CAMP VIRGINIA, KUWAIT
CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait - The fact that the nearest huntable elk was 7,000 miles away only fueled the desire of Soldiers from Wyoming's 2nd Battalion, 300th Field Artillery, to sit through four three-hour-long hunter education classes, followed by an hour-long test with their battalion commander.
The Soldiers of the 2-300th have been in Kuwait and Iraq since July 2009, providing convoy security and force protection. The sandy desert environment doesn't emulate the rugged wilderness Wyoming is famous for, but a wealth of videos, magazines, pictures and anecdotes stirred memories of the land the Soldiers call home. Under the guidance of Lt. Col. Brian Nesvik, 2-300th commander and Wyoming Game and Fish Department game warden, the Soldiers set aside their arid environment to complete Wyoming's Hunter Education Course.
As a game warden for the state of Wyoming, Nesvik became the first Wyoming Game and Fish official to teach the course in a combat zone. He said it might be the first time a Wyoming official taught the course outside of the United States. In January, the Soldiers received their certificates as hunter education graduates.
However, it was not Nesvik's idea, or a state official's idea to offer hunter education while deployed.
"It was the Soldiers of the unit that actually approached me and said, 'Hey, we know what you do on the civilian side, we don't have hunter safety, is there a chance you can teach a course over here, so that we can get certified while we are over here and deployed,'" Nesvik said. "The more I thought about it, and the more I did a little bit of research into actually making this thing happen, the more it seemed like a pretty darn good idea to be able to do this over here in Kuwait."
On the final day of the course, Nesvik wore the distinctive red shirt and gold badge marking a Wyoming Game and Fish game warden. The colonel said the shirt, mixed with the Army Combat Uniform trousers and combat boots, sent a bigger message.
"Wearing the red shirt kind of symbolized that Citizen Soldier type of mentality and an opportunity to do both jobs at the same time," he said. "We might wear a red shirt one day and six months later we might be wearing ACUs and be deployed to a place like Kuwait or Iraq."
Once he and Game and Fish officials back home decided the class was a good idea, his coworkers and supervisors in Wyoming pieced together care packages with all of the materials needed to teach the class. All of those efforts were on top of the magazines and support the Wyoming Game and Fish department already sent to the Soldiers of the 2-300th.
"This is my second deployment and I've worked for the Game and Fish both times. They are incredible employers. They're an example of what I hope all of our employers in Wyoming and all of our Guard employers would be," the colonel said. "They are a role model employer and have been for my entire career with the department, which spans 14 years."
Nesvik said this opportunity to work with both employers presented itself as a way to bring a little bit of the Wyoming wilderness to the Kuwaiti desert. "It also gave me an opportunity to take my mind off the daily business of being a battalion commander in a combat zone and think a little bit about what I do when I'm back at home," he said.
It had much of the same affect for his Soldiers.
"It makes me homesick every week, but I look forward coming to it though," said 2nd Lt. Tony Gerrell with A Battery, 2-300th Field Artillery.
There are nearly 30 students in the class, which was offered twice a week, beginning in October. Students range from veteran hunters to aspiring sportsmen with little hunting experience.
For those that were going through it as a refresher, the class was a chance for them to share their anecdotes of tracking big game through Wyoming's vast wilderness or close calls with the local bear population.
"They look forward to it every week, just because it gets them out of the normal mode of military mode and back into stuff they were doing back at home: messing around in the woods and in the mountains and stuff like that," Gerrell said of his Soldiers taking the class.
Other Soldiers served as assistant teachers, gaining certifications to teach the full class. Capt. Kevin Messamer, A Battery commander, was one of them. He said interacting with the students made the course something to look forward to. "There were a lot of different viewpoints and questions that I normally wouldn't hear from other people. Most of these students are a little more seasoned. They know a little more about life, about what's going on."
Messamer was also sold on the distraction the class provided from the daily grind as a battery commander. "It helps a lot. Any time we get a chance to talk about what we do back home, how we enjoy hunting and fishing, being in the outdoors, it just helps you escape a little bit from the sands of Kuwait," he said.
Messamer, like Nesvik, is a long-time Wyoming outdoorsman. They both used their knowledge and experiences to relate anecdotally.
Segments of the training, like handling and using firearms, were reviewed. Nesvik bridged the Soldier's extensive military training with the civilian hunting experience. The same technique was applied to land navigation and first aid.
What was not tied to soldiering was the experiences of the hunt - admiring the beauty of the creatures, their habitat and embracing conservation and preservation. It included sharing photos and video of Wyoming's wildlife and the efforts made to ensure habitats for generations to come. It also included sharing stories about some of the state's worst poaching offenders and the role law enforcement plays to keep those poachers from undermining the conservation efforts.
For the Soldiers, the hunting course came at a time when it might be put to use. Wyoming Soldiers returning home qualify to hunt in certain areas for free — as long as they passed hunter education.
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This work, Wyoming trains deployed Soldiers for the hunt, by CPT Christian Venhuizen, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.