By Bryon Kelly
Eight Warrior Transition Unit members from Ft. Campbell, Ky., were honored with a spring turkey hunt at Donaldson Creek Outfitters in Cadiz, Ky.
-- It started with a telephone call to a person I had never met. I talked with Wayne Shadden of Shadden Tire and Service in Crossville, Tenn., about hosting a hunt for a few members of our military. A plan was instantly set in motion, and three weeks later, the hunt would come to fruition.
My initial plan was to have a few soldiers attend a special event or banquet where we could honor them for their service. But, Wayne really out did himself when he informed me that he secured eight openings with Mike and Kerry Underhill of Donaldson Creek Outfitters located in Cadiz, Ky., for a spring turkey hunt.
Many phone calls and e-mails were exchanged and the details were coming together thanks to the help of people who I had yet to meet with face to face.
On the morning of April 15, 2008, at 3:30 a.m., eight Warrior Transition Unit members departed Ft. Campbell located in the Bluegrass State for Cadiz. The eight soldiers arrived an hour later, and we all sat down for a generous breakfast. Once the stuffing of our stomachs was complete, introductions were made with the steady stream of people coming through the lodge's doorway. Eventually, the soldiers grabbed their gear, jumped into vehicles with their guides and off into the darkness they went.
Each of the warriors were with folks they had never met, however, it was evident that each had a new friend when the hunting party made it back for lunch. To our surprise, we had a belt-loosening lunch, which consisted of BBQ chicken, grilled pork tenderloin, baked beans and banana pudding. (Mike, you are a marvel in the kitchen.)
Once our plates were clean, the guides asked the soldiers if they wanted to go back to the field for the afternoon. The answer was a resounding "yes" from all. However, we were told there was a small formality that needed to take place first. The soldiers were asked to step up and form a single line. Then, those of us in the crowd came forward, one at a time, and thanked the soldiers for their service to our country.
Each solider received a variety of gifts and managed to keep their composure until the last gift, a framed print by artist Jack Paluh titled "Gifts of Freedom," of a turkey hunter kneeling and giving thanks over a harvested turkey. The print also has a transparent figure of a solider holding an American Flag.
Written on the print is:
"We thank Thee, Lord, for the many gifts you have bestowed upon this nation and offer a moment of prayer for our bountiful land and the right to harvest its many resources. We thank Thee for our service men and women who courageously continue to protect and defend our unalienable rights, for many have given their lives that our nation might live."
There was not a dry eye in the crowd after the prints were handed out. There are few words to describe how everyone in the crowd felt at that moment.
Now it was our turn. Michael Collins, Command Sergeant Major of the Warrior Transition Unit, stepped forward and presented Warrior Transition Unit Certificates of Appreciation to everyone associated with making the turkey hunt possible. After the handshakes were completed, the warriors and guides headed out to the field for the afternoon hunt.
I cannot express enough gratitude to everyone who took the time to help make this hunt a reality. Rest assured that many memories were created this day that will last a lifetime. The evening hunt was over and some of the soldiers were already making plans to meet up with their new friends for a one-on-one hunt later on.
As the day came to an end, I climbed in my truck to head home when it dawned on me that we had started the morning as strangers and ended the 16-hour day as good friends. Then, Kerry and Mike Underhill and Mike Shelton of Donaldson Creek Outfitters, and Wayne Shadden told me that this was just the beginning of things to come.
Editor's note: Bryon Kelly is a retired military cadre member and now serves as a civilian operations and training specialist with the Warrior Transition Unit at Ft. Campbell, Ky.
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