By Lt. Col. Mike Kiser and Gary SheftickFebruary 25, 2009
TAMPA, Fla. (Army News Service, Feb. 23, 2009) - More than 40 wounded warriors participated in the second annual "Purple Heart Outdoors Tour" Quail Hunt in Edison, Ga., Feb. 13-15.
Army Reserve Lt. Col. Dan Hammack, owner of Southern Wilderness Plantation, hosted the event at the lodge on his game preserve about 60 miles south of Fort Benning, Ga.
Hammack, a Special Forces officer, came up with the idea for a "Purple Heart Outdoors Tour" last year. The tour is a series of group hunts and fishing events for wounded warriors or servicemembers who have received commendations for valor in the War on Terror.
The outdoor events are designed to build self-confidence and morale for the wounded warriors while exposing them to different activities, as outlined in the tour's mission statement. Last year's Bobwhite Quail Hunt was the first event of the tour.
"It was great," Hammack said, "but it was a spit in the bucket compared to this year."
This year's event involved more troops and many more community members. It fulfilled the secondary purpose for the tour, Hammack said, which is "the promotion of public awareness and mutual appreciation through interaction between military and civilian hosts and participants."
"Some of them ... don't know what to expect," Hammack said of the civilians who volunteer to help with the hunts. He added, however, that all who get involved ultimately are impressed with the troops and appreciative of their sacrifices.
Local residents were extremely supportive of this year's Quail Hunt, Hammock said. Members of the community served as guides and helped with the hunt. Some brought their dogs to flush out the quail, others served as cooks at the barbecue. A number of local businesses catered meals, free of charge, or donated funding for the event.
Local families housed many of the sevicemembers. Local landowners opened their property for the quail hunting.
Ten separate quail hunts actually took place simultaneously across a four-county area in Georgia, Hammack said.
Four Soldiers traveled to the event from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Others came from Fort Benning, Ga., and Fort Bragg, N.C. Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C, participated along with some Navy Seabees from Florida.
State Sen. John Douglas said he enjoyed hunting and billeting with the military at the lodge, and talking with each of the servicemembers.
The community bid for opportunities to support the hunt, Hammack said. There was a breakfast at the Methodist church, lunch at the Baptist church and dinner at a community barn which doubled as a community center.
A WALB news team from Albany, Ga., was at the event to conduct interviews during the luncheon and continued coverage into the field, capturing the excitement of the hunt.
Other "Purple Heart Outdoors Tour" events have included an elk hunt in Saskatchewan, Canada, and a wild turkey hunt in southwest Georgia.
Another turkey hunt is scheduled for next month, Hammack said. A Black Tail Deer Hunt is scheduled for northern California in August, and an elk hunt is scheduled for Colorado in October.
The vision of the program is to make the Purple Heart Outdoors Tour a permanent program with hunts across the nation, Hammack said. So far, he has helped with all of the events, but said he is "building a cadre" to carry on and expand the program.
(Lt. Col. Mike Kiser serves with the Army's Office of the Chief of Public Affairs - Southeast, in Tampa, Fla.)