By Mr. Bryan Gatchell (Benning)November 29, 2018
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Concluding its third year earlier in November and set to occur for a fourth year in 2019, the annual Gold Star Hunt gathers Gold Star children, their Families, active-duty service members and retired service members to hunt for game on and off post.
Gold Star Families are those Families who lost a military service member during a period of conflict, and the hunt is coordinated by Mark Moore, a retired command sergeant major and now operations chief for Installation Management Command at Fort Benning.
"These Families had a Soldier who was lost, but these Families are still a part of the Army for life, as far as we're concerned," said Moore. "I think it's important to continue to reach out to the Families to let them know that the Army still cares about them."
Moore was a command sergeant major of U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning and deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He feels a personal obligation to Gold Star Families.
Moore became interested in forming a Gold Star Family hunt after meeting with the son of a military service member who, like Moore, was browsing the hunting section of a large retail store. Their mutual interest in hunting led Moore to conceive the weekend hunt idea.
"A lot of the people that volunteer for the program, especially myself, have lost Soldiers in combat, and it's important for us to be able to give back to those Families who have lost a Soldier," he said. "There's goodness in it in both directions. One, the Family has a good time. The kids gets to experience something that dad would have wanted to do if [he] were here. And the Soldiers and retirees are able to give back after experiencing loss themselves."
Moore coordinated volunteers, on-post organizations and off-post corporate enterprises to deliver this weekend event. He reached out to the local offices of Survivor Outreach Services of Morale, Welfare and Recreation to get in touch with Gold Star Families to determine whether the Families were interested.
Megan Baumgartner, Benning's SOS coordinator, commended Moore's dedication.
"Mark pours his passion of hunting and heart for mentoring Gold Star Children into every detail of this event," said Baumgartner.
Alonzo Stewart, a financial counselor with SOS, said he has seen the positive impact the hunt has had in the lives of its participants.
"To partner with a person like Mark Moore and the different retirees and active-duty Soldiers, to see the need to support these kids, is just great," said Stewart.
In addition to coordinating with SOS, Moore also reached out the MWR to reserve cabins at Uchee Creek on the Alabama side of Fort Benning. Corporate sponsors provided funding for the event to get the Gold Star children a hunting kit, which includes rifle, ammunition and more. Local restaurants donated food to the event. The U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, a tenant unit of Fort Benning, zeroed the rifles and provided a shotgun demonstration for the Families. And volunteers from units across post took part in the hunt with the children. Gold Star Family members who do not take part in the hunt get to visit the 34-foot towers at Eubanks Field on main post, thanks to volunteers from the 1st Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
The first year in 2016, the hunt had six children participating. The second year, it was 10. So, in addition to the hunt on post at Fort Benning, there was an additional hunt that took place at Iron Horse Farms in Marion, Alabama.
The children hunt deer and feral pigs on post. Moore said the hunt was a success as most of the participants were able to bag a deer or pig. He also said the hunt was successful as far as gaining community support.
"We'll do it as long as we have support to execute the hunt for Gold Star kids as long as we have Gold Star kids out there," said Moore.