Each day, 22 U.S. veterans take their own lives.
Mark Spencer is trying to stop the tragedy.
Over the weekend, Spencer hosted a hunting trip in Northeast Nebraska, through his organization, Patriot Outdoors Adventures, for two veterans with medical injuries.
Patriot Adventures is a nonprofit group with its headquarters in Hutchinson, Kan. It offers opportunities to veterans to spend time with other soldiers in the great outdoors.
“When I started this group in 2008, I knew from personal experience sometimes it is good to get away from home or a job and be with people who have had the same experiences I had like in combat,” Spencer said. “We now know talking about the same experiences is a great help to veterans returning from fighting.”
As a retired Army veteran with medical injuries from service in Iraq, he said the relatively simple act of sitting around a fire and talking can be a great healer.
The adventure group reaches out to veterans who are interested in hunting or fishing and sets up weekend trips.
Many hunts have been organized at Texas sites where they hunt the sicha axis deer. Elk are the target in Montana and alligators in Louisiana.
The group also hosted a turkey hunt last spring and participated in the Outdoor Expo at Ponca State Park in September.
Along with Hartington resident and veteran, Mark Wieseler, who is the Nebraska representative for Patriot Outdoor Adventures, the group did some outdoor deer hunting.
On Saturday afternoon, the group visited the National Field Archery Association Easton Yankton Archery Center in Yankton and spent some time with archery coach Bill Hewes shooting bows.
Doug Hanson of Council Grove, Kan., came to Nebraska with the Adventure program and has a long history as an Army Ranger, serving two tours in Iraq and returning home with a debilitating spinal injury.
“When I came back, I had a hard time coping. I was getting frustrated,” Hanson said.
He finally participated in a Purple Heart Outdoors tour. He was very active before getting injured and along with playing hockey, he was an archery lover.
coming to the Easton Center was poignant for him. After his injury, the doctors told him he would never be a father but after talking with other veteran organizations like Wounded Warrior, he now boasts about his two children. The oldest is named Easton because he loved their quality hockey equipment.
“You know, I never hunted for sport. I hunted for humans,” Hanson said. “So this was quite an adjustment. Hunting for food for my family has helped me.”
A “brotherly” hunt can be an emotional thing, he said. Being with other 30-something soldiers who have been through what he had and being outdoors with them helped the healing — whether it be problems adjusting from the war, adjusting once again to family life with a wife and kids or even building morale.
“We have a second chance and we have learned never to take anything for granted,” Hanson said.
“I met Mark at a hunting expo in Kansas a little over a year ago and immediately became interested in Patriot Adventures,” Wieseler said. “Our motto is ‘Soldiers Helping Soldiers’ and that is what it’s all about.”
It’s not a hobby to him but a way to help soldiers lead a healthy life and hunting can be a part of it.
Army veteran Darian Koehne of Wichita, Kan., grew up fishing and hadn’t been in the great outdoors for 13 years. He battles with PTSD and enjoyed the Nebraska landscape even if he didn’t get a chance to shoot bullets.
Just being with fellow soldiers, the camaraderie and talking over the lasting effects of battle is a great stress reliever especially at this time of holiday cheer.
Spencer said the group also helps veterans with questions about any issues from medical issues to other assistance.
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Want to learn more?
For more information, check out the following Facebook page, Patriot Outdoors Adventures.