WTB, HAVA provide hunting trip for terminally-ill Soldiers
Master Sgt. Anthony Cogdill (center) poses with the white-tail deer he shot on post during a hunt with his brothers Robert and Tim. Cogdill, a WTB Soldier diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, was able to participate in the hunt in large part due to adaptive equipment provided by Honored American Veterans Afield. A sip and puff device allowed him to fire his rifle using his mouth, since he has already lost control of his limbs due to ALS.

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- In a clearing in the back woods of Fort Campbell, Master Sgt. Anthony Codgill took his aim, fired and connected with an eight-point buck.

A simple scene, until one discovers that Cogdill took the shot using a sip and puff device connected to his rifle. Cogdill is in the end stages of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The terminal illness is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. The degeneration leads to lack of muscle movement, paralysis, as well as difficulty speaking, swallowing and breathing. There is currently no cure for ALS.

Cogdill first started having health problems while deployed to Afghanistan a few years ago.

"My second deployment was in 2011," Cogdill said, in an email. "We were in Kandahar, and Bagram, Afghanistan, when I was injured. Once it was discovered that my neck was broke, I was then medevac[ed] out of Bagram."

When he returned to the U.S., he joined Fort Campbell's Warrior Transition Battalion because it was the closest installation to his Family's home in Hohenwald, Tenn. However, that was not the end of his medical problems.

"After multiple surgeries on my neck my symptoms were not getting any better; they were only getting worse," Cogdill added. "On December 22, 2011, I was diagnosed with ALS."

Coghill now spends his days on home duty but that does not mean that his fellow Soldiers are not thinking about him. This consideration is what brought about the Veterans Day deer hunt.

"One of the social workers who's been with the Cogdills for a long time, I had a conversation with her and she mentioned it, and then I went with it," said squad leader Sgt. Adam Hartley, with Fort Campbell WTB's 4th Platoon, A Company, 1st Squadron.

While first trying to make the hunt happen through other channels, Hartley eventually linked up with Honored American Veterans Afield through the help of retired Chief Warrant Officer 3 Trevor Baucom, a fellow Wounded Warrior and HAVA volunteer. This nonprofit organization provides hunting and shooting opportunities to disabled Veterans. For more about this organization, visit www.honoredveterans.org.

"We ... find outfitters and land owners who have a heart for these guys and want to allow us to do some hunting out there," said HAVA's outreach manager Heath Gunns, who was on-site during the hunt. "We then provide transportation and travel costs and tags and licenses and equipment and all of that stuff, and we come out and we do the hunt."

Gunns found great pleasure in helping arrange the Cogdill hunt, which involved bringing adaptive equipment, including a motor-controlled mount for the rife, a camera mounted to the optics and a sip and puff device that enabled Cogdill to shoot.

"We want to take these guys that are injured coming home, in spite of their injuries and whatever they have going on, get them in the outdoors," Gunns said. "Share the outdoors with them; let them challenge their disabilities. Begin to redefine what normal is for them, and just let the shooting sports industry say thanks for your service and sacrifice."

The hunt was a dream Cogdill thought he might never experience again, but one he happily enjoyed with his brothers by his side.

"As long as I can remember, my brothers Robert, Tim and I have always hunted together," he said. "Now due to me losing the use of my arms and legs because of the ALS, I just knew my hunting days were over until my squad leader Adam Hartley contacted my wife Alma with the possibility of my brothers and I being able to do a hunt together one last time."

In addition to HAVA, WTB, MWR Outdoor Recreation, the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Foundation and many others worked to make the hunt a success.

"In the end, all of the parties involved came together, sometimes overcoming huge hurdles, all with the design of allowing me and my Family to again share the outdoors and enjoy time afield in pursuit of Whitetail Deer," Cogdill said.

It was not until the fourth day of the hunt, as light waned, that Cogdill took his shot.

"After diligently hunting for four days, on the last evening [a] big, beautiful eight-point came into my crosshairs," Cogdill said. "I went to puff on the straw to fire the weapon and it didn't fire, but after a few phone calls and texts to my brother Robert and Heath Gunns in the blind below … we finally reloaded and I got the shot."

Hartley said he is just glad to be able to make this experience a reality, and it is just one of many ways that he plans to show his Soldiers that they are a priority.

"At the very end, when he finally got his deer and being able to be a part of that with his Family was the most rewarding thing I've done in the military, honestly," he said. "… Four grown men out there, balling our eyes out. As a squad leader, I didn't see myself getting that close when I first got there. Yes I wanted to touch lives and help Soldiers, but I didn't expect it to be like that."

Cogdill appreciates the care and concern shown by Fort Campbell, especially when it comes to this unforgettable memory.

"My experience with the WTB has been outstanding," he said. "We were truly blessed to be placed here. Everybody from my squad leader all the way up to the post commander has gone above and beyond the 'job description.' They do not look at this as a job -- [they] genuinely do care."

Page last updated Fri November 29th, 2013 at 00:00