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Illinois hunting and fishing
This Oct. 22, 2010 photo shows James Raffetto, a Navy corpsman wounded while serving with a Marine unit in Afghanistan, bagged his first-ever deer on a hunt hosted by the Potomac Highlands Wounded Warrior Outreach, in Franklin W.Va. The outreach brings wounded soldiers, Marines and sailors to West Virginia to hunt, to fish and to enjoy a few days of life outside a hospital's walls. (AP Photo/The Charleston Gazette, John McCoy)

Healing hunts: Program helps vets

November 06, 2010 at 02:02 AM

FRANKLIN, W.Va. (AP) — With a quick squeeze of a crossbow’s trigger, James Raffetto proved that it would take more than an insurgent’s bomb to keep him from enjoying life.

“I never thought I’d be able to do something like this,” Raffetto said, as he sat forward in his wheelchair and gestured to the deer lying dead nearby. “When you get hit, you think your life is over. This is proof that it isn’t.”

For Raffetto and a growing roster of servicemen wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Potomac Highlands Wounded Warrior Outreach has been an avenue back toward an active lifestyle. Founded last January by a retired West Virginia conservation officer and a handful of friends, the outreach brings wounded soldiers, Marines and sailors to West Virginia to hunt, to fish and to enjoy a few days of life outside a hospital’s walls.

“We work with the people at Walter Reed (Army Hospital) and Bethesda (Naval Hospital) to bring these fellows here,” said group founder Bill Armstrong. “The idea is to get them into the outdoors for a day or two so they can relax. Some of these guys have literally been in the hospital for years, and they need some time away from the hospital routine.”

Armstrong took part in a similar program at the Army’s Aberdeen (Md.) Proving Grounds, where he served as a special agent. At Aberdeen, he and a corps of volunteers hosted wounded GIs on golf outings, trap- and skeet-shooting experiences, hunting trips and fishing excursions.

“I left Aberdeen and moved to Franklin last year, and I started wondering why we couldn’t have a similar program here,” Armstrong said. “So in January a few of us started putting one together. The idea was to pay for transportation, food, lodging, equipment, licenses - everything.”

Seed money came from the National Wild Turkey Federation and the West Virginia Bowhunters Association, both of which chipped in $500. The rest of the money came, and continues to come, mainly from the citizens of Pendleton County.

“These people amaze me,” Armstrong said. “We set out buckets for donations at two local festivals and raised more than $4,000. We approached landowners about hosting hunts on their properties; people who never allow hunters on their property opened their lands like crazy to these servicemen.

“Local hunters volunteered to act as guides and hosts. Parker Bows, which is owned by a native West Virginian, donated archery tackle. The (Division of Natural Resources) provided complimentary hunting licenses. Whenever we’ve had a need, it’s been provided for.”

The first hunt, a bear hunt, took place in September during the state’s early firearm season. All three Marines who participated ended up bagging bruins.

“Those guys were floating on clouds when they left here,” Armstrong said.

The most recent hunt - an archery hunt for deer - turned out to be a little more challenging. The hunting blinds had to be located close enough to existing roads to allow easy access, they had to accommodate wheelchairs, and they had to be weather-tight enough to protect hunters from inclement conditions.

Once again, Armstrong’s network of supporters rose to the occasion. A local mobile-home dealer donated axles, tires and towing tongues. Another supplier donated the metal roofing material off a condemned building.

Three volunteers - Harry Lee Temple and James Adkins, both of Brandywine, teamed up with Dave Longnecker of Hagerstown, Md., to assemble the components into a pair of blinds that could be towed to a site and be set up in minutes. The larger of the two has room for two hunters and their equipment, a wheelchair, an easy chair and a gas-powered space heater.

It was from that blind that Raffetto bagged his deer.

“A little bit after sunup, we saw this gal walk out of the field and into the woods toward the blind,” he recalled. “I just watched her and waited for a shot. She finally presented herself (at the correct angle) and I took the shot. This was my first deer; in fact, it was the first time I’d ever hunted.”

For Raffetto - a Navy corpsman who in August lost both of his legs, his left arm and part of his right hand to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan - the hunting trip was an important part of the healing process.

“The more active we are, the better and quicker we can heal,” said the Devon, Pa., native. “It lifts our spirits to be ‘out in the world’ again.”

Tyler Anderson’s trip ‘out into the world’ carried him back to familiar surroundings - or at least familiar-looking.

“The mountains here look a lot like the ones back home,” said Anderson, an Army sergeant from Grundy County, Tenn. “This is sort of like going home.”

Anderson lost the lower part of his left leg in Afghanistan, also to a roadside bomb. The veteran bowhunter didn’t get a deer during his trip, but only because he had expectations of taking a big-antlered buck.

“I saw deer every time I went to the stand. I let a bunch of them walk because I was holding out for something better. I passed on a bunch of does and one three-point buck,” Anderson said.

Like Anderson, Aaron Howell spent his visit watching whitetails mosey toward his stand. Unfortunately for Howell, who lost both legs and a finger in Afghanistan to yet another roadside bomb, all of the deer he saw stayed outside effective bow range. The Marine from Potsdam, N.Y., said he’d like to come back someday for another try.

“This is a good program,” he said. “I had been waiting for the opportunity to take part in it ever since I was injured.”

That’s good news to Armstrong, who is already planning next year’s activities.

“Right now, we’re working on bringing in some guys next spring for a turkey hunt and maybe some trout fishing,” he said. “There are tons of possibilities. The key will be whether we can raise the money to make it happen.

“It’s a great thing for West Virginia. When these guys go back (to the hospital), they’re singing the state’s praises - how pretty it is, and how friendly the people are. With our scenery and our wildlife, we have a lot to offer.”

Raffetto echoed Anderson’s words with an endorsement of his own.

“This has been really beneficial to us,” he said. “If people want to support soldiers and their country, this would be a really good place to start.”

Illinois hunting and fishing
This Oct. 22, 2010 photo shows one of two mobile hunting blinds built for a hunt hosted by the Potomac Highlands Wounded Warrior Outreach, in Franklin W.Va. The outreach brings wounded soldiers, Marines and sailors to West Virginia to hunt, to fish and to enjoy a few days of life outside a hospital’s walls. (AP Photo/The Charleston Gazette/John McCoy)

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

This is an outstanding article.  We owe everything to our Vets.  I donate regularly to various Military organizaions throughout the country but haven’t seen anything from Illinois specifically supporting hunting/fishing trips.  Do we have a Wounded Warrior Outreach Chapter in Illinois? I’ll have to do some web surfing. This would be a better endeavor than funneling money to study “the number of ground squirrels” in Illinois.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/06 at 09:40 AM

There are several groups trying to get such hunts going.  I believe the NWTF has something to do with it.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/06 at 05:32 PM

I think some of these big outfitters should donate some hunts to these guys.

Posted by Bwana on 11/08 at 08:51 AM

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