part of the Old Town Chapter Paws for Patriots Golf Tournament fundraiser to be held at River Hills Country Club located at 3943 New River Hills Pkwy. in Valrico.

The event, which will be held on Monday, October 13 at 8:30 a.m., helps raise money for – and awareness of – Southeastern Guide Dogs veterans programs.

Those programs train dogs to assist veterans who suffer from vision loss and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Veterans who qualify attend classes on the Southeastern Guide Dog campus in Palmetto with carefully bred, trained and matched dogs so that they can live more independently.

Recipients do not pay for dogs or services provided by Southeastern Guide Dogs. The nonprofit is funded solely through private donations.

“It’s the least we can do for our veterans to try and support Southeastern Guide Dogs and help these wounded veterans to regain their freedom and independence,” Rook said. “I just can’t say enough about the organization.”

Past participants and sponsors of the Paws for Patriots Golf Tournament have included Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and former commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. Tommy Franks, and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kathy Champion, a recipient of “George,” (a black Labrador retriever who was raised, trained and matched through Southeastern Guide Dogs).

The Brandon-based motorcycle group organized the first Paws for Patriots golf tournament seven years ago, and its members have raised more than $200,000 through the annual event thus far. Last year, the tournament sponsored more than 100 armed forces members.

To sponsor a military service member to play in the tournament, enter a team of players in the tournament, become a banner sponsor or donate a raffle prize for the event, contact Lisa Goodwin at (727) 501-2948 or lgood win4@yahoo.com.