The very generous Henggeler Family, who has continuously donated to Freedom Alliance to meet the needs of veterans, recently helped us sponsor an outstanding vacation to the Lower Salmon River on the Washington-Idaho border.
Franz Henggeler even came along for the trip and helped us host a few of our nation’s heroes for a river rafting and fishing expedition.
Another faithful donor, Jim Stewart, founder of Seattle’s Best Coffee, suggested we check out Aggipah River Trips on the Salmon River. Franz, who had been on a rafting trip in Boise, wanted to do something similar for Freedom Alliance, knowing that our veterans would love it.
For this event we reached out to a small community of Marines called “Scout Snipers.” These Marines must graduate from several demanding training schools to become the “Hunter of Gunmen,” or HOGs.
We found 10 Scout Snipers to take to Idaho, all serving as snipers in elite, diverse roles. Most have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, some have sought further education or continue to serve as overseas contractors, several are medically retired from combat injuries, and one is currently training future Scout Snipers at the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Virginia.
From the tiny airport in Lewiston, Idaho, we drove to meet our Aggipah River Trips guides, one of whom has been a boatman on the Salmon River for 47 years. The boatmen offered four kinds of vessels for our four days on the river, which the Marines rotated between.
There were two inflatable kayaks, two fishing rafts, one gear raft, and a traditional paddle boat for the white-water stints.
Once into the boats, the servicemen began to catch small-mouth bass as they floated. Later, the river guides used the catch to prepare fried bass nuggets for picnics on the riverbanks.
Other meals included steak, grilled over an open fire; barbecue ribs; grilled salmon; eggs Benedict, and streusel coffee cake—the latter of course complemented by mugs of Jim Stewart’s coffee!
In the evening, the boats moored on the river banks, where the sand was so white and fine, you might mistake it for an exotic sea coast. Most of the men didn’t bother setting up tents because the night skies were nearly cloudless, encouraging under-the-stars sleep.
At the end of the four days, the Scout Snipers presented Franz with .50- and .762-caliber rounds.
“These are two rounds used by our community, and we present them as a token of our appreciation,” said Dave, a sniper team leader who fought in Iraq. “They were in my pack and traveled the Lower Salmon with us.”
Franz’s kindness clearly meant a lot to the Marines, and they didn’t hesitate to say so.
Jeremy, who has served in Japan, Iraq, and Afghanistan, said, “I will certainly be keeping in contact with these guys…. I can’t describe how good it feels to make a racket with a bunch of similarly heathenous heathens…!”
Todd was wounded by grenades and small-arms fire in 2004 during the Battle of Fallujah. “Since then,” he said, “I’ve struggled with the effects of multiple traumatic brain injuries, along with numerous and varied paths to recovery.
“The rafting and fishing trip on the Lower Salmon River provided an opportunity to relax and unwind with fellow warriors in a remote and beautiful setting in Idaho. It meant a lot to me to share the camaraderie and esprit [de corps] built over the past ten years in Iraq and Afghanistan with others who understood the true cost of war.”
One sergeant attended the rigorous sniper training, achieving the highest courses for urban and mountain sniping, but never deployed—something he regrets every day. He says that when he joined the Marine Corps, he wanted to serve his country overseas, he wanted to be a part of the fight. Since his expectations took a different turn, the sergeant has supported his country in other ways, but that hasn’t lessened the disappointment.
The Salmon River rafting trip helped him in an unforeseen way. Cass explains, “I went on this trip feeling like a third wheel or a place holder….” Since he’d never seen combat, he felt like he didn’t belong.
“What I realized during this trip,” he said, “is that it doesn’t matter whether I deployed or not—my brothers couldn’t care less. They love me for who I am, the heart I have, and the reason for why I joined….”
Cass continues, “I joined to serve my country and protect its people, values, and traditions. I was prepared to do so, and the men on this trip helped me to realize that.”
And that seemed to be what the Marines appreciated most: being together with members of their brotherhood.
“This trip allowed me to grow lifelong friends who I would have never otherwise been able to meet,” said Paul, a first sergeant with many combat deployments.
Corey echoed that sentiment. This sniper served in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and today directs a firearms training facility near Phoenix. “It was a chance to relax and be around a group of guys, no matter what generation, known or unknown to me, with like-minded ways of thinking. Being able to meet and make new friends—you put us all together. Thank you for everything.”
Another Scout Sniper, Scotty, has had two brain surgeries in the last year, and he was feeling depressed about his career as a sniper coming to a close. “This trip helped me see the light outside of all the negative things that had accumulated in my life,” he said. “I’m so truly thankful….”