December 1, 2020

Giving men of war some peace

MaxYield is a proud supporter of the Hunting with Heroes project that brings Marines from the Wounded Warrior battalion from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, to Lakota, IA for a weekend of hunting, healing and fun. We are honored to provide the airfare to bring these heroes to our area and are grateful for the many organizers and volunteers that help make this a great event. Here is their story….

 

Story and photos by: Mindy Baker
Editor, Algona Upper Des Moines

LAKOTA — The fourth annual Lakota Hunting with Heroes wrapped up with its Veterans Appreciation Banquet on Sunday, Nov. 9, at the Lakota Eagle Center with more than 450 in attendance.

The event brings up to four Marines from the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C., for a weekend of pheasant hunting and a show of gratitude for their service.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Owen Bradley Pottorff accepts an envelope of letters from an Estherville-Lincoln Central student during the fourth annual Hunting With Heroes Veteran Appreciation banquet on Sunday, Nov. 9. Behind him, from left: event organizer Jason Becker, Staff Sgt. Phillip Shockley and Sgt. Ryan Ross.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Owen Bradley Pottorff accepts an envelope of letters from an Estherville-Lincoln Central student during the fourth annual Hunting With Heroes Veteran Appreciation banquet on Sunday, Nov. 9. Behind him, from left: event organizer Jason Becker, Staff Sgt. Phillip Shockley and Sgt. Ryan Ross.

The men

There were four Marines this year, and between them, they have been deployed more than 20 times in some of the most dangerous areas of Iraq and Afghanistan. They have survived a collected 15 enemy attacks with either an improvised explosive device or a rocket propelled grenade.

“I was hurt in February 2013,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Owen Bradley Pottorff. Pottorff joined the Marines on June 13, 1995. He is less than a year from his retirement date. He credits his grandfather for becoming a Marine.

“I was close to him, and I admired the way he carried himself, the way people looked up to him,” said Pottorff.

Pottorff has been on 14 deployments. In 2013 he was in the Helmand province of Afghanistan as part of Operation Dynamic Partner. “I was blown up five times in four days,” said Pottorff. “The fighting was so intense they couldn’t risk a helicopter to evac me out.”

Pottorff is a native Iowan, having graduated from Albia High School. It’s been five years since he’s been back in Iowa — 10 since the last time he went pheasant hunting.

Sergeant Ryan Rogers signed up in 2004. He knew the minute the Twin Towers went down that becoming a Marine was his calling. He’s been deployed five times. The worst for him was in 2010.

“I was in Afghanistan, and it was everything,” said Rogers. “IEDs and gunfights from sun up to sun down. I lost Marines there. It was bad the entire time.”

While the Ohio native has been pheasant hunting before — the experience in Lakota was over-the-top, and he wasn’t just talking pheasant. “It is amazing here. I’ve never been treated like this before. The hospitality here is more amazing than the hunting,” said Ross.

Staff Sergeant Tony Musselman is the first member of his family to join the Marines. He’s been deployed four times.

“I joined in 2007,” said Musselman. “I had wanted to be a Marine since I was little. I’ve enjoyed everyone I’ve got to meet, and everywhere I’ve got to go as a Marine.”

He grew up in Pennsylvania, hunting pheasant with his dad, however they had never hunted using dogs. “I can’t thank people enough for this,” said Musselman. “It’s relaxing, coming out here, clearing my mind. This has been the best hunting experience I’ve ever had.”

Staff Sergeant Phillip Lee Shockley joined the Marines right after 9-11 happened.

“I was 18,” said Shockley, who is from Scuffleton, N.C. “I wanted to go kill people who were attacking my country.”

DSC_0218Prior to his enlistment, none of his family members had ever been in combat. “You can’t prepare for it,” he said. “There is nothing you can do.”

He’s been deployed five times, and was injured in 2006 and again in 2011. He was floored by the welcome he and his fellow Marines received in Lakota.

“Everyone has been truly great,” said Shockley. “I don’t know what to do — I was just doing my job. I knew when I signed up things could happen.” He paused. “You know they can happen, but you don’t think they’ll happen to you.”

Alumni
When Bernie and Jason Becker began Hunting with Heroes in 2011, they didn’t know what to expect, or what impact a weekend of hunting pheasant would have on wounded Marines.

For the second time, Jamie Lantgen came back to help with the hunt. The retired Marine Sergeant now boasts a full beard and a much more relaxed demeanor than in 2011.

“This event makes a difference in lives,” said Lantgen. “It’s the genuine care and compassion you have for these guys. I like coming back, seeing the other Marines, catching up with everyone — let them see my ugly mug and my beard.
“It shows them that there are things you can do after being in that deathtrap, that there is no stigma.” This year, Lantgen was joined by fellow retired Marine Sergeant and 2011 alum, Kevin Koffler, also sporting a bushy beard.

“When I was invited back this year, I said yes before I even talked to my wife,” said Koffler. “Coming here in 2011 meant a lot to me. The support then, and since then, has meant a lot.”

He spent the weekend laughing and joking with the other Marines, helping them know what to expect. “I didn’t give spoilers, but I let them know just how much is done here for them, the people donating their time, their dogs, their land,” said Koffler.

Now retired, he plans moving his family to Ohio, close to his wife’s relatives and a lot closer to Lakota. He wants to make helping with Hunting with Heroes an annual occurrence, and to come visit the area on a regular basis. “I want to say more to the people here than thanks, but words can’t describe what they are doing here,” said Koffler. “Keep doing what you are doing. You can’t ask for a better event than this.”

DSC_0254The banquet
The weekend of hunting always ends with a banquet that triples the population of Lakota and honors all area veterans, their spouses and all of the sponsors of the entire weekend. “It takes an army to do this,” said Jason Becker, one of the organizers of the event. “Every penny goes to bringing these men here and showing them true Iowa hospitality.”

As in years’ past, the Heartwarmers Quilt Guild in Buffalo Center provided handmade quilts to each of the wounded Marines. This year, Quilts of Valor donated an additional group of quilts to hand out to attending Purple Heart recipient veterans at the banquet and to a Gold Star Mother.

The Bishop Garrigan Danz Squad gave the four guests of honor a fleece printed with photos of their arrival at the Des Moines International Airport, while students from Estherville-Lincoln Central gave the men letters and cards. An anonymous donation of gift cards also surprised the veterans.

Three special edition Henry Golden Boy rifles were given away to veterans in attendance — Larry Weaver, William Elbert and Nick Wood.

Before releasing the more than 400 people in attendance to line up for ribeye steak sandwiches, both Koffler and Shockley stood to speak.

“My last deployment was Friday the 13, Aug. 13, 2010,” said Koffler. “I’ve had seven surgeries and I’m still recovering. I’m still fighting the VA — those of you here know what I’m talking about. It means so much — all of your support. It means so much to come back.”

While those in attendance laughed and cheered Koffler, it was Shockley that brought the audience to tears as he took the podium.

“Words won’t be able to describe everything everyone has done for us,” said Shockley. “Everything I’ve done on my deployments has been for you. I joined the Marine Corps because someone attacked my country.

“I’ve know you here for three-and-a-half minutes,” he added. “You are my family now. I would do anything for you. I am so grateful for this weekend.”
He then addressed the older veterans in the crowd.

“You are the man I strive to be,” he said. “I should be thanking you. If it was not for the sacrifices you made, I would not be able to do what I do. Your wars were harder than mine. Your welcome back was harder than mine. You are the heroes here.”

The next Hunting with Heroes will be the first weekend in November, 2015. For more information, or to view photographs from the entire weekend, visit the Hunting with Heroes page on Facebook.

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