Standing on the shoulders of giants Published May 2, 2016 By Staff Sgt. Stephanie Johnson 82nd Medical Operations Squadron SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The helicopters took flight, leaving in their absence a group of wounded veterans below. The familiar scene brought back painful memories for some, however all were elated to be reunited with their brothers in arms. This was not a foreign field, however, but the Circle Bar Ranch in Truscott, Texas. And the task at hand wasn’t a military mission, but the 3rd Annual Helicopter Veterans Hog Hunt. Sponsored by the nonprofit group Semper Gratus, in partnership with Feherty’s Troops First Charity Foundation, the event was part of an ongoing effort to meet the needs of the survivors of war and help reunite veterans that served together, while providing unique experiences in an atmosphere of camaraderie and in support of their ongoing needs. Present were 32 warriors who had served in almost every operation the U.S. has engaged in since World War II. While some battle wounds were visible, and others invisible, all had been left with new challenges to face. Despite their injuries these warriors not only faced these challenges, but overcame them. I had the honor to talk with one veteran who was a part of an airborne unit in the Green Berets, Army Special Forces. On his third deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom he stepped on an improvised explosive device and suffered injuries to both legs resulting in bilateral, below the knee amputation. Despite what seemed like insurmountable odds, he faced the challenges ahead of him dead on and was returned to duty within 5 months. This year, volunteers from Sheppard AFB had the opportunity to support the event. Master Sgt. Aaron Drain, 364th First Sergeant, oversaw 54 volunteer Airmen. “The moment I heard all that we would be doing for them, it gave me instant motivation,” Drain said. “And as I suspected it had a huge impact on their lives. The smiles, laughter, and signs of relief were inspiring. I could not believe the overwhelming feeling of joy that surrounded that area. Whenever things get a little tough, I just think about those few days and it puts things into perspective.” Other volunteers included Staff Sgt. Darrell Kotara from the 364th, who oversaw ground operations and support. Tech. Sgt. Randall Disch of the 82d Security Forces Squadron managed range control and gun safety. Staff Sgt. Matthew Johnson, an Air Traffic Controller from the 80th Operations Support Squadron, single handedly set up and created two airfields and alongside other Controllers afforded over 160 successful take offs and landings without error or injury. Key leaders from Sheppard AFB serving with the Redneck Culinary Academy offered their culinary expertise, providing nothing short of first class meals for our military’s finest. In addition to Sheppard’s volunteers, the event would not have been possible without the generosity of ranch owners Jerry Bob and Eugene Daniels, who provided more than a quarter of a million acres for the aerial hunting trip. Wild hogs are among the most destructive invasive species in the United States today, with up to 3 million in Texas alone and causing up to $200 million in damages annually. The two day aerial hunt saved ranch owners an estimated $1 million dollars in damages. All in all there were over 150 veterans, sponsors, active duty military and community volunteers attending the weekend long event. When the hunt was over and the final helicopter departed, Staff Sergeant Johnson turned to me with eyes full of pride and humility, and with a huge smile quoted Sir Isaac Newton, “I’m standing on the shoulders of giants.” The words resonate a sobering truth; we stand as a nation on the shoulders of giants who willingly offered their lives to protect ours and preserve our freedom. It was an honor to serve them.