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
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.