The October elk hunt for wounded veteran service men and women is in the past, but the memories linger. I am often asked, “Was the hunt successful?” I usually respond with yes, no elk harvested, but the experience was successful. When hunters or fisherman are asked if they caught anything and respond with no, the response is usually, “That is why they call it hunting not shooting, or fishing not catching.”
In North American culture we usually equate success with accomplishment rather than with experience – unfortunately. My wife and I were fortunate to have lunch with Roland and Jose this past week. Jose is a recreational therapist from the Veterans Administration. Roland was one of the wounded veterans on the last hunt. Jose was interested to hear from us about the hunts and our purposes. We were interested in seeing Roland again and some follow up to the hunt. We usually do not get the opportunity to see our hunters a week or so after the hunt, when the mountain top experience has not worn off. And I assure you, it has not worn off of Roland.
I remember his reservation upon arrival at the hunting camp and contrast it with his countenance when we met at lunch last week. It is our hope that these experiences are truly life changing. By life changing I mean these true American heroes leave with a feeling of appreciation for their service and their sacrifice and they are pushed to attempt new things and new levels of physical exertion. On the subject of their sacrifice – I have had the privilege of being present on 4 of our 5 past hunts with 14 hunters and each one of them says the same thing when they are told, “Thank you for your sacrifice and service.” Each one says, “It was my job and I would do it again.” How amazing! If you aspire to be a Servant Leader, here is your living example. These men have truly sacrificed for you and I – that is a servant.
As we were leaving the camp area in October of 2013, I was riding with Johnny. Johnny was wounded in Iraq and is a lower leg amputee. Johnny looked at me and said, “I thought I was going on a hunting trip, I did not realize it would be therapy.” I replied with, “It is our hope that you will have some spiritual therapy here in the mountains, some emotional recovery, feel appreciated for your sacrifice, and reconnect with God.” Johnny replied, “That is not what I meant. That little hike you took me on the first day was tough. After that, I can do anything.” What to me was a fairly slight grade, although at 10,000 plus feet elevation and a bit of a chill – below 15 degrees, it was a fairly easy hike. But for him it was a test of will and endurance. And it has been my experience with these guys, they never say quit, it is too much, nothing of the negative, just march on. What if the rest of us spoiled Americans could look at the minor difficulties in our own lives with such fortitude?
Jose made a comment during lunch last week that Roland is a true American hero. Jose went on to say that we have many monuments to men and women who served, but they are all past. Men like Roland, true American heroes, are here with us and we have the opportunity to honor them as the heroes they are.
We live in a culture where we idolize athletes and celebrities, many who have done nothing other than entertain us. We need to recognize the folks that sacrifice for our daily lives, folks who serve in the armed forces, serve as police, firefighters, teachers, all who truly serve as there is no way a thinking person with their own self-interest in mind could enter one of those professions for the money.
So, thanks to Roland, Will, Alex, Colton, PJ, Armen, Johnny, Jonathon, Ed, Jason, James, Travis, Todd, and Jarvis, all men and women who were wounded in service to our country. And thanks to men like Cone and John who served a full career in military service and now serve these men who sacrificed so much.
In His service,
Michael T. Smith
the Staurolite foundation