November 28, 2020

Hunting With Heroes Returns to Iowa: Families Help U.S. Marines Find Healing, Hope

Lakota Hunting with Heroes

Gunnery Sgt. Benjamin Brodt participated in last fall’s Hunting with Heroes event near Lakota. (Algona Upper Des Moines Photo)

To look at Lance Corporal Carl Pope, Jr., Sergeant Joshua Barber, Staff Sergeant Justin Keiser, or Gunnery Sergeant Benjamin Brodt, you’d see the classic tough, chiseled exteriors of U.S. Marines. Yet these young men who traveled to northern Iowa for the 2012 Hunting with Heroes event are wise beyond their years, having faced the brutality of war and the harsh realities of the aftermath.

“These guys epitomize the fighting spirit and drive of the Marine Corps,” said Jason Becker, who has helped his father, Bernie, spearhead Hunting with Heroes as part of the Wounded Warrior Program for the past two years. “They don’t consider themselves heroes, but after spending the last two years with a handful of them, I certainly do.”

The Marines are members of the Wounded Warrior Battalion (East) of Camp Lejeune, N.C. From the time this year’s group stepped off the airplane at the Des Moines International Airport on Friday, Nov. 9, they were treated to first-class Iowa hospitality. The Marines were welcomed by a contingent of Marines from the Des Moines unit, along with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds.

Then the men were escorted to the Lakota area for an unforgettable weekend of pheasant hunting. Generous donations from community members across the area ensured that the Marines’ expenses were covered, from meals and lodging to new shotguns. As a proud supporter of Hunting with Heroes, MaxYield Cooperative provided alfalfa and crop protection products for the hunting grounds in 2012, plus financial support for the event.

The generosity of MaxYield and other supporters has been astounding, said Bernie Becker, a rural mail carrier in the Buffalo Center area.

“The Marines had access to some of the best pheasant-hunting ground in all of northern Iowa, thanks to area farmers and landowners. The ground we’ve hunted the last couple of years has been saved for multiple weeks in anticipation of the arrival of the Marines, which is a testament to how serious the community and landowners are about honoring these men by giving them the best hunting possible.”

Banquet attracts hundreds

Hunting with Heroes gives the wounded Marines a chance to get away from military life and the demands of rehabilitation.

“They come to a place where the pace is a bit slower, and they can truly see that people care about them,” said Jason Becker, who works in marketing for Caterpillar, Inc.®

Lakota Hunting with Heroes

Bernie Becker, Sgt. Joshua Barber, Lance Corporal Carl Pope, Jr., Gunnery Sgt. Benjamin Brodt, Sgt. Joshua Barber, and Jason Becker. (Algona Upper Des Moines Newpaper

Nearly 400 people, including military veterans throughout northern Iowa, attended the Hunting with Heroes banquet at the Lakota Eagles Center on November 11—Veteran’s Day. “It’s inspiring to see what our small communities can do, and MaxYield is proud to be part of these success stories,” said Sheryll Denney, MaxYield’s team leader at the GPRE Lakota Ethanol plant.

Kevin Koffler, 30, a sergeant who retired from the U.S. Marines in December, fondly recalls his 2011 Hunting with Heroes experiences. “I loved Iowa,” said Koffler, a Wisconsin native who now works as a crew foreman for a demolition company that handles many projects at Camp LeJune. “When your days are filled with medical appointments and other issues, it was great to get away for a couple of days and enjoy a place where you could relax and not have to worry about anything.”

Hunting with Heroes has turned into so much more than Bernie Becker ever thought it could be. “There’s so much mental, physical, and spiritual healing these Marines need, and each person is different,” added Becker, who noted that these men have been deployed multiple times and have sustained crushed bones, lacerations, head injuries, and more. “While some people are built for adversity, others will take a long time to heal.”

Jason Becker is glad that Hunting with Heroes can be part of this healing process. “When we came up with the idea for Hunting with Heroes, my dad and I hoped to share that with four to five Marines each year as a way to say thank you. The community’s support has also allowed hundreds of Iowans to say thank you. The focus that our community places on this event shows an undying support of our servicemen and women who sacrifice so much for each of us.”

As long as there are pheasants to hunt, Wounded Warriors who want to hunt them, and a community of volunteers to support them, we will continue to host Hunting with Heroes. “Over and over again, the Marines have told us that the pheasant hunting is the reason they came here, but that the people of Lakota and Iowa are what they would remember.”

Get involved

If you’d like more information about getting involved, supporting Hunting with Heroes, or starting your own Wounded Warrior event, contact Bernie Becker at Maryshouse@wildblue.net.

 

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