Gary Lewis from Gary Lewis Outdoors (www.garylewisoutdoors.com) shares his recent experience at our annual Hunting with Heroes Veterans appreciation weekend:
Around the country there are dozens of organizations, mostly grassroots efforts on the local level, that pool the resources of donors and sponsors, that connect veterans with other veterans and hunting and fishing opportunities.
Over the past four years, I've worked with Home With Heroes to help veterans find healing and purpose in the outdoors. It's one small way I can make a difference.
Remember the attack on FOB Marez? It happened in 2004. Four days before Christmas, in a dining tent next to the main U.S. airfield in Mosul, Iraq, a suicide bomber walked in and blew himself up. The tent was crowded with personnel eating lunch. Twenty-two were killed and 72 were injured.
One of the injured was Shane Briel. Thirty-four years old at the time, Briel spent the next year of his life in hospitals and two more years in physical therapy. He considers himself one of the lucky ones.
We hunted together one morning and spent three days in camp with a dozen other veterans and volunteers. Briel, guided by team leader Bryan Bollman, was able to fill his tag, but the smile on his face was there because of the people that were gathered together.
Each veteran was paired with a team leader, himself a veteran, who would help them try to be in the right place at the right time.
For some it was a first deer hunt. For others, it was the first in a long time. Each one knew they were here because someone cared, someone was grateful for their service.
I'm pretty sure I'll see Shane Briel again at another deer camp or a bird hunting trip or on a fishing trip. That seems to be the way it works. I'm guessing next time that Briel will be the team leader, helping another veteran on the road to healing and purpose.
Gary Lewis can be reached at GaryLewisOutdoors.com.