As part of her senior project last year, Jessica Kreger of Louisburg, North Carolina, organized a horse ride for veterans through Freedom Alliance. Despite the less-than-ideal weather conditions, that ride was a true demonstration of the healing power of equine therapy, and the servicemen thoroughly enjoyed it.
Jessica’s parents offered to host another trail ride this year, and since we had a hunt lined up in nearby Littleton in honor of the Veterans Day weekend, we decided to combine the two into one special event for six Marines.
It all began in a barn with a bit of grooming. Once at the Kregers’, the servicemen were matched with an animal and made polite introduction by brushing their horses’ coats.
This time, the weather did its part, and the cool but sunny setting kept the horses rather frisky. As the Marines reigned in their mounts to keep from galloping away, they appreciated the lovely countryside around the Kreger farm—forests and fields, as well as country roads.
The horseback riding is such a popular activity with veterans, being that it’s adventurous and therapeutic. Jessica’s father, Ken, wants to make this an annual outing, and we gratefully approve.
After the trail ride, we traveled to the Big Rack Trophy Clubhouse, where owner Greg Quiel has been a diligent supporter of military veterans, providing hunts for Freedom Alliance since 2011. Club members awaited the Marines and didn’t waste any time getting them out for the evening hunt.
The next day, the Big Rack Trophy Club put on a feast to commemorate the 241st birthday of the United States Marine Corps. One club member awakened at 2 a.m. to roast a pig!
Herman Massey, who owns the land the club hunts on, is a veteran of the Korean War; our younger Marines continuously gathered around him to hear his stories.
There was a special cake, and the first pieces cut were passed to Mr. Massey, the oldest Marine, and Isaac, the youngest. Isaac was just retired this year from the Marine Corps due to injuries.
When serving in Afghanistan with a shock trauma surgical unit, Isaac saw things one would shudder to hear—things not so easily forgotten. Having suffered a brain injury and coping with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, this young Marine was given a grant from Freedom Alliance to help with his transition costs.
Also Isaac had never hunted before, but having practiced with a bow and target, he was dreaming of when he’d finally get his chance. We called upon our friend Greg Bulkley of Bass Pro Shops in Ashland, Virginia, to help.
When we wrote to tell Isaac what Greg was going to do for him, the reaction was epic!
“I simply cannot believe it—Bass Pro Shops is outfitting me?!”
Greg’s shop was providing all the gear Isaac would need, since the expenses of hunting were not something he could afford.
“The very place I coulda gotten lost in as a child and cared less, and now as an adult have to be dragged out of by my wife, even when unable to spend a dime in the place,” Isaac said of Bass Pro Shops.
Jesse and Dan, two of our other Marines, are teachers by profession and they, as well as the Big Rack Trophy Club members, rallied around Isaac to make his first experience hunting the very best one. The thrill of the hunt seemed to give him the boost he’d been missing since leaving the Marines.
Two deer were taken during the weekend, both by a Marine veteran who came to this very hunt years ago with Freedom Alliance. Kevin almost lost his legs in a blast during his tour in Afghanistan. He has endured multiple surgeries to save the limbs, and today he is a member of the Big Rack Trophy Club.
We will let Isaac tell you just what this event meant to him:
“Since I’ve been back from combat, I’ve been running a thousand miles an hour trying to find rest… I’ve been in counseling for years, attended programs to help veterans adjust to civilian life and living outside a combat zone, but nothing compares to last weekend!
“…I was treated for the first time since my injuries like I wasn’t broken! I felt normal, I felt a part of something, I felt proud, I felt truly appreciated … the key word being that I FELT again!
“…If anyone is reading this and can relate to anything I’ve shared, give Freedom Alliance a shot… This weekend has given me an outlet finally to cope with life as a combat vet!”
Dan is still an active-duty Marine and an instructor at MARSOC, the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command at Camp Lejeune. We really appreciate what he wrote about his experience with us:
“Freedom Alliance is truly the best organization I have ever been involved with… The connections they have within the communities of civilians and veterans alike is second to none. This organization was able to take a group of non-affiliated veterans on the hunt of a lifetime. And provided the very best accommodations, free of charge…
“I would encourage any veteran or donor to explore what Freedom Alliance has to offer… The friendships made will last a lifetime.”