News>"Dove Salute" introduces Airmen to Texas traditions
Birdwell-Clark Ranch owners, Deborah Clark and Emry Birdwell, discuss the annual Dove Salute preparations with Sheppard Air Force Base commander, Brigadier General Michael Fantini Sep. 8, 2012.. Celebrating its 8th year, the Clay County event hosted 175 military personnel for a free day of dove hunting, skeet shooting and dinner to share the north Texas ranch lifestyle and show appreciation for the sacrifices of those serving in the military. (U.S. Air Force photo/Debi Smith)
Birdwell-Clark Ranch owner, Emry Birdwell, loads Sheppard Air Force Base
personnel into his jeep in preparation for the 8th annual Dove Salute Sep.
8, 2012, in Henrietta, Texas. Each year, 175 base personnel are invited to
dove hunt, explore the Texas ranch lifestyle and feast on steak dinners by
area Clay County ranchers who loan guns, provide ammo and prepare the dinner
as a way to show appreciation to those serving in the military. (U.S. Air
Force photo/Debi Smith)
9/13/2012 - HENRIETTA, Texas -- There are some experiences in life that just can't be described adequately enough with words. The annual Dove Salute, sponsored by Clay County ranchers in Henrietta, Texas, is one of them.
Celebrating its eighth year, the Dove Salute combined Sheppard Air Force Base personnel with hunting rifles, ammunition, a piece of ground and guides to participate in fall's most anticipated event - tracking and hunting dove as they swooped across the north Texas sky.
Hosted at the Birdwell-Clark Ranch in Henrietta, this year's focus was on 175 active-duty, permanent-party personnel as a free event, with the guns loaned, the ammo donated, a hearty meal cooked and nature providing the rest.
"The Dove Salute is our community's way of saying, 'Thank You', to the men and women who serve this country and have the good fortune of being stationed at Sheppard AFB, " said Mrs. Deborah Clark.
"The idea for the Dove Salute was my husband's (Emry Birdwell) and has quickly grown to include the support of many area ranchers and citizens," Clark said. "In fact, the news has spread and we have supporters from Kansas to all parts of Texas. This event allows us to share our way of life with these young men and women - many of whom have never been on a ranch, fired a shotgun, enjoyed such a tasty steak or experienced good ole' Texas hospitality."
Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012 was a spectacular day with temperatures dropping by 20 degrees to a perfect dove-hunting 85 degrees.
Sam Wolfe, who provided advance hunting safety classes for those with no hunting experience, has been giving the class since 2005, when he first met Mrs. Clark. Wolfe served ten years in the Army himself, with assignments in Turkey and Panama, and realizes the impact this kind of life experience can have on a young troop.
"The most thrilling year was my first year, in 2005, when the base sent out 100 Airmen-in-Training," he said. "They didn't know anything about Texas, hunting or the huge welcome they were about to experience. It was fun to be part of helping them."
Brigadier General Michael Fantini, 82nd Training Wing commander, emphasized he had never experienced anything like the Dove Salute.
"This is just an incredible opportunity to see the nature of north Texas, how the families and businesses come together as a community and how we (military) need to meld in with it," Fantini said. "Our mission is to train and inspire Airmen to be able to commit to something bigger than yourself. I want to thank everyone for today and for your blessing...it is attributable to your patriotism and love of freedom that you have inspired us today."
Attending his second annual event, Lt. Col James Becker, 82nd Comptroller Squadron commander, who is a seasoned deer and elk hunter,said he struggles with things with wings. "It is a phenomenal event that gives us the opportunity to bird hunt and provides a new perspective in getting away from work together and building camaraderie."
As light faded and the 20-foot grill flames flicked the courtyard air, lines formed to get a slice of meat cut to order. The surprise of the event was a "cook your own steak," providing another opportunity for those "who had never." The smells of frying dove dipped in batter, wrapped in bacon with jalapeno and cream cheese, steak, twice-baked potato casserole and apple dumplings filled the air.
Explosive ordnance instructors from the 366th Training Squadron shared dinner conversation and openly overwhelmed with the hospitality.
Staff Sgt. Carl Dill shook his head and said, "You can't find this anywhere."
Dill's EOD teammate, Staff Sgt. Kyle Nason, said he makes it a point to find new events and places to go.
"This is unbelievable. To be honest, their trust in us is amazing," he said. "They are loaning us guns, some that are family heirlooms. I want to come back and I haven't left yet."
"We are so appreciative - they open their homes, land and then feed us this awesome meal" Staff Sgt. Travis Hughes said. "This is my third duty station in 11 years and I've never seen anything like this. Texas will be in my mind forever."
The Birdwell-Clark ranch is about 14,000 acres. The Clark's bought the ranch ten years ago and have shared it with Sheppard for the past eight of them.
As a send-off, they left the assembly with a final word of thanks.
"We hold this event to honor those who preceeded you in service," Clark said "We give thanks for your commitment and the time you spend away from your families. We really value that."
Their words echoed in the Texas sky as Sheppard personnel struggled to relay back how much it means to a military man or woman far from home but so wholly embraced as family.