Veterans take part in special hunt

The conditions did not appear ideal for waterfowl hunting – temperatures were dipping below the freezing mark and there was plenty of snow and ice cover.

But that didn't make any difference to the hunters at the Grassy Lake Hunting Club in Union County Thursday, Jan. 7.

Ten disabled military veterans from the U.S. Army's Fort Campbell in Kentucky participated in the first Wounded Warrior Hunt at the club. They harvested seven ducks and two geese in the morning hunt. 

After a break and a noon meal, the hunters returned to the field. The hunt concluded with a total of 58 ducks and seven geese.

"It's easy for me to do  my part," said Grassy Lake Hunting Club owner Collin Cain, who donated the free hunt to the veterans.

"They've already given us a lot. There's not much better feeling that you can have than giving to these guys."

The hunt was the brainchild of Gary Sharp and Tom Goetz.

"They've been at it for two years, putting this together," Cain said.

"All these guys are brothers in arms," said Sharp, a veteran who works in aviation maintainance at Fort Campbell.

"We do it out of love for the nation and a way of life.  I'm proud to be part of this."

The project began a couple of years ago after several veterans were watching the evening news on television and were moved by the stories of the first wounded service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. They realized something else needed to  be done for those who had sacrificed so much. 

The injured soldiers involved in the hunt were veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We're giving back to soldiers who have paid out more," Goetz said. "These events are tremendous things."

The program is designed to raise awareness and encourage the public's support in helping the soldiers aid and assist each other. It also provides direct programs and services to meet the needs of severely injured men and women.

Goetz said everything for the soldiers was donated.

"They're not out one penny," he said. "The mission is to help support our heroes."

Local businesses donated to the group, including a noon meal from The Great Boars of Fire. The Vienna VFW also served a meal and The Trail of Tears Lodge south of Jonesboro provided a meal and lodging as well.

The veterans were also honored by Southern Illinois University at Carbondale athletics department at a Saluki men's home basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 6.

Several members of the Saluki staff attended the noon meal following the morning hunt.

The soldiers were from a unit out of Fort Campbell of injured service men and women who have returned from the war and are going through rehabilitation and transition back to civilian life.

"There is a healing aspect to the outdoors," said wounded veteran Ronnie Gullion, a sergeant first class. "It's both spiritual and physical. I enjoy hunting and this type of hunting helped save my life."

Gullion said the camaraderie among the hunters also helps soldiers suffering from depression following their deployment and injuries.

"Things like this make a difference – just getting a disabled person out and experiencing the outdoors," said disabled retired staff sergeant Bryon Kelly.

"I'm more proud of being involved in this than anything I've done in the military," Gullion added. "We don't want anyone to give up."

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