By Amy Guckeen, USAG RedstoneJune 9, 2010
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- In the woods of Camp OuTAmongEM, wounded warriors are able to hope, dream and most importantly - hunt.
It was only a few years ago that Steve Statler, a logistics management specialist at LOGSA had an idea for a free hunting camp that would allow wounded warriors to return to the outdoor activities they loved before their injuries. Today, the program brings wounded warriors from around the area to the camp based on the ideals of conservation, compassion and community.
"Camp OuTAmongEM is dedicated to the task of seeing that our wounded warriors are never forgotten," Statler said. "We stand behind them, grateful for the sacrifices they have made for us and mindful of all hardships they endure in the name of freedom. They are in our thoughts, our prayers and our hearts. Our support for them will always be strong and unwavering."
The 40-acre handicapped-accessible hunting camp, with adjoining hunting camps in the Cloud Mountain/Paint Rock Valley area of New Hope, is a respite for the wounded warriors, a sacred place where they are able to focus on the words "I can," rather than "I cannot."
"There is something about hunting and being outdoors that rejuvenates the body and spirit," Statler said.
"It brings them back to the camaraderie of fellow heroes and wounded warriors," said Joe Shelley, vice chairman of the Semper Fi Community Task Force, which partners with Statler to make the camp possible. "Being outdoors has a certain, almost spiritual experience. It's an activity that perhaps they thought they wouldn't be able to do again, and with the arrangements that are made, they find that they can enjoy it... Those that grew up with it as part of their childhood experience, to get back to it again is finding a past joy in their life."
Participants are partnered with one-on-one volunteer guides whose sole purpose is to aid them in their time spent reconnecting with Mother Nature. All participants go through a familiarization and safety orientation prior to the actual hunt. Facilities are handicapped-accessible to allow the hunters to forget about their own limitations.
Hubble Hainline, retired National Guard, was doing rooftop surveillance in Iraq in 2007 when he was hit by sniper fire. The bullet took out his jugular vein and carotid artery. As a result of the injury, Hainline suffered a stroke. Surgeons had to remove a piece of his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain. In the years since, Hainline has undergone therapy, but his time at Statler's Camp OuTAmongEM covers an entirely different therapeutic realm. For Hainline, the thrill of the hunt is a distraction from the years of ups and downs he's had since returning from Iraq.
"For me it takes my mind off what is going on," Hainline said. "It's just a chance to go out in the woods and sit there and wait."
Last year, through the generosity of donors, including C.T. Locke and Possum Hollow Hunting Club, and John Moss and Moss Lodge, who opened their hunting grounds to the wounded warriors, Camp OuTAmongEM was able to host nine hunts. This year Statler hopes to do even better - 12 - but can only go as far as the generosity of the community allows.
"The support from the community is the bottom line," Statler said. "We can go as far as the community support and passion goes. Our heartfelt thanks goes out to each and every contributor, past, present and future."
A partnership with the local chapters of Still Serving Veterans and the Semper Fi Community Task Force has allowed the program to expand since its creation in 2007. The hunting experiences are a natural fit with Semper Fi's ongoing support of the military community in the Tennessee Valley. Each year Semper Fi sponsors a Heroes Week, which brings in wounded warriors from around the country to the Huntsville area.
"It's a labor of love for us," Shelley said.
The appreciation does not go unnoticed by the men and women that are honored by their efforts. For the participants of Camp OuTAmongEM, the hunting experience is not just a chance to harvest a deer, but to connect with nature, those in a similar situation, and most importantly, a chance to reconnect with themselves.
"For me, being in the outdoors isn't just about the fair and ethical killing of game; it is more of a spiritual appreciation of our many blessings and the enjoyment and relationships that develop when sharing these blessings with others," wrote Thomas Hawke in a letter of thanks to Statler after his hunt last year.
Hawke injured his back while serving as an engineer company commander for the Marines in Iraq. A hunter since he was child, when he returned from his tour of duty he discovered that he could no longer do all the things he loved due to his injury, such as playing competitive sports. The trip gave him the opportunity to not only recall his childhood, but also learn from others, including Statler and his hunting guides.
"These gentlemen are not just fine examples of life lessons," Hawke said. "They are like voices from the woods which offer encouragement and confidence in pursuit of living and outdoor experiences to offer balance to the everyday monotony. I am very thankful to have had the opportunity to share one-on-one moments driving up mountains with people like Steve and Alvie, and I look forward to getting back to the outdoors with my three sons to help them to always appreciate the benefit and blessings of the great outdoors. It is more than time on a stand or the moment of the ethical kill; it is the relationships, camaraderie and the shared spiritual appreciation and blessings of the outdoors which I will always remember and be thankful to Steve and his sponsors for providing our guided group."
While the thank yous from the wounded warriors embody the reason Camp OutAmongEm exists, nothing could be more important than the gratitude organizers and contributors have for the men and women that gave a part of themselves serving their country.
"The whole idea is to say to the wounded warriors, 'thank you for your service to our country and your sacrifices,'" Shelley said. "And for most of the wounded warriors they'll be sacrificing most of their lives."
"Their struggles and their stories make me appreciate the life I get to live, and it's all because of people like them," Statler said.
For more information about Camp OuTAmongEM, e-mail Statler at Statler1020@comcast.net.