News: Helping heroes through hunting
Story by Tracy Robillard
ELBERTON, Ga. – As part of an ongoing partnership with the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District hosted two deer hunts for PVA members and their families at Richard B. Russell Lake, Oct. 23 and 24.
"We are honored to have a District-wide partnership with PVA to provide quality hunting and fishing opportunities for them and their families," said Zachary Baldwin, a natural resource specialist and event coordinator at the Russell Project Office. "Every year we host deer and turkey hunts and a fishing tournament. Sometimes we offer duck hunts for them, too."
In addition to hunting, the veterans received a special welcome from Brig. Gen. Donald E. Jackson, commander of the Corps South Atlantic Division (SAD) headquartered in Atlanta, Ga., and the SAD Command Sgt. Maj. Antonio Jones. Jackson and Jones visited the Russell Project to meet with PVA members and thank them for their service to the nation.
"I enjoyed meeting General Jackson and the Command Sergeant Major. They're both two incredible people," said Kurt Glass, assistant sports director for the Southeastern PVA chapter, headquartered in Hephzibah, Ga.
"I can't say enough about the great things the Corps has done for us," Glass said. "They've made us handicapped ramps. They make their areas accessible to people in wheelchairs. They give us safety briefings and help us get into the hunting blinds. They clean and butcher the deer for us. They take real good care of us."
Eleven hunters participated in the recent hunts, harvesting a total of four deer. Glass harvested a six-point buck; Ollie Lankford harvested an eight-point buck; and Ricky Pless harvested two does with one bullet, thanks to some encouragement from his grandson, Landon.
The hunts took place on Corps property near the Russell Dam and Visitors Center that is reserved for hunting by special groups such as PVA and the Outdoor Dream Foundation (ODF). ODF is a non-profit organization that provides outdoor adventures to children with terminal or life-threatening illnesses.
"It's important for us to reach out to these special groups because they have done so much for our country," Baldwin said. "We provide them with a place to hunt that is safe and accessible."
The hunters used specially-designed, wheelchair accessible hunting blinds that were built by the Corps and volunteers from ODF in 2011. The blinds feature a wheel chair ramp and three windows placed at sitting eye-level. They also have adjustable camouflage curtains that can be easily raised or lowered by pulling a cord.
The PVA is a congressionally-chartered organization that advocates for health care, benefits, education, and research to improve the quality of life for injured veterans.
"We make sure the veterans get the benefits and healthcare that they should be getting," Glass said. "We help any vet as much as we can. We help get them out of the house and back to society where they used to be."
Glass said that doing outdoor trips like hunting and fishing at Russell Lake greatly improves morale for the members.
"Hunting and fishing are things they used to do, and some of them may say they can't do it anymore because they're in a wheel chair," Glass said. "But we're there to motivate them and to show them that they can still do the things you used to do, whether you're in a wheel chair or braces or whatever."
Outdoor Dream Foundation
In a related effort, the Savannah District hosted a deer hunt on Oct. 26 with the Outdoor Dream Foundation. Like the PVA, the Corps has a District-wide partnership with ODF to provide hunting and fishing opportunities on Corps-managed areas. Three brothers Jacob, Noah and Isaac Bowman participated in the hunt with help from ODF members and volunteers Jonathan Jones, Brad Jones (Founder of Outdoor Dream), Jared McKinsey, Shannon McKinsey, and Greg Darnell. Noah harvested his first deer during the hunt.