The men piling out of the trucks at the Upper Caroline Fire Station Saturday clearly weren't your garden-variety hunt club members.

While military surplus camouflaged uniforms have been popular hunting wear for years, many of these guys were sporting the newer Army Combat Uniforms with a computer-generated pattern.

It was almost as though a small army was pouring in from the field to the massive buffet waiting inside. Twenty-one wounded warriors from the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at Fort Meade, Md., accompanied by nearly 50 members of the host Mattaponi Hunt Club, filed in to join the many members of the fire station, spouses and special guests.

Smiles abounded and stories of the hunt were eagerly recounted, especially tales of the big ones that got away by slipping through slight gaps between the guest hunters, despite the beagles' best efforts.

Hunt club Vice President J.T. Harrell said planning for the hunt began nearly two months ago following a September wounded-warrior fishing event on Lake Anna. A nearly 1,000-acre tract of land was lightly hunted only during bow and early muzzleloader season, resting it for the wounded warriors.

Capt. (Chaplain) Jeremiah Catlin was the Fort Meade group's leader, himself recovering from a severely damaged right shoulder following lengthy surgery for cancer. He explained that the top 20 finishers in the bass tourney won the rights to return for this deer hunt.

Catlin said the fishing tournament brought enduring, broad smiles to the faces of men no one had observed smiling much recently.

Harrell said once word of the hunt got out, unsolicited donations poured in, including food, funds for licenses, cabins at the KOA campground and processing of the deer. Staff Sgt. Jason Wood, a WTU squad leader, said: "I can't believe all the trouble people went to for this. I wasn't expecting this much."

After the post-hunt buffet, Fire Chief Steve Parrish presented the soldiers with certificates making them honorary life members of the volunteer fire department. They also received one-year memberships with the American Legion's Spotsylvania Post 320.

In a touching moment, Parrish pointed out hand-made cards and posters adorning the walls of the station. Green Primary School students expressed their thanks for the soldiers' service. Each man also received individual cards from the students.

"The messages you read in here speak for all of us. We honor you and praise you for your service to our country," Parrish said.

"Getting these meant so much to all of us over in Iraq," Chaplain Catlin said softly.


Caledon, A. P. Hill Hunts a Success

Elsewhere Saturday, the gently rolling terrain of the Caledon Natural Area in King George was the venue for a hunt Buddy Fines has coordinated for disabled veterans for several years.

Nearly 30 hunters came from throughout Virginia and were assisted by twice that many volunteers and Congressman Rob Wittman. They took 10 deer and enjoyed a sumptuous feast in the field.

"We had enough food to feed an army," Fines chuckled. "There were lots of smiles all day long."

Earlier in the week, several wounded warriors assigned to Walter Reed Army Medical Center enjoyed a multi-day hunt at Fort A.P. Hill with installation staff members and volunteers from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Association of the U.S. Army.

These young men, many just beginning to rehabilitate from surgery, took several deer. Two novice hunters took their first deer ever, including a nice 7-pointer collected by 20-year-old Jake Lerner, who lost a leg to a land mine in Afghanistan. A couple of hunters, including one first-timer who had his hip shot away and another who is a double amputee of his legs above the knee, insisted on field dressing the animals despite difficulties in maneuvering around the work area.

Their toughness, determination and ability to smile through the pain inspires all who witness it.


Forging New Friendships

Donations of time, talent, money and facilities make events like these happen. Underlying it all is an overwhelming desire to tell our military members that their work and sacrifice is truly appreciated.

While a day or two of hunting together is no replacement for the bonds forged in that crucible called combat, sharing common outdoors experiences helps create, in some small way, a new band of brothers. Invitations to return and join our local hunters abounded during the hunts. Here's hoping our wounded warriors avail themselves of the offer.

"This is one of the best things I've ever done," said J.V. Skinner of Spotsylvania, a Fredericksburg firefighter and third-generation Mattaponi Hunt Club member. "These guys were hurt serving their country and it is great just being able to do something for them. I wish we could do this every season."

The first gentle snowflakes of the season were falling as the day ended. They twinkled in the headlights as I headed home after bidding farewell to Chaplain Catlin, the hunt club leaders and others who had assembled the program in the fire station.

I flipped on the radio. Christmas music was playing--"O Holy Night," to be specific, a song I've always associated with warm churches on cold Christmas Eves. There was no denying the warmth and fellowship that enveloped the gathering I had just left. How representative of the season it was to hear the expressions of thanks given and returned.

I think for most in the room, though, the biggest and most enduring thanks came from seeing those smiles--those great-to-see smiles on the faces of those injured while wearing our nation's uniform.

Ken Perrotte can be reached at The Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, by fax at 373-8455 or e-mail at
Email: outdoors@freelancestar.com

Page last updated Wed December 17th, 2008 at 16:05