By Jay TownsendDecember 6, 2012
ASHDOWN, Ark. - Soldiers wounded in the line of duty often suffer from injuries that have complex medical, personal and spiritual needs that exceed the care capabilities of their current units.
Despite the tragedies thousands of injured soldiers have endured, there comes the hope of spiritual renewal and empowerment made possible by family, friends and organizations that find unique ways to reintroduce the Soldier to social norms that most of us take for granted.
Opening day of deer hunting season is considered a holiday by many Arkansans. It's a cherished pastime for locals endowed as much as baseball and cherry pie. If there's one way for a native good ole' boy from Arkansas to help wounded warriors heal, it's gonna' be to get them in the deer woods. Rangers from Army Corps of Engineers' Millwood Lake Project Office and the surrounding community set out to do just that.
On Nov. 30, 2012 seven soldiers from Fort Sill, Oklahoma's Warrior Transition Unit arrived at Millwood Lake to do some healin' and huntin'. Over the next three days all seven hunters harvested a deer with a few of them doubling up. Each hunter received a free fleece jacket, hat clip light and a deer skinnin' knife.
WTU Mission: I am a Warrior in Transition. My job is to heal as I transition back to duty or continue serving the nation as a Veteran in my community. This is not a status, but a mission. I will succeed in this mission because I AM A WARRIOR AND I AM ARMY STRONG.
"It was something that we really wanted to do so we started planning it last year," said Park Ranger Dustin Thomason. "My best friend was stationed at Fort Sill with post traumatic stress disorder after two tours in Iraq. I talked to him about it and he said to contact Fort Sill, and that's how it got started."
Partnered with Millwood Lake Focus Committee, Thomason and fellow rangers Justin Curtis and Brooke Kervin were able to gain enough local support to host the hunt, and provide free hot's and a cot for the weekend at no cost to the Soldiers. The barracks for the weekend were a little nicer than most Army accommodations, considering the fact that they were at the Millwood Landing Golf and RV Resort. The food wasn't their normal run of the mill chow either. Thanks to dozens of local sponsors, grocery stores and The Marine Corps league, a 501 C4 organization, the troops were treated to several home cooked meals prepared by the project office and local volunteers. Deep fried catfish was on the menu Friday evening and Saturday dinner was prepared by The Association for a Greater Yarborough. On Sunday the Corps' staff fixed up an all-game meal consisting of deer, duck, turkey and gator.
"I believe that was the best thing for all of us. I am glad that I got to meet everyone," said Army Staff Sgt. Sheri Kellner from the Fort Sill Warrior Transition Unit. "All of you are a great bunch of people and I hope to come back again."
The process of recovery for wounded warriors is difficult and confusing at times. "Bringing them out here is a great way for them to escape and get into the woods," said Thomason.
"I like the quiet and looking at birds and squirrels. I like listening to the trees when the wind blows. It reminds me there are places out there that are peaceful and calm," said Kellner.
For five of the soldiers, hunting is an old hat that they enjoyed before their injuries. For two of them this was their first experience in the deer woods that resulted in a harvest.
Millwood Lake Rangers hope they can maintain the level of support from the community and make this an annual event for the WTU. Although it might be nice to see some of the same hunters next year the project office hopes that these Soldiers will have transitioned back to their line units or gone home to serve their communities as veterans.
Supporters include, The Marine Corps League of Texarkana, Millwood Landing Golf and RV Resort, Association for a Greater Yarborough, Savage Deer Processing, Southern Sportsmen Foundation Big Jake's BBQ, Regions Bank, Brookshire's, Domtar, Davis Feed of Ashdown, Gander Mountain of Texarkana, South Ark Electric, Madlock's Shell, Yocom Body Shop, Super 1 Foods, Hollis Heating and Air, Diamond Bank, Townsend Outdoors, Walmart, Rothwell Marine, Elliot Electric, Atwoods, First National Bank, Larry Phillips Marine and GCR Tire of Hope. Personal contributions included those from Frank Cooper, John and Pat Head, Mike Stanton, and Jeff Stephens.