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Home > UNS > 140206-01



Hunting to help

by  Staff Sgt. Lea Cooperrider
8th MISG (A) PAO

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (USASOC News Service, Feb. 6, 2014) - Many of us know, all too well, the strange feeling of coming home after a deployment. We’ve felt the disconnect and frustration of trying to pick up where we left off, but few of us can fathom the feeling of coming back wounded. Most often it’s even more difficult for family members to reconnect with their service member if he or she has suffered a major disability.

Ken Barnard and wife Pam, both raised in military families, recognized the personal disconnect and mental hurdles Wounded Warriors have to endure. Seven years ago Barnard started inviting service members to hunt and fish with him as a way to give back to veterans. The more participation he received, the more he started expanding, calling land owners, and setting up hunts. In 2008, Ken and Pam applied for their nonprofit organization status, and Patriot Hunts, Inc. was born.

Patriot Hunts now provides service members and their families with outdoor activities completely free of charge.

“We never charge for anything we do.” Barnard said. “We provide the food, if someone needs a license, if they need a firearm we have guns we loan, transportation…”

All funding for Patriot Hunts comes from private donations, with 100-percent of all donations going directly to support the service members’ experience. Becoming an official nonprofit organization was a huge step for Patriot Hunts. It allowed businesses and contractors to make financial contributions, as well as donate resources, but establishing an authorized route for their funding sources was the easy part.

Barnard then had to figure out how to gain command confidence in Patriot Hunts, and get service members involved in the various events.

“We spent a long time knocking on doors out here at Fort Bragg, a lot of time with the Family Readiness Groups, the Family Readiness Support Assistants, coming out here and cooking for soldier appreciation days, and just kind of building our reputation,” Barnard recalls. “Once the commanders started taking a hard look at us it kind of helped open the doors, but it still had to have that trickle-down effect, and that’s where Command Sgt. Maj. Mabus (8th Military Information Support Group (Airborne) and other senior Noncommisioned Officers come in. They push it out to the service members, and let them know, ‘Hey, this is available.’”

8th MISG(A) has been a huge supporter of Patriot Hunts over the past few years, sending groups of Soldiers to take part in various hunts, the most recent being the annual Georgetown, SC “Warrior Tribute Hunt”.

Staff Sgt. Aaron Markovich, 8th MISG(A),  received a purple heart in 2012, and was asked by his command to participate in the “Warrior Tribute Hunt” that year.

“They put on a world class event. I remember thinking ‘It’s just us.’ It really blew my mind the effort they put into it and let us come there and just hang out,” Markovich said.

Partaking in the event is just half of the involvement. Interacting with the Patriots who fund and host the events is also a profound experience for most service members, letting them know how appreciated their sacrifices truly are.

“Overall it’s just a fun event. When you go back to the houses with the plantation hosts they start to ask you questions. They’re really detached from military life, and are genuinely interested in what it is we do,” Markovich said.

Barnard is constantly receiving letters from the men, women, and families that participate in the events. Many thank Patriot Hunts for the experience, and some even go as far to thank Barnard and the people who host Patriot Hunts for the therapeutic interaction and conversation.

“One of the most rewarding things is to know that total strangers feel comfortable enough after participating in this to just open up, and it’s almost like they unburden themselves,” Barnard said.

Allowing service members to participate in this sort of therapy is not just creating a temporary outlet. It can potentially help turn around their home life as well.

“I call it the ripple effect, when they go home, they’re all smiles, and their adrenalin’s still high. Some of it has to filter down to their family,” Barnard said.

Patriot Hunts isn’t claiming to be able to fix the issues our service members are dealing with, just to be able to give them a chance clear their minds, hopefully allowing them to look at their situation in a different light.

“We really try to do everything we can so that they can have fun, and it doesn’t change the fact that they have issues at home, or they may be dealing with a Traumatic Brain Injury or some sort of other injury, but for just a brief period of time it kind of goes into the recess of their mind. It’s not at the forefront; they’re not just sitting at the house watching cartoons with the blinds drawn. You take them out of that situation, and they get to see that that is not their life,” Barnard said.

In December 2013 Patriot Hunts was officially recognized as an affiliate of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Care Coalition after Kevin McDonnell, Col. (ret) U.S. Army, director of the Care Coalition, attended one of the events.

“2013 was a phenomenal year for us,” Barnard said. “I try not to over-think things. I’m not solving problems, but the letters and the testimonials we get from a lot of caregivers of our injured, they’re heart-warming to read.”

While some donors may specify they are sponsoring a hunt specifically for Wounded Warriors, Patriot Hunts, as a whole, caters to all veterans and their families, conducting hunts for command-nominated military members, as well as events for all military families.

“We are very involved with the survivor outreach services, with the Gold Star Families and the kids. We do three events for them specifically each year, a spring, summer, and fall event; we call it our ‘Patriot Kids Day’,” said Barnard.

Starting out, Patriot Kids Day was strictly for Gold Star kids, but only eight or ten kids would come out for the event. When Patriot Hunts decided to open the experience up to all military children, participation rose to approximately a hundred participants.

Patriot Hunts hosts these family events at the Maple Creek Farm and Preserve, approximately 700 acres located in Stedman, NC. Wanting to create a family-friendly atmosphere the Barnards have added lots of extras to their property to try to accommodate everyone.

“We built a really nice zip line, a very kid friendly climbing wall, we’ve set up a shooting range for archery, BB guns, twenty-two’s, skeet, we have a stock pond that the kids fish in, and we provide everything. All they have to do is just show up,” Barnard said.

His love for Patriot Hunts and what the organization stands for is fueled by personal experiences with his own military family.

“My daughter is an Army spouse, and her husband is about to leave again for the sixth time, so I get it. I see the kids that are left behind during deployments; I was one of them myself. What’s amazing is the guys that we take hunting, those are the first ones to come out and volunteer to help with what we’re doing,” Barnard said.

Patriot Hunts has worked with an estimated 1,500 to 1,700 families over the life of the organization.

“It’s been unbelievable. I never anticipated it growing to what we are now, I just wanted to give some guys some down time to regroup after back-to-back deployments, and now we do anywhere from eight to ten venues a year.” Barnard said.

In his speech at the Disabled American Veterans Convention, August 10, 2013, President Barrack Obama, referred to the suicide rate among military service members as an epidemic. Our own Commander and Chief recognizes the need for subordinate commanders and leaders to step up and do everything possible to save our brothers and sisters in arms. Patriot Hunts, a completely free resource for units and service members, is available to help.

“We would like for our name to be synonymous for those coming to Fort Bragg. Not only do you need to check out AUSA, but if you love the outdoors you need to check out Patriot Hunts, a legitimate organization that’s doing it for the right reasons,” Barnard said.