At the end of a picturesque tree-lined dirt lane resembling the idealistic pre-war South in Gone With the Wind, is the plantation-style Cypress Creek Hunting Lodge. Matt, a long-time Freedom Alliance friend and Air Force vet, told us about a hog hunt opportunity with the lodge, which is located in Estill, South Carolina.
Jumping on board, we got seven injured soldiers in all to join us with Matt and the Cypress Creek team. There were four soldiers from Fort Gordon Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB); one from Fort Jackson’s WTB; two medically retired military members from Florida; as well as Matt’s friend, Frank, a Vietnam veteran who was a medic and served in the Navy.
Frank was a real character, who earned the nickname “Uncle Si,” favoring the comedic veteran from A&E’s Duck Dynasty. Frank tells the best stories, but his finest quality is his heart for soldiers, believing that our nation’s military deserves support, especially those suffering from the widespread and misunderstood post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
All the guests arrived at the hunting lodge on Thursday, heading out into the cool, damp evening to the shooting range to sight their rifles while a hearty dinner was being prepared. During and after the meal, the troops were already beginning to thank us for this “therapeutic” time away.
After two deployments, Eric—a National Guard soldier from the Atlanta area—suffers from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Eric is very intelligent, speaking several languages and having worked as a translator for a national airline. An avid hunter, Eric was the only one besides Matt to take a hog that weekend.
Coming also from the Fort Gordon was Zach, also known as “Little Will.” Zach is recovering from a severe TBI, but strangely, he doesn’t recall what happened. He was in-patient at Walter Reed and Bethesda for many months before being transferred to his local WTB, and he hopes to return to active duty again. He made the Judo team and will be transferring to Colorado Springs to train for the Warrior Games.
Another Fort Gordon soldier, Randall, was injured in Afghanistan when a blast threw him, breaking his back and neck. We knew he was in a lot of pain, but he didn’t show it. Randy was scheduled for surgery directly after the hunt.
Sergeant First Class Charles, or “Big Will,” as he is called, is the officer in charge at Fort Gordon, and he came along to make sure his service members towed the line and received the best care possible while away from base.
Rod, a drill sergeant from Fort Jackson and father of five, entered the WTB when his injuries from deployment caught up to him. Like Randy, he broke his back and neck in Afghanistan when his truck rolled after a blast. He also suffered a foot injury and was thus medically retired from the Army.
Cory and Steve drove up from Florida. Cory is a retired Marine and one-hundred percent disabled, living with PTSD, herniated discs, tinnitus, and nerve damage. This father of three boys endured a lot of back pain for the excitement of the hunt.
Steve had left the Army to find a wife but rejoined after 9/11. Newly married, he deployed to Iraq. During a mission, he saw insurgents coming and ran to warn his team. The enemy fired on the platoon and Steve was thrown by the mortar blast, hitting his head and shattering many bones. The other men ran for cover and Steve was left in the rubble alone. After surviving the attack, he had to undergo brain surgery and relearn how to walk. His eight children range from ages five to sixteen—seven girls and one boy!—and yet he still has time to establish a deep-sea fishing program for injured troops.
The gang came in Friday night after their hunt and stayed up into the night playing cards, while Zach entertained with assorted versions of the story of the hog that got away. The men slept in the next morning, ate lunch, hunted, ate dinner, and hunted again. That was par for the course that weekend. Late Saturday night, the rain subsided long enough for a campfire, and Frank had everyone in stitches with his stories.
“I can’t thank you enough. This is the best hunt I’ve been on,” said Cory. Steve agreed. “It is always great to get around people who appreciate our service and get to relax at the same time. Hunting is always so therapeutic to me.”
For certain, Cypress Creek Hunting Lodge will remain a special place for all of us.
Owner Danny told us that they had done this hunt for combat vets with another organization, but he much prefers Freedom Alliance. “You are so much more personal,” he said. Danny wants to host another hunt, and he is entertaining an ambitious vision for this program in the future.