Friday, November 16, 2012

A Tragedy That Touches Us All

Sometimes things happen that stop you in your tracks and instantly pull you through the superficial into the reality of life's drama.

On Thursday night, November 15, I was sitting in my den comparing work days with my wife, Mary Anne.  Our TV was on the news but was muted so we could talk.  We both saw the map of Texas appear, showing Midland with the caption "Train Wreck" or "Train Accident" or whatever it said.  We continued our conversation without a comment about the image we had just seen.

Within 10 minutes, I heard my phone's Anchors Aweigh ringtone upstairs, but didn't go after it.  There would be time later to see who called.

When I looked at the phone a little later, there was a text from our vice president, Billy Hodges, that said, "Call me ASAP."  I thought one of our planned hunts had a glitch we would need to work out.

Billy's first words were, "It isn't us!"

I said, "What do you mean, it isn't us?"

Then he told me what happened in Midland.

Mary Anne reacted to my side of the conversation as she heard me repeat what I was hearing:  "four dead" and "17 injured" and "was it the Show of Support group?" and "how did it happen?"

After I hung up from Billy, I shook my head one final time and started thinking about what is next.

It's About the Warriors

Right now, everyone's focus should be on the families not on the tragedy of the event.  Military families see tragedy all too often.  Whether it happens to their family directly or to other service families, it is, unfortunately, part of life when your chosen path places you in harm's way.

Any tragedy deserves attention, but when it happens to those who have already given so much, and to have it happen in such a random fashion during a patriotic celebration of the American Spirit, creates an irony that makes this a very bitter pill to swallow.  The question is can we turn the intensity of this event into a positive force to benefit our wounded warriors?

Starting tomorrow, media coverage will concentrate on who, what, when, where, why, and how.  That is Journalism 101.  The blame game and finger pointing will start and, for a week, this will be big news.  It will then fade into periodic 30-second spots or two-paragraph fillers as more details come out.  Within a month, the "story" will be old news, only to be resurrected if a scandal is uncovered or "created."

The real story is our warriors and their families deserve our respect, appreciation, and ongoing support to repay, in some small measure, their sacrifices.  The story is there are dozens and dozens of organizations that step up every day to make sure our warrior families get much-needed care.  The story is many of our wounded are going to stay wounded, either physically or with wounds to their peace-of-mind.  The story is they, and those who came before, should never be forgotten.

The story that needs to come out is there are many organizations doing something about "it."  Patriots and Heroes Outdoors and The Link-Up are just two of dozens of like-minded groups that create opportunities for wounded warrior families to enjoy outdoor activities.  There are many groups that focus on the emotional challenges, others that offer financial advice and refining job search skills.  Many corporations are stepping up to be counted.  This is the story that should capture the nation's attention.

The good people of Midland, Texas are going to face a lot of scrutiny at a time when they are most vulnerable.  I hope their real story of patriotism and commitment doesn't get lost in the process because it is also your and my story and it needs to be told.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

93Q FM/Miller 64 Beer Run

Manny, Kevin, and Rod
On Thursday, June 21, Kevin Kline of the Q Morning Zoo broadcast team accepted a challenge from Miller Brewing Company to run 64 miles in one day to promote Miller 64 Beer.  They decided to make it a fundraising event and selected Patriots and Heroes Outdoors as the beneficiary of their efforts.  Local runners in Houston were invited to join Kevin for any portion of the 4.0 mile lap around Rice University and through Rice Village.

Miller 64 Promo Poster

Brian O'Neill's

Headquarters was Brian O’Neill’s Restaurant & Pub in Rice Village.  Water for the event was donated by EvaMor Water.

EvaMor Water

93Q and EvaMor set up tents next to the restaurant for the starting line and rest station for Kevin and the other runners.

Kevin Getting Ready
Kevin and fellow runners started at 10 a.m.  A lap counter sign showed 16 laps.  Temperatures that day in Houston were in the high 90°Fs and with Houston’s famous humidity, the heat index was well over 100 degrees.  I stayed in the shade next to the water supply and Kami Krouse, the rep for EvaMor.  By the end of the day, Kami knew as much about PHO and our mission as anyone and I was an expert on the health and nutritional value of EvaMor water.

64 Miles To Go

John Breland with 93Q’s sales office coordinated the day and was supported by the radio station’s marketing staff.  Great group.  Kevin does a lot of these ultra-marathons and John and team know how to back him up.  The station also did their afternoon broadcast from the restaurant.

MillerCoors Houston Distributing was out in force to promote Miller 64 and support the event, as did the other restaurants and clubs along Morningside Street in Rice Village.  It turned into a big block party.

Kevin’s best support, though, was his wife Trish.  She is the queen of aid station support.  Throughout the day and into the night Trish made sure Kevin had water, Gatorade, food or a dry shirt when he needed it.  Other friends from their running clubs also hung with them for much of the event.

Kevin would stop after each lap and rehydrate and down rice, potatoes, or other body fuel to keep him going.  Other runners came and went, running some laps and left, while other hung with Kevin for almost the entire run.

The run went from 10 a.m. Thursday morning until nearly 1 a.m. Friday morning.  Kevin never stopped for more than a few minutes before heading out for the next lap.  The only time he stopped for a longer period was when some special guests arrived.

We flew four wounded warriors and their escort from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C. to Houston on Thursday to attend the Msgt. Gonzales Memorial Fishing Tournament the next day (more on that later).  Kevin asked if he would get a chance to meet them.

The guys arrived around 4 p.m.  By then Kevin had run approximately 30 miles.  We took them into the restaurant for an early dinner and to rest before heading down to Sargent, Texas for fishing.

The warriors were a little in awe to fly in and immediately be dropped in the middle of a large group of enthusiastic supporters.  They were unaware of what was going on outside.  I explained what was happening and that Kevin was doing this to show support for them.  It made a huge impression, but not as much as when Kevin came through the door -- sweating and winded but excited to get to meet them.

They thanked him for what he was doing and he, in turn, thanked them for their service and sacrifice.  A lot of mutual admiration going on at that moment.

Pictures were taken and Kevin headed back out for his next lap.  The warriors’ eyes lit up when the Miller Girls joined them for a picture.  The warriors loaded back on our weathered, wheelchair-accessible bus (we could use a new one by the way) and headed down to Sargent for the fishing tournament Friday and Saturday.

After lap eleven (44 miles), the strain and fatigue started showing on Kevin when he would come in from a lap.  Not much we could do but offer encouragement and cheer him on.  I thought it was a good time to tell him about how much it had meant to the soldiers to have someone go the extra mile for them.  When someone suggested he could knock a lap or two off, he said “did the wounded warriors ever take anything off?”

The last laps had to be the hardest.  Not only from the extended effort, but by that time of night Rice Village’s clubs and restaurants were packed with young people out for the evening.  Almost all were oblivious to Kevin’s running.

The last NBA Finals game was going on so there was a lot of whooping and hollering going on inside.  Too bad most of them didn’t understand the real champion of the evening wasn’t LaBron James.

Happy Feet
Kevin and a few fellow hardcore runners finished just before 1 a.m. Friday morning.  Exhausted, sore, and completely soaked with sweat, Kevin sat down while Trish helped get his shoes and socks off.  John brought over a cooler of ice and Kevin put his bare feet on the ice.  Could have sworn I saw steam coming out of the cooler.


We packed up to go home while the late night crowd wandered the streets or waited in line at the taco truck parked next to us.  Kevin’s friends and fellow runners said good night and headed home.

I asked Kevin to sign a poster for PHO.  True to form and unselfish to the end, he wrote "PHO -- Thank you for letting me honor you with my run."

Quite an evening.  MillerCoors Houston Distributing donated $100 per mile to PHO.  Total donations for the night were right at $7,000.  We got some great visibility through the event promotion by 93Q.  And I got something, too.

Through my involvement with PHO, I am very fortunate to be around a lot of heroes.  Each one inspires me.  As of 1:00 a.m. that Friday morning, I have a new personal hero -- Kevin Kline.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Leona River Ranch

With the regular deer season over, there are still plenty of opportunities for hunting trips to management ranches.  We are blessed to have several of these ranches that support our efforts.  One such is the Leona River Ranch.

Below is our vice-president Billy Hodges’ report on a great trip for some very worthy Marines.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Legislation in New Mexico

The following blog entry is from Billy Hodges, our vice president.  In it, he mentions a piece of legislation passed in New Mexico last year that will be very helpful to our organization and reviews several hunts hosted by good friends of Patriots and Heroes Outdoors - Eric and Debbie Armstrong.

Last summer, New Mexico governor Susana Martinez signed Senate Bill 262.  Dubbed the HUNTS FOR HEROES BILL, it allows wounded warriors a discounted, non-resident hunting licenses fee.  Hunting licenses for deer, antelope, elk, javelina, and turkey may be sold to non-resident, disabled U.S. military members or veterans at resident license fee rates if the applicant is undergoing a rehabilitation program utilizing hunting activities supported by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) or an authorized non-profit organization.  The passage of the bill is already paying dividends to PATRIOTS AND HEROES OUTDOORS.

CPT Zeno McCoy returned to Cimarron, NM in November.  Eric and Debbie Armstrong had hosted Zeno the year before, but he returned to Fort Hood empty handed.  The elk were much more plentiful this year and Zeno scored his first elk on the first day of the hunt.

New Friends Sharing Good Times
The Armstrongs hosted three more wounded warriors from Fort Hood during November.  Debbie cooked a traditional Thanksgiving meal on the wood stove in the camp house.  The house sits in a five mile long valley flanked by 10,000-foot mountains.  Snow this year covered the peaks down to about 7,000 feet.  On the floor of the valley runs a clear stream rimmed with aspen trees.

Wounded Warrior SSG Pedro Ayala
with elk in New Mexico

Herds of elk move in and out of the trees feeding on lush grass in the valley. In this beautiful backdrop, our guests harvested three cow elk.

Antelope taken in New Mexico

In December, we completed the third of four events being held in New Mexico this hunting season.  The first was an antelope hunt for four wounded warriors from Fort Hood’s Warrior Transition Brigade.

They harvested four trophy “goats” in five days and called in several very unlucky coyotes.  One of the coyotes was even taken with a pistol.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Dandy Time in Del Rio

I am just back from a very successful six day event hosted by Burts Ranch and sponsored by the Mueller Family of Tomball, Texas.  Five wounded warriors joined us from Walter Reed, Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC), and Tomball, Texas.  Had a full house – eight Burts Ranch folks, six Mueller Family, five wounded warriors, three dogs, a very special guest I will discuss shortly, and me.

Our two Walter Reed guests, Nick and Zack, flew into San Antonio last Friday, thanks to Southwest Airlines’ generosity.  I picked them up and headed toward Burts Ranch just north of Del Rio.  Hank, his son, Drayson, and fellow wounded warrior Jeremiah, drove in from BAMC.  Jeremy drove in from Tomball.  We all made it there in time to enjoy a fantastic meal prepared by LaDonna and a secret weapon named Lole (short for Loleta).

Lole had a batch of family recipes that kept us smiling every time we sat down for a meal – perfect salsa, sweet corn bread, venison tamales, enchiladas, biscuits, eggs, and other stuff I couldn’t pronounce.  Bad news was, she wouldn’t share the recipes no matter how much I begged.  Not that I could cook any of it, but my wife, Mary Anne, sure knows her way around a kitchen.  I did get a jar of salsa to take home, so I had no complaints.

Nick got too close to his scope
Deer hunting started early Saturday morning.  By end of day, Jeremiah and Nick scored two beautiful bucks.  Nick had an additional memento to remember this hunt thanks to having his face too close to the scope when he fired.  He is the second Army officer named Nick to get a bloody brow and nose in the past two years at this same event.  Kyle Burts and I decided we will come up with a protective helmet with lieutenant bars on it for the next hunt.  Nick said he was going to tell everyone that the deer kicked him as he wrestled it down with his bare hands.  Good luck with that one.

Hank got his deer Sunday but unfortunately his son Drayson wasn’t in the stand with him because of a tummy ache.  He felt better later.  By Monday, everyone had at least one deer including Zack, our Navy Explosive Ordinance Disposal guest, who had never hunted before.  Everyone except Jeremy, that is.  If you think he was getting abused, you are right.  Deer camp can be brutal.

Jeremy did get a good one later Monday and thought the pressure was off.  His guide, Jay, made a video of the shot.  Jeremy then launched into his version of a TV hunting show pro, describing the event and then following the blood trail to find his deer (which was only ten yards from where he shot it).  That video was the hit of the trip.  Nick tried to do a video after shooting his second deer, but didn’t have the chops for it.

Larry joins our team
Tuesday afternoon we were honored to have a special guest join us.  Larry Weishuhn, wildlife author and TV hunting expert known as Mr. Whitetail because he knows more about whitetail deer than anyone on the planet.  He is the guy who hunts with a 'scoped pistol when most of us need a rifle.  Larry had just returned home from Alaska that morning at 2 a.m. and still found time to come by to meet our wounded warriors.  He spent some time answering a lot of questions about whitetail deer, breeding programs, and hunting tips.  Although he could use the rest before heading to New Mexico, he spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with us.

Jeremy had been so abused by the rest of us, he was a little paranoid.  He recognized Larry as he walked up to the house and thought someone was punking him.  When it came time for the afternoon hunt, I sprang a little surprise on Jeremy that Kyle and I had agreed on that would put him right back in the pressure cooker. 

Jeremy gets to hunt with Larry
As we assembled at the barn to partner up and head out, I walked up to Jeremy and said, “OK.  Two rules while you are in the stand today.  You don’t audition and you don’t sing.”

He looked puzzled and said, “Huh? Why?”

“Because you are hunting with Larry.”

Dead silence (for the first time the entire trip).  Then, “You’re messing with me.”

We had to scrape him off the ceiling.

Jay and Larry got into the camo electric cart.  Jeremy climbed in the back facing the rest of us.  As they went off, all we could see was a huge grin fading into the distance.

He did get another deer.  Larry filmed it while Jay whispered in Jeremy’s ear, “Don’t miss!!”  Cold-blooded.

Larry joined our warriors for dinner.  He brought copies of his book and autographed a copy for each one.  In turn, they autographed a Burts Ranch camo hat and gave it to him.  Good trade.

Mueller Family and Burts Ranch do it right
I mentioned the Mueller Family in my last blog.  They have really been a blessing to our organization.  After raising $19,000 for us at their annual benefit BBQ cook-off, they wanted to see one of our events firsthand.  Billy, Tom, Kathy, and Glenny hunted with us over the weekend and, before leaving Sunday, were joined by Charlie and Bo, who stayed through Wednesday morning.

Their family sponsorship paid all the expenses for this event including food for the whole group, shoulder mounts of all the deer, processing all the meat, and delivery to Walter Reed, BAMC and Tomball.  Match that with the generosity of Burts Ranch to provide lodging and the chance to take trophy quality whitetails and you have a great example of teamwork, a common respect for our servicemen and women and patriotism demonstrated in actions, not words.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

And Away We Go!!

Today we went live on our website.  After working for the past three months on the layout with Deb and Glenn from Wolf Run Internet Marketing and messaging with Paul from Rust Reviews, LLC, this is a very good day.  I must admit, I feel like a proud father seeing this site come alive.

Hopefully, you will look through this site and understand what we are about and why we feel so passionately about our mission.  The words explain who we are, but the images tell our story.  If you see a picture and say “Wow, I get it!” or it tugs at your heart, the picture was probably taken by Julia Robinson.  Julia is one of God’s angels sent to bring fresh eyes and an open mind to help us communicate our message when those of us who are too close to it can’t.  Thank you, Julia.

Tomorrow morning, I leave Houston to pick up two wounded warriors from Walter Reed flying into San Antonio, courtesy of Southwest Airlines, to head to a trophy whitetail deer hunt at Burts Ranch outside of Del Rio, Texas.  We will be joined by two WW’s from Brook Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio and a retired Army Strong who now lives in Tomball, Texas.  This hunt is one of our favorites each year.  The great hunting and “you are family” environment are guaranteed to give our warriors a life-long memory.

I would like to use this hunt and the support we have received from Kyle Burts, his family and friends to illustrate an ideal partnership between PHO, a dedicated, patriotic host and a small town family with a passion for service and charity – the Mueller Family of Tomball.  Together, we are able to provide a very special gathering to a very deserving group of our service families.

Burts Ranch is owned by Kyle Burts and his parents.  Professionally, they operate Burts Construction in Tomball, but you can tell the ranch is where their hearts are.  Over the past several years, they have built a showcase of Texas whitetail deer where “management bucks” score between 125 and 140 (for the unschooled, that is BIG).  Their team at the ranch includes business and ranch employees and close friends who serve as hunting guides.

Kyle offered to host a hunt three years ago.  We sent several wounded warriors from Walter Reed.  Kyle also arranged for the hunting show “Drop Zone” to film the hunt.  There was an immediate bond between the Burts Ranch crew and our guests.  They still communicate to this day.

Last year, I accompanied four wounded from Walter Reed and their escort for the hunt - another great trip with new friends all around.  None of the warriors had ever been to Texas, so on the way down we stopped at the Frio River crossing to take a picture of the sign to honor George Strait’s song All My Exes Live in Texas.  After the hunt we had dinner at Pappasito’s Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio where they sampled a margarita/sangria drink called “The Wave.”

Mueller's Annual Benefit Cook-off Donation
is greatly appreciated

The Mueller Family of Tomball has done a BBQ Cook-off Competition/Fundraiser for the past twenty-five years.  What started as two brothers betting on who made the best brisket has grown into a fundraising event with over fifty teams competing.  Each year, they pick a different organization to receive the donation from the cook-off and auction.  Kyle convinced them in 2011 to designate Hunts For Heroes (our former organization) as the recipient of their collective donation.  They raised $19,000 for our cause.

Billy Hodges, the founder of Hunts For Heroes and current Vice President of Patriots and Heroes Outdoors, myself, and our wives attended the cook-off.  We were completely blown away by the outpouring of support and generosity shown by the fine people of Tomball.  The auction turned into a spirited duel for each item on the block.  One group pooled their money to win a rifle just so they could give it to a local wounded warrior who was attending with his family.  Upon receiving his gift, he asked the assembled crowd to pause and say a silent prayer for his “brothers-in-arms” who were still fighting for our freedom.  Not a dry eye in the place.

I will post pictures from this year’s hunt when I return.  Doubt I can beat the one that is on our web site entitled “He Ain’t Heavy” on our Mission Statement page.  That is Kyle Burts carrying a wounded warrior piggyback to get to a deer blind.  That same soldier insisted on personally dragging his trophy deer back to the truck after the hunt.  Kyle provided the propulsion.  A Patriot and his Hero.