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Column: Disabled American Veterans turkey hunt at Camp Ripley a success

These hunters were trained years ago, served our country, and came home with disabilities. We should all be proud of the people and organizations that make events like this a reality.

A group of turkey hunters sitting at a table and eating food.
A table of turkey hunters enjoy camaraderie during the lunch break April 26, 2023, during the Disabled American Veterans turkey hunt at Camp Ripley.
Contributed

You wouldn’t have wanted to be a turkey at Camp Ripley. There were a bunch of men running around in camouflage gear doing their best to shoot as many of them as they could. Ben Franklin knew they were smart birds, but who sent out so many troops to catch them? That would be the Disabled American Veterans of Minnesota, and the Minnesota Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, or NWTF for short.

As part of the Brainerd VFW Auxiliary I had the privilege of serving at the 2023 turkey hunt April 26 at Camp Ripley. A team of auxiliary members got together and made 120 sandwiches, and that, along with baked beans, coleslaw, chips, ice cream and cookies, were served to the 100+ men — and one woman — who took part in this hunt.

In an interview with Steve Hanson of the NWTF, and two veterans and their mentors, I gleaned a bit of information about this turkey hunt and why it’s so important to these disabled vets. Eighteen years ago the NWTF started this hunt. This year they received 160 applications, and from that they take 35-40 disabled veterans. Each hunter has a mentor with them. That mentor can be a friend, family member, or one of the many volunteers they have ready to serve as mentor at a moment’s notice.

Jeff McArthur with his turkey, VFW Post member.jpg
VFW member Jeff McArthur with the turkey he bagged during the April 26, 2023, Disabled American Veterans turkey hunt at Camp Ripley.
Contributed

What do the vets like about this outing? It’s an opportunity to “just hit the pause button.” They are veterans from all over the State of Minnesota, and many of them have been coming for years. It gives them a chance to get out and do something, knowing that they will have a committed mentor at their side helping them with whatever they need. It’s a rather unique opportunity to just get together with other people with the same experiences in life; the camaraderie I witnessed as I looked around the dining hall (known as The Hanger) was very heartening.

Most of the disabled vets were wearing camouflage gear. It was like a sea of undulating green and brown flowing through the dining hall. But their camouflage did not hide the contentment in their faces and body language. They came in wheelchairs, some had canes, but each one of them exuded the proud countenance of the soldier they once were.

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“Each one of these guys served our country. They deserve everything we can give,” was the sentiment expressed by Steve Hanson. That’s also why many of the service organizations in the area give of their time and talents to serve them.

The Brainerd VFW Auxiliary wasn’t the only service organization that was helping there. The Elks Outdoor Association and Minnesota Veterans Outdoors organized the hunt under the auspices of the Disabled American Veterans organization. The Brainerd Elks Lodge served the evening and morning meals, and the Brainerd American Legion provided lunch on the second day of this hunt. The Team Rubicon Disaster Relief team was there serving pop and water, and snacks. There were two representatives from the Veterans Affairs Department with information and freebies to all who visited their table.

Life for many of these disabled vets is difficult, but with the help of these organizations they have an opportunity that would be hard to find elsewhere. Camp Ripley is the home of the Minnesota National Guard, where soldiers from all around the country, even some from Europe, come to do their training in summer and in winter. These hunters were trained years ago, served our country, and came home with disabilities. We should all be proud of the people and organizations that make events like this a reality. Now that’s talking turkey!

Sue Sterling, a Brainerd resident, is a regular contributor to Brainerd Dispatch publications.

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