November 25, 2020

THE BEST YET: Fourth Annual Hunting With Heroes Honors Those Who Serve

 

For this week’s look back at MaxYield history…we share a story about a special town and special group of people that make a difference for those that serve our country. We are proud to play a very small part in the annual Hunting with Heroes weekend.

 

“What we’re doing really makes a positive difference”
—Bernie Becker

Want to know what rural Iowa’s all about? For the four Marines who participated in this year’s Hunting with Heroes event, they’ll never forget pulling up to Road Runners in Lakota on their first evening in town.

“It was quite an entrance, as we had police escorts and people were outside waving little flags to welcome the Marines,” said Jason Becker, who coordinated the fourth annual event with his father, Bernie, and other local volunteers. “During the meal, lots of people came over and thanked the guys for their service. Then one of the Marines pulled me aside and said, ‘Jason, you guys are too much. This is too much.”

Becker asked the Marine what he meant. “He told me that he and the other guys just couldn’t believe how much love and support they received here,” Becker said. “He said, ‘Never in my time in service have I ever seen or personally experienced anything like this—and from complete strangers besides.’”

DSC_0216 (1024x679)Hunting with Heroes brings four Marines from the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Lejeune, NC, for an early November weekend of pheasant hunting in northern Iowa and a show of gratitude for their service. It’s a humbling—and inspiring—experience for these Marines, who between the four of them have been deployed more than 20 times in some of the most dangerous areas of Iraq and Afghanistan. Collectively, they have survived 15 enemy attacks from either an improvised explosive device (IED) or a rocket-propelled grenade.

“I was hurt in February 2013,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Owen Bradley Pottorff, who joined the Marines in 1995 and 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. The fighting was so intense they couldn’t risk a helicopter to evac me out.”

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

“When you see how much this weekend means to these Marines, I feel like what we’re doing really makes a positive difference,” Bernie Becker said.

Thanks for the experience of a lifetime
Sgt. Ryan Rogers agreed. He knew the minute the Twin Towers went down that becoming a Marine was his calling. Rogers enlisted in 2004 and has been deployed five times. The worst was in 2010. “I was in Afghanistan, where it was IEDs and gunfights from sunup to sundown,” Rogers told the Algona Upper Des Moines newspaper. “I lost Marines there. It was bad the entire time.”

While the Ohio native has been pheasant hunting before, the experience in Lakota was unforgettable. “I’ve never been treated like this before,” Rogers said. “The hospitality is amazing.”

Staff Sgt. Tony Musselman can relate. This Pennsylvania native has been deployed four times since he enlisted in 2007. The trip to Iowa brought back good memories of pheasant hunting with his father.

DSC_0133 (1024x679)“I can’t thank people enough for this,” Musselman said. “It’s relaxing, coming out here, clearing my mind. This has been the best hunting experience I’ve ever had.”

Staff Sgt. Phillip Lee Shockley was astounded by the welcome he and his fellow Marines received in Lakota. “Everyone has been great,” said Shockley, a North Carolina native, who enlisted in the Marines at age 18 shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.

He’s been deployed five times and was injured in 2006 and again in 2011. “While you know when you sign up that these things could happen, you don’t think they’ll happen to you.”

Alumni return to Iowa
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,” Lantgen said. “It’s the genuine care and compassion you have for these guys. I like coming back, seeing the other Marines, and catching up with everyone. This also shows them that there are things you can do after being in that death trap, that there is no stigma.”

This year, Lantgen was joined by fellow retired Marine sergeant and 2011 alum, Kevin Koffler. “Coming here in 2011 meant a lot to me. Keep doing what you are doing,” Koffler said. “You can’t ask for a better event than this.”

DSC_0057 (1024x679)“You are my family now”
The weekend of hunting ended with a banquet at the Lakota Eagle Center to honor all area veterans, their spouses, and all of the sponsors of the entire weekend. The 2014 banquet attracted nearly 500 guests. “This shows true Iowa hospitality,” said Bernie Becker, who is already making plans for the next Hunting with Heroes during the first weekend in November 2015. “I’m amazed at how Hunting with Heroes keeps getting better.”

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.

Shockley brought the audience to tears as he offered a few parting words at the conclusion of the banquet. “Everything I’ve done on my deployments has been for you. You are my family now. I would do anything for you and 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. “If it was not for the sacrifices you made, I would not be able to do what I do. You are the heroes here.”

Photos courtesy of Mindy Baker, Algona Upper Des Moines.

 

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