Several months ago the membership voted to support a hunt for wounded warriors in South Carolina. The hunt, called Operation Takin’ Bacon, was organized by an army buddy of mine, Brian Molaschi. As the name implies, Takin’ Bacon is a hunt for feral hogs, which are a huge nuisance in the south. This is the second year Brian has put together this outing. Takin’ Bacon focuses on members of the special operations community who have been wounded in combat. The hunters were from the Ranger Regiment, SEALs, Special Forces, SAS, and MARSOC (Marine Special Operations Command). Brothers and Sisters, this was money well spent.
The hunt started on Friday, March 9th, with members of the 82nd Airborne Free-Fall Demonstration Team jumping in the American flag. The three paratroopers made perfect landings in front of a crowd of wounded warriors, supporters, and their families. The demonstration was a hug hit with the children who lined up for photos with the jumpers afterwards. Seeing the excitement in the young faces as they watched their first jump was a real treat for many of the current and former paratroopers in attendance.
After the jump, the hunters, guides, and dogs ventured into the swamp. Hunting for feral hog was much different than what I expected. Unlike the sit and wait boredom of Ohio deer hunting, hog hunting was like a chaotic foot chase in the swamp. The guides would unleash their hounds, who would scour the woods for a hog. When the dogs found a hog, the pitch of their bark would change and the chase would be on! Knee deep water, razor-wire like thorns, and in one case a prosthetic limb would not stand in the way of the hunters. Guides, photographers, spectators, and hunters would sprint to the dogs. Usually, after several trips and falls, and untangling yourself from the thorns, the wet hunters would catch up with the dogs and harvest the animal.
According to Outdoor Life Magazine, feral hogs cause 1.5 billion dollars of agricultural damage annually (March 2012). In South Carolina there is no bag limit and no closed season on this nuisance animal. Over the three day hunt 18 hogs were harvested. The largest hog weighed 369 lbs. and was an intimidating sight. The guides and their dogs worked tirelessly in effort to get almost every hunter an animal. More than once the hunters and guides pursued hogs through the swamp after dark. Not only did the participants in Operation Takin’ Bacon enjoy fresh pulled pork sandwiches, pork chili, and several hundred pounds of meat; but the local landowners also benefitted from the removal of these destructive animals.
The best part of hog hunting is that you don’t have to be perfectly quiet. When the dogs were not chasing a hog, there was time to trade and hear war stories from the hunters and volunteers. The majority of these stories were not the intense combat tales you might expect. They were the anecdotal snapshots common to military life. Many of the soldiers and supporters had trained at the same places or served with same people at one time or another. It didn’t matter where you served or what unit you were with, there were countless tales of pranks and high-jinx: sending a new soldier to get a box of chem light (glowstick) batteries is always fun; booby trapping your boss’s rucksack with smoke grenades or road kill never gets old; and spontaneous wrestling matches and dog-piles were the norm. Just like the jokes and humor, the complaints of bureaucratic red tape were also common to all branches.
While listening to these war stories I learned from some of the hunt organizers that many of the wounded hunters were still active and deploying with their units. It’s amazing that these guys, who already do the heavy lifting in the War on Terror, and have already been wounded at least once, continue to serve in the most dangerous units with the highest operational tempos. I also learned from the hunt organizers that they had a difficult time getting soldiers to accept a free hunt. None of these guys are looking for any attention or sympathy. Statements like “I was just doing my job,” and “other guys are worse off than me” were common.
In spite of their reluctance, the hunt organizers and sponsors made every effort to give the hunters an unforgettable weekend as a small thank you for their service. FOP7’s donation helped pay for travel and lodging for the wounded hunters. All of the hunters’ meals were donated by local restaurants. The highlight was a steak and shrimp dinner prepared on site. A visit by retired General James Vaught, the SOCOM commander during the Desert One rescue attempt, was another special treat for everyone.
General Vaught’s presence was a reminder of the timeless bond between warriors. If you have put yourself in harm’s way for a greater good, then you share a common link with everyone else who has ever done the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re a soldier, firefighter, or police officer. It doesn’t matter if you have been in combat or not. It takes a special person to risk their life for a stranger. We all recognize and respect that special quality in someone else—even though we may not acknowledge it in ourselves. When we have the chance to show our gratitude to a fellow warrior who has been wounded in service to his country or community, it is an amazing experience.
In addition to the donated meals, numerous vendors and private individuals donated prizes for the hunters. Every hunter got something. The top prizes went to the hunters who bagged the biggest hogs, or shot the best during quick clay pigeon and pistol competitions. Eleven of the fourteen hunters walked away with guns. This included two highly customized 1911 pistols and several high-end rifles and shotguns. Custom knives, backpacks, first aid kits, and gift cards for boots and clothing also rounded out the prizes.
The end result of all this was a memorable weekend for the hunters, organizers, volunteers, and spectators who came out to show their support. The event had a very informal atmosphere with no long speeches or big ceremonies. The weekend was a great chance for everyone to show our thanks to a small group of wounded warriors, and for the soldiers to have a good time. I think the volunteers and organizers may have gotten more than they gave in terms of personal satisfaction from the event, but the hunters themselves might disagree.
Brother Joe Sidoti