JASPER, Texas - It was a cool Sunday morning on B.A. Steinhagen Lake as the air boat drew closer to the where the hunters set their bait the day before. The bait was gone, but, about 20 feet away floated an ominous looking patch of greenery.
Quickly, a second hunter, Sgt. 1st Class William R. Poe went over and both pulled upward on the line. Their eyes widened as a massive alligator head emerged from beneath the floating grass with its mouth wide open and a bad attitude.
After 30 minutes of battle with their catch both Soldiers assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion at the San Antonio Military Medical Center claimed victory over the 12-foot, 2-inch, and 455-pound alligator.
Poe and Boorse, along with retired Staff Sgt. William Bighouse and former U.S. Marine Cpl. Cody E. Hammer, took part in a wounded warrior alligator hunt hosted by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Pineywoods Ecosystem Project and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District’s Town Bluff Project Office.
“I think these hunts are great, the entire program is awesome,” said Bighouse, a veteran of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. “Wounded Warrior programs not only offer help to those who are wounded, but gives peace of mind, there are people looking out for them.”
The weekend hunt kicked off Sept. 15 with a safety brief and lunch before the four were taken out on the lake to find their lucky spots. Each hunter, with help from one another and volunteers from the Sam Rayburn and Town Bluff Project Offices, set their lines and put out their bait in the hopes of snagging one of the elusive reptiles. They wouldn’t have to wait too long, by the time all the traps were set, Bighouse and Boorse would discover that their bait had already been taken. Boorse returned with a 7-foot, 2-inch, 48-pound gator and Bighouse wrangled a 6-foot, 42-pounder.
The evening was closed out with an alligator and catfish fry with all the fixings and plenty of hunting stories to go around. But the hunting was just one part of the event. The bigger aspect was the fact that these men weren’t just four guys out on a routine hunt. These were warriors that were still on the mend, and not only for their physical wounds.
Kevin Burgin, Fort Worth District wounded warrior liaison and wounded warrior himself said these hunts help injured military members on their healing journey whether recovering from cognitive or mobility or both types of injuries.
“I enjoyed the feeling of being around guys who have been where I have, and have experienced the things that I have,” said Hammer, wounded by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. “I also liked being able to show that recovery will happen, and our lives will go on and progress if we continue to push.”
According to Bighouse, this is therapy you can't get anywhere else. When you are wounded, your mind is million miles from where it really should be. “This program allows Vets some time to really get closure, and peace of mind, for it not only challenges, it also rewards in many ways, both seen and unseen.”
The hunt ended noon Sept. 26 with a monster catch and smiles from ear to ear from not only the hunters but from all the support staff, volunteers and sponsors who made the event possible. TPWD provided access to campsites and a dining hall both evenings at Martin Dies Jr. State Park along with volunteers to help with most aspects of the hunt.
“TPWD was invaluable to the success of this event,” said Boyett. “They allowed us to focus on the soldiers and the hunt, without having to fret over park logistics.”
Several local sponsors contributed with donations and volunteers from help with meals to bringing a “Rock Crawler” an all terrain vehicle built and designed to honor veterans.
“These events are one of the greatest tributes that you could give a soldier,” said Bighouse. “It's not just one person giving; it's a whole lot of people, both in front of the scenes, and behind the scenes.”
Although the big catch would go home with Poe, the four brothers’ in arms stood alongside that slain monster and one could get the feeling that the 12-foot reptile was more than a trophy that would go up on Poe’s wall. The sense all around was that they all came one-step closer to claiming victory over their personal traumas and their recovery was well in hand.
“Wounded warrior hunts like this one provide the opportunity for our heroes to not only heal and bond with one another, but with grateful Americans who want nothing more but to show their support for the sacrifices made my our brave military members,” said Col. Charles H. Klinge, Jr., commander, Fort Worth District.
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