Since 2014, veterans have been gathering in Washington County for several days of hunting and fellowship. Many of these men drive great distances to gather at St. Stephens Historical Park and then to be led on hunts throughout the county.
Local musician Daniel MaHarrey and a host of volunteers are responsible for the annual gathering. Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures is not affiliated with the Wounded Warrior Project. Rather it is a grassroots initiative that MaHarrey started after he had the opportunity to take a veteran hunting.
MaHarrey’s roots as a gospel singer and musician in his family group, The MaHarreys, provide him the privilege of traveling the country and meeting a variety of people through the years. Growing up in Washington County, MaHarrey became an outdoorsman and avid hunter. Several years ago, MaHarrey hosted a hunting television show in the Pursuit Channel called Crossroad Adventures. MaHarrey took his best friend’s brother who was a wounded veteran, on a hunt. Soon, Crossroad Adventures started hunting with veterans on the show. An idea was born when MaHarrey saw the comradery that exists when veterans come together.
A grassroots endeavor
The annual Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures hunt began in 2014. MaHarrey and his wife, Nancy do not receive a salary for their efforts. Instead, they invest all donations back into the program. This year fifteen men from six different states took part in the hunt. Knowledge of the event is spread through social media and word of mouth. Safety screenings are required for vets who want to participate. Volunteers are also trained on how to handle possible triggers of post-traumatic stress disorder in the event that a hunter experience the symptoms. The MaHarrey family works throughout the year to plan the event and train volunteers. Much networking is required with local landowners to plan the hunts as well.
There is no cost to the hunters who participate, WWAA assists with travel expenses so that veterans can have a unique hunting experience with their brothers.
“This is a life-changing event for the warriors and for the volunteers. The veterans get to fellowship with others who know and understand their struggles. They can’t find that just anywhere. The volunteers get to see firsthand how difficult life can be for those who have fought for our country. That changes them,” MaHarrey stated. Further expressing gratitude for the commitment of the volunteers, MaHarrey acknowledged, “Without them, this could not happen. Because of them, vets are coming together. They are sharing their experiences and some of them are finally beginning to heal emotionally from what they have endured.”
The St. Stephens Historical Park Commission works closely with Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures. For four nights, warriors are provided lodging in the cabins at the park. The fire pits and swings that surround them are filled with the stories of the wounded—stories that many of the vets have never shared before. Friendships are forged amidst the brotherhood of soldiers. During the day, volunteers bring their trucks and take the warriors onto their land to hunt. Many have successful hunts, but not everyone leaves with a Washington County trophy buck. The things guaranteed are a few days away from one’s daily grind, fellowship with other veterans, comfortable lodging, good Southern cuisine and an appreciation banquet to honor their service. Going home with a cooler of deer meat and/ or horns to mount is a bonus.
A crowd gathered at the Chatom Community Center on Saturday, a cross-section of county residents and other patriots who believe in the cause of Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures. The Chatom Police provided a blue light escort through the town to the festivities at the community center. Wayne Blackwell, President of the St. Stephens Historical Commission welcomed guests and Chatom Mayor Harold Crouch addressed the crowd. “Everything we have is a result of God and the American soldier,” Crouch stated. “These are the two reasons we exist.”
The MaHarreys band and Hailee Squires entertained the crowd. A live auction and a silent auction were conducted with proceeds going to Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures.
The soldiers present were given the opportunity to address the crowd who had gathered. Army vet David Johnson praised the volunteers and the organization. “Vets are often isolated, but this event brings us together. This event and the hard work of the volunteers puts a smile on my face.” Perry Aud made the trip from Pine Bluff, Ark. on backroads. Aud and MaHarrey befriended one another years ago when The MaHarreys performed at Aud’s church. Aud suffers from severe, debilitating PTSD symptoms that have kept him isolated in his home for many years. Paul MaHarrey, founder of The MaHarreys, stated that much prayer had brought Aud from the confines of his home in Arkansas to be with his brothers in Alabama. Aud admitted that there were times during his drive to Alabama that he wanted to turn and head back home, but there was something that he wanted more—to be with other men who understood the sacrifice. “It has been worth it. I am glad I’m here…and I’ll come back next year if you’ll have me.” The crowd applauded. It’s safe to say that Aud and his brothers will be welcomed back to Alabama next year.
How to be involved
Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures is a nonprofit 501c3 organization. More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/woundedwarrioroutdooradventures/.
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.