Monday, May 14, 2012

I Need More Tissues

The 2012 Spring Turkey Season will be unforgettable for many reasons, but mostly because of all the tears.  I have been humbled and honored to chase birds with some amazing people who have truly touched my life.  Hunting is supposed to be all macho, but on at least three separate occasions I have been teary eyed.  

The first waterworks came while hunting with my 7 year old son.  Early in the season, while sitting over the decoys waiting on the birds, Completely out of the blue, Ben gets up from my lap and throws his arms around my neck and says, "Dad I love you and I love hunting with you!" and then turns and sits back down in my lap.  I was so choked-up, I could not call! 

Then there was the Kansas Governor's Turkey Hunt.  After spending two days with Daniel Raikes and his father Stephen I felt like we were all long lost kin.  The entire Raikes family is so amazing, their demonstration of faith and strong family values is touching. During the Banquet, Daniel read his prize winning NWTF Essay. With a strong Kentucky accent and huge smile, he read his essay entitled, "Why I Hunt".  After reading his essay, he gave the most honest and sincere acknowledgement of gratitude to God, his family and those who gave him the opportunity to hunt in Kansas.  By the time he concluded his remarks, there were not many dry eyes in the room!  

The most recent tears came in Wyoming, where I was asked to guide in the Old West Invitational Turkey Hunt.  I was privileged to take SSG Joseph Fowler on his first turkey hunt.  SSG Joseph Fowler joined the Army in 1997, at 18 years old, in order to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a military police officer.  He served as a patrol military policeman until 2002 when he was accepted into the Military Working Dog Canine program where he was able to combine his love of animals with police work.

In June 2005, Joe was deployed to Iraq with his K-9 partner Dak. Dak was an explosives/apprehension trained 7 year old Belgian Treveren. The pair served the area searching for weapons caches and assisting infantry members with raids and searching for insurgents. In December 2005, Dak and Joe were part of a three Humvee convoy in route to a warehouse to sweep a building where election voting was taking place in Baghdad. Only minutes from their destination, their Humvee struck a hidden anti-tank mine. Joe was immediately blown from the vehicle, on fire, approximately 60-80 feet through the air and landed, in oncoming traffic lanes. He quickly tried to extinguish the flames and assess his injuries. Unfortunately, his partner Dak and another soldier were killed in the blast. Joe was quickly rushed back to the base medical clinic and from there was airlifted to Balad, Iraq and then onto Landstuhl, Germany. After emergency surgery to try to save my limbs, he was flown to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

In Texas, it was officially determined that he had sustained third degree burns to 54% of his body as well as a fractured ankle, fractured wrist, dislocated elbow and mild brain injury. He began the long process of recovery starting with many surgeries. He was in intensive care for five weeks and then in the step down unit for another three months. He was released from the hospital in April 2006, but continued to have surgeries approximately once per month until his medical retirement in October 2007. From the day of my release until the day he left Texas, he required extensive physical therapy which he attended 5 days a week for two to three hours in order to get the limited motion he currently has. To date, he has had 20 surgeries. He struggles daily with the limited use of his hands - because of the burns and the methods required saving them, he cannot bend his fingers or move any of them independently.

Spending time with Joe was a hoot, his humor and love of God and Country is inspiring.  Joe was fortunate enough to harvest a nice Merriam's turkey (his first turkey).  Joe must of told me 500 times how thankful he was to have had me take him out hunting and his smile was never absent during the event. He was recognized on stage during one of the evening festivities where he received a standing ovation from the crowd for his service and sacrifice. After reluctantly taking the microphone, he thanked those who made it possible for him to hunt in Wyoming and then made me stand-up and said, "Today this guy gave me one of the most amazing memories which I will never forget."

Guess what???  For a third time this season I was misty eyed!                   

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