But assisting veterans with basic services isn’t always enough. As Meet the Press’ David Gregory stated on a recent Volunteers of America panel discussion, “… it’s one thing to support our service people during a time of war, it’s another to welcome them home and help them integrate into the community.”
One of the best ways for communities to help veterans integrate into the community is to provide opportunities to enjoy recreational activities – activities often put on hold during years of military service.
Frequently, communities draw upon their strengths when looking for creative ways to show their support for veterans. Yacht clubs have taken veterans sailing and writers have hosted workshops to improve writing skills.
So it comes as no surprise that a community as rich in hunting heritage as Michigan’s thumb determined the best way for them to express their thanks was to help veterans with a passion for hunting reconnect with the sport they love.
But when veterans are injured in the line of duty, new physical challenges sometimes must be overcome before taking to the woods.
This is where organizations like Michigan-based Operation Injured Soldiers (OIS) can help. OIS is dedicated to finding and funding outdoor recreation opportunities for veterans injured while serving their country.
Four years ago OIS began searching for ways to provide deer hunting opportunities for injured veterans. Al Hogan, Hunting Coordinator for OIS, had heard about the work Roger Wilcox of Davison, Michigan had done on behalf of organizations like the Wheelin’ Team 457, a Michigan-based organization that helps physically disabled men and women enjoy outdoors recreation activities. Hogan connected with Wilcox and the two began to pull together the framework for a deer hunt to coincide with the second week of Michigan’s muzzle loader deer season.
Initially Wilcox and Hogan were concerned about their ability to enlist enough thumb area property owners to accommodate the number of veterans who’d expressed an interest in deer hunting. However, word of the initiative spread quickly and property owners came forward on their own to offer use of their land.
One property owner, Dr. Richard Horsch, himself a veteran of the Vietnam War, was a key figure in that initial hunt, providing the use of his property - nearly 600 acres. Horsch continues to provide access to his property and also hosts a dinner for hunters and their guides on the evening prior to the hunt.
For this year’s hunt, held December 15, 28 veterans from across the United States had access to more than 2200 acres of thumb-area land. That figure is expected to grow to more 3000 acres next year as more property owners learn of the program and donate the use of their land.
To accommodate the hunters, many of whom are limited in their mobility as a result of injuries sustained during their military service, property owners provided pop-up blinds that sat atop temporary platforms consisting of solid wood flooring for easy wheelchair access and mobility.
Many local businesses and individuals also pitched in by providing food, equipment or their time to make the hunt a success.
Success for initiatives like the OIS deer hunt is seldom measured in terms of the number of animals harvested, but nevertheless, most of the 28 hunters were successful with 18 does and one nice 11 point buck taken.