Even a predicted blizzard couldn’t keep 11 members of the Wounded Warrior Project from a chance to bond and enjoy some rest and relaxation at the Crosby Wild Game Adventures cabin near Albert this weekend. Good thing, since the blizzard’s late arrival provided the men a window of opportunity to try their hand at hunting pheasants and chukker Saturday morning before snow began to fly. Around noon, they returned to the cabin to clean their birds and enjoy a lunch provided by Rooster Booster volunteers. During the afternoon, the men relaxed indoors, as hunt sponsors altered plans and prepared for a double European hunt on Sunday.
Members of the Pheasants Forever Rooster Booster Chapter 504, with leadership by Lynn Peterson and Charles Swank, have sponsored the hunt for the past seven years as a way to honor those who have sacrificed and served our country in some of the most dangerous locations around the globe.
“This is one small way we can give back to those who have given so much,” volunteer Scot Moeder said.
Wounded Warrior Project event organizer Zack Hunt worked closely with the PF chapter, and was there Saturday when the men, some for the first time, warmed up shooting clays and then travelled out to hunting ground around the Barton County-Rush County line for an organized hunt. They included Shawn Watzlawick, Rayton, Mo.; Aubrey Rohlfing, Liberty, Mo.; Michael Zovodny, Blue Springs, Mo.; Kenneth Poe, Olathe; William Peters, Sedgwick; David Smith II, Troy, Mo.; Jonathan Compton, Willard, Mo.; JR Reese and Travis Koochel, formerly of Great Bend and now of Enid, Okla.
For many of the men, this was their first pheasant hunting trip, though most had hunted other game birds in the past. Some were experiencing their first Wounded Warrior event, while others have benefitted from many opportunities, and some are now rising to the challenge of leadership in the organization.
Lt. Col. Keith Madere is an instructor at the Command & General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, where he teaches the Joint Interagency Multinational strategic planning to Captains and Majors from all of the U.S. Armed Services, international military students and federal civilians. Madere’s first awareness of the Wounded Warrior Project came shortly after he was injured in Afghanistan in 2013.
“I woke up in San Antonio, at the Brooke Army Medical Center, and my wife was there as my non-medical attendant,” he said. “Already there was a bag in my room with a sweatshirt and a hat from the Wounded Warrior Project. It was comforting to know that before I was even conscious, someone knew that I had arrived wounded from Afghanistan, and they came around to meet me and let me know they were there for me, before anyone else had even called.”
Always one to put others first, for many years Madere turned down invitations to attend Wounded Warrior outings, he said, because he felt his injuries were not severe enough to warrant the special attention. Hunt finally convinced him to give it a try, because participants help one another to get the most out of each experience. Saturday was his first Wounded Warrior event and his first pheasant hunt ever.
“Our generation benefits from groups like this because we experience war and its aftermath differently than past generations,” Madere said.
In the past, when the nation went to war, groups of guys from the same community would volunteer and deploy together, and then return home. They had a shared experience, so they could get together at the local VFW or Legion Hall.
“Ours is the first generation that has really gone on deployment, and then returned and went every which way because we’re all still active duty. Wounded Warrior fills that space for this modern generation of veterans.”
Ken Poe is a returning Wounded Warrior. He attended the hunt last year, and this year leaped at the chance to come after a last-minute cancellation.
Poe served in the Army, and completed his service in 2012. Over the course of his career, he was stationed at Forts Knox and Riley, and also served tours of duty in Korea and Iraq. He really enjoyed the culture he experienced in Korea, where the civilians are very appreciative of the U.S. military, he said. Poe has taken part in several WWP events, and is excited about upcoming peer mentor training. He has a lot of respect for the cadre of organizers like Hunt. He’s also active in the Stop 22 campaign in Kansas City. He organizes showings of the movie, “Project 22,” which raises awareness about the veterans suicide rate.
“These guys put on an amazing event for us,” he said, referring to PF volunteers.
John Compton was in the Army for nearly 13 years as a combat engineer. He underwent three deployments to Iraq, first from April 2003 to June 2004, then August 2005 to December 2006, and finally September 2008 to September 2009. Talking about his time there isn’t easy, but he lights up when he shares about some of the humanitarian efforts he has been part of, including building schools and improving the conditions for the Iraqi civilians.
In between deployments, he returned to the United States where he underwent routine training and day-to-day work.
In 2017, his military service completed, He was first introduced to the Wounded Warrior Project.
Wounded Warriors has helped Compton’s family through the transition from battlefield to regular duty to the civilian world. When he returned after his last deployment in 2009, he was stationed in Texas, where he spent a lot of time in the field. When he returned home after retiring, the first six to eight months was spent adjusting to being around his family again. It’s been a challenge, especially for the older one, because she was most aware of his periods away for deployment.
Recently, he completed Warrior Leader Training, and is now qualified to lead events.
This was Compton’s first pheasant hunt, but he’s an old hand at dove, duck and quail hunting. He truly enjoyed the experience, he said.
“It’s a blessing to be able to come out, to have someone who is willing to offer this and host us,” he said. “There’s still a lot of people who don’t approve of or like people who were in the military.”
Sunday, the honored guests would experience European style pheasant hunting. Rather than walking fields covered in snow drifts, the men gathered around a nearby barn where PF volunteers released birds into the air for the hunters to shoot.
Following the hunt, volunteers cleaned and packaged more birds while the soldiers packed up, and made sandwiches for the drive home. They brought with them memories of time well spent and a portion of the weekend’s harvest.
The Wounded Warrior Project strives to honor and empower wounded soldiers by fostering the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation’s history.