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People sometimes ask, "What can we do to thank a Vet?"



Locked Eyes


Rising in the middle of the night had not been my practice since my last deployment to Afghanistan in 2009. On this September morning I was pursuing a different mission, with different support. Though both activities were similar in a way, my work in Afghanistan required focus, commitment, situational awareness and mission support. The last --- mission support --- was the impetus that triggered my job of being flown across many countries to save critically wounded service members.

The same could be said of the support given by volunteers of Arizona Elk Society’s Heroes Rising Outdoors program. Randy and Seth Burton are a father-son team knowledgeable about elk and their behavior in the forests surrounding Flagstaff, Arizona. I had received an elk tag for a special hunt on Camp Navajo Army Depot. They helped me process the paperwork to grant me access and also agreed to guide me on my hunt --- things were looking up!

I packed my go bag and readied my 7mm magnum rifle the night before my hunt was to begin. I awoke opening morning to find the air crisp with the smell of smoke from a distant forest fire. I stepped outside to find Randy and Seth waiting for me in their warmed-up truck. We were all eager to head to the spot they had chosen to set up to bugle and find some elk. Thomas St. Pierre, another volunteer guide / butcher, would be waiting nearby to help us should we be successful and slip my tag on an elk. When we arrived at our destination, Seth began to send out locate bugles as dawn began to break. Two separate bulls proceeded to answer his calls for close to thirty minutes. It got to where they sounded very close, but we were still unable to make them out through the trees in the early light.

Then all went quiet. Seth whispered that another group of hunters in front of us had pushed the bulls farther west. The sun was just cresting the horizon as I stood there transfixed. We had listened to these amazing elk for half an hour --- I felt I needed a little time to compose myself. The day was truly glorious. My ability to walk on uneven ground is limited because of spinal cord injuries sustained on my last mission in Afghanistan. Even though I had the use of trekking poles when we left the truck, walking through the woods was awkward. Randy saw me stumble more than once. Each time he immediately held out a hand and then his shoulder to help me maintain my balance. I was relieved to find I could get around in the forest without the back pain I had expected.


After our rest break, Seth and I set out for a spot not far from that morning’s bugling action. Seth’s good friend, Heroes Rising Outdoors volunteer guide Morgan Rice, came with us for the late afternoon hunt. A light rain began to fall. We hadn’t been bugling long before two 6x6 bulls made their way toward us through the forest. Although they came into range at 200 yards, no safe shot presented itself. Boy, were they beautiful!

Back to the truck and we motored on. Due to my limited physical capabilities, I hold a CHAMP permit granted by Arizona Game & Fish Department. Normally I am very silent when I hunt from a vehicle. As we rounded a curve in the road, that was about to change. My eyes had been drawn to a distant mark in the forest. I had spotted a large “elk looking” stump at about 200 yards. As I began to scan the forest, the largest 6x6 bull I had seen up close appeared to me just 50 yards away! The bull was bedded down, waiting out the drizzle.

From somewhere I heard my Command Voice order “STOP!” Then “DON’T MOVE!” Two things happened immediately --- Seth stomped on the brakes and I bailed out of the truck! Just how much finesse and grace were involved is hard to say. At that close range, it took me a moment to find the bull in my scope. I centered the cross hairs behind the bull’s shoulder. Two quick shots and Mission Complete! I held the bull’s head in my hands as memories of past experiences resurfaced. I started to tell Seth and Morgan how important the bull was to me, and ultimately to my family and friends.

Upon saving each of our 156 critically wounded soldiers on my team’s 59 Critical Care Air Transport (CCATT) missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, we were able to check off “Mission Complete.” For the last 10 years, though, I have been plagued daily with intrusive thoughts of horrific things seen and experienced during my years of service.

Thankfully, my time spent with Heroes Rising Outdoors has now helped me deal with those troubling thoughts from past deployments. It encompassed skilled preparation, selfless support, and an amazing hunt ending in “mission complete.” It’s all rather unworldly. I now have dreams of bugling elk, the stillness of a September morning, the competency of experienced guides, and of course my bull. We locked eyes that day. His gift goes far beyond what I could have imagined.

by Lt. Col. Danny Berg, U.S. Air Force (ret.)







The Arizona Elk Society’s’ Heroes Rising Outdoors®
program has that question nailed:


On December 27th at 2 o’clock in the afternoon I received a call from HEROES RISING OUTDOORS® about a donated desert sheep tag in Unit 37B. The only complications … the season was to end on the 31st and I live in Williams, AZ. After considering the magnitude of an Arizona sheep tag and a conversation with Tom Wagner (HEROES RISING OUTDOORS® Coordinator), we decided to give it a go.

I was able to meet up with Tom around noon on the 28th and we headed to Superior, Az. Tom said we had some volunteers on the mountain glassing for sheep. Turned out “some volunteers” meant 7 volunteers from CouesWhitetail.com had showed up to be part of the hunt. After glassing the mountainside for a while, we pinpointed two beautiful mature rams. After discussing the situation, 3 volunteers and I then headed up Picketpost Mountain. 3/4 of the way up Picketpost, we spotted the two shooter rams a little over 500 yards uphill --- they had spotted us and were looking straight down at us. Although the wind was in our favor, we decided trying to get closer would probably send them over the top. After a few minutes of fumbling around trying to get a solid rest, we were able to take a solid shot. One shot and the ram rolled downhill out of sight. It took us about 45 minutes to cover those 500 yards, and I was speechless when we walked up on the monster sheep. The guys down below could hear our celebration all the way from their glassing location. After 30 minutes of pictures it was starting to get dark as we finished quartering out the ram. We proceeded to head down the mountain, our way lighted by headlamps with heavy packs.

I’m still in disbelief of the coordination, volunteers, and of course harvesting a trophy desert bighorn. The way December 28th came together was absolutely insane. I cannot thank the volunteers from CouesWhitetail.com and Arizona Elk Society’s HEROES RISING OUTDOORS® program enough. It was an unbelievable team effort and I truly appreciate the compassion and footwork that made this hunt possible. It made me feel greatly appreciated. Many combat wounded veterans say the hardest thing isn’t the combat tour itself, but the transition back to “normal” life. For someone like myself, hunting has proven to be a great healing experience, and great steps toward normalization.

Thanks again for an unbelievable hunt,

Neil Schalk, Cpl, USMC



Sharing in this experience with the members and friends of the AES brought back the good memories of brotherhood


Often times the hardest time for a combat veteran isn’t the tour of duty itself; it is the transition back into civilian life. While experiences of war tend to negatively impact a soldiers life – there are still pleasant memories intermingled. These memories being those of good friends and comradery. Knowing that a good friend is there for you no matterIMG 0606n meggitt what you may face and surviving the experience- in a way makes one appreciative of life. It’s a simple life. In theater you protect your brothers in arms while carrying out the mission – that’s it. Civilian life can be difficult to manage after living in this manner. The soldier has to attempt to let down his guard, “act normal”, worry about bills, schedules and loved ones feelings all while trying to heal themselves. Physical injuries may be a hindrance but when coupled with the physiological injuries that they are accompanied by- it is compounded. In essence this is the struggle of a soldier.

It is this struggle that can seem insurmountable to a soldier. Completing an objective in the service is relatively black and white. In civilian life there seems to be nothing but shades of gray that the vet tries to navigate; tragically sometimes to no avail. It is common for a vet to become reclusive, put his back to a wall and stay in their house as if it were a foxhole. While this is a temporary fix for protecting the soldier’s injuries from the world it also negates the healing process.

As aforementioned, it is easy to forget the pleasant memories of brotherhood that are intermingled with the memories that caused the injuries. It is easier to forget that there are wonderful people in the world who respect and or share the struggles of the soldier and wish to help. I met these very people; the friends and members of the Arizona Elk Society (AES). Hunting forms a fundamental part of our DNA as it has evolved through our ancestry. Being in nature is crucial for the human soul. It is this crucial part of the human soul that the soldier needs to heal and become re-attuned with. Sharing in this experience with the members and friends of the AES brought back the good memories of brotherhood and made my trip a blessing which provided true healing unto my soul. I would especially like to thank the volunteers and the tag donor who made this trip possible.​


Owen Meggitt






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