January 15, 2014 Edition

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WWP hunt helps
to heal, change lives

Wounded Warriors from Arkansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma attended the Wounded Warrior Project Duck Hunt and Banquet held this past weekend and headquartered at Black River Technical College in Pocahontas. John Phillips of Walnut Ridge is event coordinator for the Northeast Arkansas affiliate of the Wounded Warrior Project, which hosted the event.

John explained why he is involved with the group. "They come in here shell-shocked and beat up from war," he said. "We just treat them like one of the guys, and they appreciate that." The veterans come to the duck hunt with a variety of disabilities. They just need a little help and move a bit slower, he explained.

John talked to one veteran who attended the event last year. He came with IED (bomb) wounds to both legs and was shy and withdrawn. He was the first in his group to shoot a mallard, his first ever, on Saturday of last year's hunt and was reportedly "just beaming." He also shot the last duck of the hunt to reach the limit of the day. "He was so proud of himself," Phillips said.

Since last year's event, this same veteran had purchased two guns, joined a shooting club and returned this year for the WWP hunt. "All of a sudden I see a different guy. Mother Nature healed this guy," John said. "It's those kinds of stories that make it worthwhile."

"They just need somebody to help them. That's what the Wounded Warriors Project does," he said.

*********

John shared a few highlights of the weekend.

The Wounded Warriors stayed at the Rock & Roll Hwy. 67 Inn in Pocahontas. This completely remodeled motel has a 50s and 60s motif, and the WWP provided free rooms and helped subsidize expenses for the vets.

The Outdoor Ministry Team of First Baptist Church in Walnut Ridge cooked hot dogs and hamburgers for the group on Friday night, with Wendy's providing chili. A seminar on duck hunting safety was also held.

On Friday and Saturday afternoons, groups were invited to visit the Wings of Honor Museum at the Walnut Ridge Airport, where they were greeted by Harold Johnson, museum president.

Duck hunts began at 4 a.m. on Saturday. Subway provided box lunches, and a duck-calling seminar was one of the events held. Some continued hunting through the afternoon and again on Sunday. Area hunters, such as Blake Cox and son Matthew of Walnut Ridge, guided the veterans on the duck hunts at various public and private hunting sites.

Some 230 people attended the Saturday night banquet at BRTC. The banquet had a Pearl Harbor Tribute as its theme. (The weekend WWP event had originally been scheduled for Dec. 7 but was postponed due to ice and snow.)

Paragould Junior High School's East Lab presented a video, audio program and a historic reenactment of the hearing of the original radio broadcast when Pearl Harbor was bombed. "I was amazed," John said.

As part of an emotional veteran's tribute, a group of Purple Heart recipients each received a duck call made of wood from a World War II ship that had been at Pearl Harbor. Rep. James Ratliff, Rep. Scott Baltz and Sen. Robert Thompson gave each of the Wounded Warriors who attended the banquet a framed citation. They also received duck prints.

Hallie Horton, three-time winner of the Women's World Duck Calling Championship, was the official banquet host. Dr. Gary Buxton of BRTC gave a moving keynote speech.

A live and silent auction raised money to be matched to help purchase Action Trackchairs for area veteran's offices. These chairs can be used by veterans for outdoor recreation, such as hunting.

"Our 'duck pickers' (the Pocahontas FFA Chapter) said they cleaned over 100-plus ducks from the Saturday and Sunday hunts. And several warriors took ducks home 'still in their feathers' following the hunt, so they could get on the road sooner Sunday due to long drives," John added.

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