What started as an idea a little more than six months ago, came to fruition Dec. 8 in the woods overlooking the Eau Galle Dam as volunteers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Wounded Warrior Project; and Chanhassen Yellow Ribbon Program honored seven wounded warriors with a deer hunt at Eau Galle Recreation Area, near Spring Valley, Wis.
Gathering in relative darkness around 6 a.m., the group discussed what was going to happen during the day as a fresh layer of snow covered the landscape. Tom Alich, law enforcement and security, briefed the warriors in front of interpretive building about safety issues, while reminding everyone to have fun. Once the briefings were complete, the warriors and their hunting guides made final preparations near the interpretive building, also known as the cribbage tournament headquarters and food distribution point, before entering the woods.
Kelli Phillips, Eau Galle Park project manager, said the goal of the hunt was twofold. She wanted to do something to support the Wounded Warrior Project and the seven warrior hunters as well as reduce the deer population within the Highland Ridge campground. The deer herd had been destroying a lot of the vegetation in the area. Phillips said while hunting is authorized at the Eau Galle Recreation Area, it is only for bow hunting. She said this warrior hunt was the first time shotgun hunting was allowed within the campground area.
Phillips said she was proud to be a part the Eau Galle Park deer hunt. “These soldiers give up a lot for us, and, any way we can give back [to them] is important to me,” she said. She added that she hoped each warrior would get a deer or two, but said the most important goal had already been achieved. “I feel the greater goal was accomplished before the hunt even began ... getting these Wounded Warriors in contact with one another is the true meaning of these events, the hunt was simply a bonus,” she said.
Jon Sobiech, environmental, said the hunt was equally important to him. “Anytime I can get out and give opportunities to people that don’t normally deer hunt, I’ll jump at that chance,” he said. “The value for me is visiting with these wounded warriors, getting to know them and hearing their story.” He added that he wanted to thank the district’s special emphasis program disability subcommittee for coordinating the volunteers.
Looking toward the future, Phillips said she is hoping the program can be expanded to other recreation areas. “It’s my hope that other recreation sites in our district and beyond will think about jumping on and providing similar opportunities for the Wounded Warrior Project,” she said. “The Wisconsin DNR has already expressed a strong interest in partnering again and providing another experience in the spring – this time turkey hunting.”
Louis Goldstein, Wounded Warrior Project alumni manager, said events like the deer hunt are great for everyone involved. He said the Wounded Warrior Project is dedicated to honoring and empowering wounded warriors and its five core values: fun, integrity, loyalty, innovation and service can all be found in hunting.
Goldstein said the event was a great experience for the warriors, the guides, the volunteers and everyone else involved. He said he is fortunate to have a job where he interacts with military veterans every day and gets to participate in deer hunts like the one at Eau Galle Recreation Area. “To be a part of this [hunt] is awesome,” he said. “Being a wounded warrior myself, being in the military for 10 years … it’s awesome to have my job; because my job is to ensure my battle buddies are taken care of.
“I’ve been given an awesome responsibility to have the empowerment to go out and find my battle buddies and make sure they are OK, and do whatever I can to bring us together so that we know that we are all OK and we’re not scattered to the five winds. We’re still a community, and we can still hang out.”
Col. Michael Price, St. Paul District commander, concluded the day by personally thanking everyone involved with the deer hunt and presenting each wounded warrior with a St. Paul District challenge coin. As he talked about the many activities that the Corps of Engineers is involved with from disaster response to regulatory, he said, “We’ll do this again. We’re going to try and do an ice fishing event or a goose hunt, too.”