Wounded Veteran Treated to Pheasant Hunt
There was a special participant this year as Bear Crop Science and Graves Gin Cooperation held their annual pheasant hunt March 17, hosted near Rector by Liberty Hills Outfitters. Liberty Hills Outfitters has been holding pheasant hunts for almost four years, mostly for corporate gatherings and small parties. "It's a European tower hunt of about 200 birds each hunt," Liberty Hills owner Stephen Crancer said.
On this particular hunt there were approximately 20 hunters and 75 percent of the 200 birds were shot. Liberty Hills Outfitters provides the only hunt of this kind in Northeast Arkansas. Crancer said he started his business because of the things he learned from his grandfather, the late J.A. Marlar. Crancer hunted on the farm that belonged to his grandfather and he watched how much enjoyment other people received from this sort of activity. Crancer feels he is carrying on his grandfather's legacy by providing the same memorable hunts for others.
This year Crancer invited representatives Charles and Belinda Dwyer from "Retrieving Freedom" to the hunt after he became involved with the organization last year by donating a retriever named Nelly to the foundation to be trained as a diabetic dog. Retrieving Freedom is a foundation where dogs are trained as service dogs for vets with disabilities, children with autism and people with type one diabetic issues. Charles said he began the organization after learning 22 veterans commit suicide a day, many suffering from alcohol and drug abuse as they try to cope with PTSD and life-changing disabilities acquired during war.
The Dwyers brought along a special guest veteran, Sean Adams, and his dog-in-training, Kevin, to train and allow bonding time between Sean and Kevin. Kevin is being trained not only as a service dog, but a hunting retriever to better fit Adams' needs. This hunt was an opportunity to see how Kevin would react under an actual hunting situation. Kevin reacted like a champ, retrieving his first pheasant perfectly.
Two hours into the hunt Adams shared his story with the group of hunters.
Adams grew up on a small farm outside Gainesville, Ga., watching his dad work three jobs and struggling to support his three boys. Like any other teenager Adams grew up playing sports such as football and baseball, but when he graduated from high school he knew he had three choices. He could go to college, into the workforce in a struggling economy or he could join the military.
"I joined the Marine Corp when I turned 18, and I planned to make a 20-year career out of it," Adams said, but he would never get that chance. At the age of 19, Adams was a Corporal E4 chosen for a Marine Special Operations command at the Kajaki River in Afghanistan. The area was being used to transport weapons of mass destruction to Pakistan, and orders were to push the Taliban as far north as possible and take control of the river. "Whoever controlled the river controlled the area," Adams said.
Working alongside Navy Seals and Green Berets, Adams said the unit had pushed the Taliban about 60 miles when they came upon rocky terrain where there was a cluster of large rocks forming a small mountain. Knowing this was the perfect vantage point for an attack, Adams and his men pushed up the mountain. Once on top they found two young teenage boys. "Fifteen or sixteen-year-olds were the average age of Taliban soldiers," Adams said.
He said there were obvious signs of improvised explosive devices, so the team swept the area and continued down a trail on the mountain. Adams said as he moved further down the trail he began to realize more and more locals were watching him. "They knew the guy with the walkie was in charge," he said. He realized two men in particular were following them, and it became evident to him they were about to be attacked.
Another unit had taken another trail on the mountain and realized there was a large enemy encampment just on the other side. He said this is when it all began. He remembers being told "we have to go" and hurriedly moving down the trail. He then recalls stepping on what appeared to be a five quart jug, such as oil is packaged, and it exploded.
When he regained consciousness he was lying in the hole made by the fertilizer-based explosive. His right leg was demolished from the knee down and the rest shattered. The IED also snapped the tibia of his left leg. While lying in the hole his team was under fire and Adams took a gunshot to the top of his broken left leg, and a small pebble thrown by the IED went through the left side of his head directly behind his eye, causing him some blindness in that eye. "A millimeter further back and I wouldn't be here," Adams said.
After lying in the hole, under enemy fire for an hour, a chopper finally arrived, hooked onto him and pulled him out of the hole, then rushed him to Germany where he was stabilized. He doesn't remember much between the IED exploding and waking up in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethseda, Md., discovering both legs had been amputated.
Adams said at first "I felt cheated. As a marine there's no greater honor than to die in combat, and I had been ready for that, but God obviously had another plan for me." After awhile he began seeing friends from his unit in the hospital, which helped him begin to accept what had happened to him.
"The biggest obstacle was forgiving the people who had done this to me, but until I could forgive them, I couldn't begin to forgive myself for the things I had done in combat," Adams said. He also refuses to be called a hero. "The real heroes are the unrecognized heroes, the medics who kept me alive until they could reach an adequate facility -- those are the heroes," he said, "War is not about medals or heroics."
After spending 20 months in the Walter Reed rehab center, Adams is beginning to rebuild his life in Gainesville, where he struggles daily with the new difficulty of day-to-day life. "I thought this was it for me. I didn't realize I could still live a full life until I started seeing how other disabled vets were still carrying on," Adams said.
Now 22-years-old, Adams has returned to his original passions, hunting and cars. Despite all the challenges of returning to civilian life, Adams has found another calling in helping other vets like him. He is working with the Wounded Warriors Garage in Gainesville, which is a fairly new non-profit organization that has the goal of reuniting veterans, mostly disabled, with the old muscle car of their dreams while making the vehicle accessible for the veteran's particular disabilities. The long term goal is to have a Wounded Warriors Garage at all four corners of the nation, "vets helping vets get back into muscle cars," Adams said.