November 26, 2020

Hunting and Healing: Iowans Honor Veterans Through Hunting With Heroes

The Memorial Day holiday provides a time for reflection, remembering those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country’s freedoms. It should also serve as a reminder to thank and help those that are healing from recent deployments abroad. We are proud supporters of the Hunting with Heroes event, held annually near Lakota, IA. Read on to hear how one weekend of hunting provides so much for the heroes that defend our country…

Hunting with Heroes - Lakota IA

Photos courtesy of the Algona Upper Des Moines.

 

Always ready to respond when the nation calls, U.S. Marines accept the harsh realities of war. They endure the darkest elements of humanity. Many struggle to heal completely. These wounded warriors find hope in rural Iowa, however, thanks to volunteers like Jason Becker and dozens more from the Lakota area.

“We want to show them that people truly care, and the America they come back to is worth fighting for,” said Becker, who has helped his father, Bernie, spearhead Hunting With Heroes in northern Iowa for the past three years.

Since 2011, the Beckers have invited Marines from the Wounded Warrior Battalion (East) of Camp Lejeune, NC, to the Lakota area for a weekend of pheasant hunting. From the time Corporal William Christianson, Gunnery Sergeant Charlie Moralez, and First Lieutenant James Nash arrived at the Des Moines International Airport last November, they were treated to first-class Iowa hospitality.

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders greeted the Marines, and people waiting for friends and loved ones at the airport cheered and clapped for the Marines as they stepped off the plane. Waiting at the end of the hall was Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, and members of the Marine Corps League Detachment in Des Moines. “Gentlemen, from this point on, you are guests and friends of Iowa,” Branstad said. “You’ll get to see the kindness and support that our local rural communities give.”

Hunting with Heroes - Lakota IAVeteran returns to say thanks
In Buffalo Center, Kossuth County Sheriff deputies picked up the caravan of Marines and gave a lights-and-siren escort into Lakota. Sergeant Jamie Lantgen, who participated in the 2011 Hunting With Heroes event, met the group at Road Runners, where steak dinners were on the menu.

“I just wanted to say thank you,” said Lantgen, who now lives in rural South Dakota and came to Lakota with his bird dog to serve as a guide for Hunting With Heroes 2013. “When I was here in 2011, I was still pretty beat up and in a painful part of my recovery. Hunting With Heroes helped me a lot, and I want to help the Beckers give something back.”

Lantgen and countless other volunteers showcased the best of the Midwest during Hunting With Heroes 2013. Local landowners refrained from hunting their property until after the Marines arrived. “These were some of the best shooters we’ve had,” said Becker, who noted that everyone attained their limits for both days of hunting—a first in the history of the local Hunting With Heroes event.

Excellence is the hallmark of Marines like Corporal Christianson, who has served in the Marine Corps more than seven years but will be medically discharged due to his injuries. “I take ‘protect and serve’ very seriously,” said Christianson, a machine gunner, marksman coach, and heavy weapons expert who served two tours in Afghanistan.

Spending time in rural Iowa brought back memories of home for First Lieutenant Nash, a tank platoon commander who has served in the Marines for more than four years. “I’m a fifth-generation farmer and rancher from northeast Oregon, and I grew up hunting and fishing,” said Nash, who can trace military service in his family back to 1750. “I felt very welcome in Iowa and really appreciated the opportunity to be part of this.”

After the first day of hunting ended, the group headed to the Main Street Pub in Bancroft for a hearty meal and more camaraderie. The next day included a lunch of homemade soup and sandwiches served by the local volunteer ambulance service. Simple, relaxing events like this were meaningful to Gunnery Sergeant Moralez, who has served in the Marine Corps for 21 years. “The last decade and a half of my service has been non-stop running,” said Moralez, who is glad to be done with deployments.

Hunting with Heroes - Lakota IASmall-town Iowa makes a big impact
On the Marines’ last night in Iowa, they joined more than 400 veterans and event sponsors in Lakota to enjoy a pork banquet catered by Hy-Vee. “I smile when I think of that number, because in my time the entire population of Lakota has never been as high as 400 residents,” said Becker, who works for Caterpillar in North Carolina. “It’s a privilege to have so many people come together to honor the Marines and our area veterans and their families.”

During the banquet, the Heartwarmers Quilt Guild of Buffalo Center gave a handmade quilt to each of the Marines, including Lantgen. Dr. Greg Williams and his family presented the Marines with thank-you books made by the Estherville-Lincoln Central Community School elementary classes.

The community’s support for Hunting With Heroes has been humbling, said Bernie Becker, a rural mail carrier in the Buffalo Center area. “This event couldn’t happen without volunteers. It’s heartwarming to see so many people come together for a worthy cause.”

Not only does Hunting With Heroes give the Marines an inside look at rural Iowa, but it renews their spirit. “When you’re in the military, you travel around the world and often see the bad in people,” said Lantgen, who retired from the service in 2012. “This reminds you of the good.”

For Nash, who had been hospitalized in Camp Leatherneck (Helmand Province, Afghanistan) just a year earlier before coming to Iowa, Hunting With Heroes inspires hope. “Keep doing what you’re doing. It makes a difference.”

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