Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hunting Trip For Combat Veterans

HAL WOODS, a Marine combat veteran, is an avid hunter, shown above with a downed buck, and a firefighter and medic with Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue in The Dalles. He is working with other emergency responders to organize a hunting trip for wounded warriors in October. Four veterans who were injured during deployments to Iraq will be provided with an all-expense-paid weekend adventure on two private ranches in Wasco County.
Wasco County ranchers prepare to host four wounded warriors.

A group of Wasco County emergency responders and ranchers are finalizing plans to provide four wounded warriors with a hunting trip this fall.

"We felt it was the least we could do for what these fellows have gone through for our country," said Vicki Ashley, who plans to serve peach cobbler fresh from the Dutch oven, along with other homemade specialties, during the October weekend.

She and her husband, Larry, own a wheat farm near Maupin, as do Bill and Barbara Hammel, who will be providing a campsite for the combat veterans.

"This is something we are all looking forward to and excited about," said Vicki.

Mike Caldwell, a retired Oregon State Police trooper, took the lead on forming Outdoor Adventures with Military Heroes, a committee of the Gorge Heroes Club that is organizing the hunt. He made the following comment after hearing about the Ashleys' planned feast: "I expect my hunters to lose weight, not gain it."

One of the veterans who will be participating in the hunt was a member of the Oregon National Guard and lost his leg during a 2004 firefight in Iraq. Another is an Army veteran who received chronic injuries while fighting for his life in hand-to-hand combat with an insurgent during a 2006-2007 deployment to Iraq.

The third veteran was in the Army and is grappling with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) after taking on the grisly task of preparing the bodies of fallen warriors for transport home during a 2007-08 tour of duty in Iraq. The fourth hunter will be a sergeant currently serving in the National Guard who endures chronic back pain, severe migraines and seizures. He received a traumatic brain injury after a roadside bomb exploded under his vehicle during a 2010-11 deployment to Iraq.

"For the guys who have mobility issues, we have places to hunt with easy access so they can still have a good time," said Ashley.

Bob Stone, owner of Bob Stone Freeway Auto Center of The Dalles, has stepped forward to support Outdoor Adventures and the heroes club by donating $100 for every car sold from Aug. 14-19 to the cause.

In May, Stone raised $4,300 from the same type of fundraiser that was dedicated to the care of local veterans. His goal is to generate a total of $10,000 this year for outreach efforts that benefit past and present military personnel.

"I have some great deals for this sale and it is a good opportunity for people who are shopping for a new vehicle to also show their appreciation for the men and women who have served," he said.

Terri Hansen, vice-president of the heroes club, said Stone has been the number one sponsor of care packages for men and women serving overseas from the Mid-Columbia region since the wars began in 2001 and 2003. She said he has provided nearly $20,000 in the past 12 years to boost the morale of troops in the field and help Guard members return from war and reintegrate back into the civilian world. In addition he has donated more than $45,200 to Mid-Columbia emergency response teams.

"Since 9/11, Bob Stone has made a real difference in the lives of those who have sacrificed so much for this nation," said Hansen. Outdoor Adventures was accepted by the heroes club as a committee in late January.

The five-member board is chaired by Fred Coleman, a former member of the Guard and a firefighter/medic with Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue. Serving with him are: Hal Woods, vice-chair who is also a firefighter with Mid-Columbia; Caldwell, who has the role of secretary/treasurer; Wasco County Chief Deputy Lane Magill; and, Keith Nantz, general manager and partner of Dillon Land and Cattle Company of Maupin.

The idea to do something for wounded warriors at the local level was spawned by Caldwell after he read a guest editorial published by The Chronicle in November and written by Magill. The law enforcement official spoke about the suicide of a local veteran and how that tragedy had driven him to do whatever he could to prevent other deaths. He urged community members to also step up and get involved in a cause that helped veterans.

"I read that column and then I went downstairs to watch TV and a program was on about a hunting trip that had been planned for wounded warriors," said Caldwell. "It made me ask, 'Why can't we do this locally?'"

Magill said when Caldwell first showed up at his office, he was gratified to know that his message had spurred someone else to action.

"He was all fired up and to have someone motivated like that by simple words on paper was pretty humbling. It meant a lot that someone listened to what I had to say," he said.

It has been a good cause for emergency responders to get involved with, said Magill, because they, like the military, deal with a lot of negative human behavior. Being able to help combat veterans is good for the morale of those who serve on the front lines at home because there is no downside to taking care of their "brothers and sisters."

"If we can save one life by doing this, or help one veteran feel cared about, then we have accomplished our mission," he said.

Once Caldwell enlisted Magill's help, he signed up Woods, who is the only combat veteran on the board. Woods was a lance corporal in the Marine Corps who took part in the Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm, in 1990-91.

"Just knowing what these young men and women are going through - this is my opportunity to give back," he said.

Coleman was chosen to head the committee because of his ongoing work with Ducks Unlimited, a national nonprofit organization. He also has military experience, with more than 10 years in the Guard so Caldwell and Magill, who have not served, thought he would also be an asset when working with veterans.

During a series of neighborhood meetings to pitch the idea for a hunting trip, Caldwell met Nantz, who offered the group his business experience. The ultimate goal of Outdoor Adventures is to have a variety of activities available to veterans each year, including rock climbing, hiking, fishing and off-roading.

"If they want to do it, we can plan for it," said Caldwell, who applied for start-up funds from Eid Passport, Inc., of Hillsboro.

The company, with a long track record of supporting military families, provided Outdoor Adventures with a $5,000 grant, which gave the group a green light to move ahead.

"Without them, this would never have gotten off the ground and up and running, it was a leap of faith," said Caldwell.

The list of landowners who have signed up to host activities is long, he said, and next year the hunt will take place by a lottery system to ensure that every veteran receives an equitable chance to enjoy one of the all-expense paid trips. Caldwell said the inaugural adventure is being undertaken by a group of veterans who have agreed to provide feedback about what went right and what could be improved upon. Their input will be used to plan future activities that will be customized to meet the needs of participating warriors.

For more information, Caldwell can be reached at 541-993-6222 or Donations can be sent to Outdoor Adventures with Military Heroes at P.O. Box 9, The Dalles, Ore., 97058