Aug 8, 2012, 1:01 AM EDT
By Bill Miller
The AFE/PVA Outdoor Legends Tour of Afghanistan was promoted ahead of time in the camps we visited, so the service men and women based there knew we were coming to see them. The hunters, fishermen and general outdoors folk turned out in numbers to welcome us to their homes away from home and show us what life is like during deployment. While it was our goal to give them a taste of home and some stress relief, they gave us so much more than we could ever possibly have given them.
Every hunting story is unique unto itself and is the ultimate “you should have been there” moment for the guy or gal who experienced it. Troops shared stories of hog hunting, deer hunting, predator hunting, waterfowl hunting and more. Many pulled out cell phones to show us pictures of past successes and trail camera shots of the bucks and boars they plan to hunt when they get home.
But far more than wishing for trophies for even hunting trips for themselves, the nearly universal message of everyone we met was the desire to get home and spend time in the outdoors with their families. Some wanted to buy a son or daughter their first bow and teach them how to shoot it. Others wanted to get out on the marsh with family for holiday duck hunts steeped in tradition. Yet others were most excited to hunt again with fathers and uncles who introduced them to the outdoors … to pay back that legacy.
This nearly universal wish got me thinking. Most of what we hear about in the media back here these days are the big, grand opportunities created for wounded veterans to get back into the fields or on the waters, to hunt on the TV shows. These programs are great. They are important and certainly shouldn’t be neglected, but on the whole we need to do more. Regular, every day hunters and fishermen need to help create opportunities for all vets … and their families … to experience the rejuvenating effects of woods and waters.
What the experienced hunters we met worried about most was simply “having a place to go”with family when they returned home. None of them asked for anything “fancy,” just a place to take the kids hunting with a reasonable chance to take some game – from squirrels to birds to a whitetail doe or a cow elk. In upcoming installments of “Around the Campfire with Bill” we’ll look at specific programs that are underway or in development to meet these needs and how you can participate. But in the simplest, easiest-to-make-a-difference terms it comes down to an invitation. Do you own or lease some hunting ground? Do you have a hunting camp where a couple more will make for a merrier time? Do you have the time to show a vet and his family around your favorite haunts in a public hunting area?
That’s all it takes …an invitation. When you hear of a veteran in your town who’s come back home, make it a point to contact him or her and thank them for their service. Find out if he or she and/or the family would be interested in going hunting or fishing or camping with you, then make the offer. Even if they don’t accept, it’s another great way to say “thank you.” And from what we saw in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and the hospital in Germany there’s no way to thank these men and women enough for what they are doing!
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