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“If it weren’t for this program I would be dead. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Staff Sgt. Matthew Taylor 

HOOAH! – Healing Of Our American Heroes – is a program of the U.S. Army’s Warrior Transition Battalion at Ft. Campbell Kentucky that helps wounded servicemen re-integrate back into civilian life.  Formerly known as “Healing Outside of a Hospital”, the program offers therapeutic events in the great outdoors for soldiers recovering from injuries or illnesses.  It helps promote camaraderie and networking among the participants, as well as with people they meet while in the program.  It also gives these men a sense of hope and helps motivate them to live another day.

The Illinois HOOAH Deer Hunt For Heroes organization, a 501c3 charitable organization based in McLean County Illinois, hosts a number of these Ft. Campbell HOOAH! program soldiers.  The two founders, Tom Huffington and Matt Graden, launched the group after seeing a Sunday morning hunting show in 2011 that featured sportsmen taking wounded servicemen out hunting as part of the Army’s HOOAH! program.

“We can do that!” they said.  In 2012, they and some friends hosted four soldiers on a deer hunt as part of that therapy in the outdoors.


Good people tend to attract good people into their orbit and the local group began to grow, changing lives not only for the servicemen, but also for the volunteers involved.

Guns Save Life, the regional gun rights group based in Central Illinois, became a major sponsor of the local HOOAH group, giving them funding and publicity early on.   Soon, GSL’s members embraced the group and its work helping disabled veterans whole-heartedly.  They donate their time and talents generously.  They, and other volunteers, helped the program grow to reach more Heroes in need.  The McLean County Sportsmen also contributed generously early on helping the new group get a solid footing early on as well.  Yes, I’m proud to say that The People Of The Gun are extraordinarily charitable for worthy causes and helping the recovery of broken and battered American servicemen stands as a very noble cause.


In a classic example of American patriotism, scores of volunteers from all walks of life have come together to help the local, all-volunteer HOOAH Deer Hunt for Heroes grow to now include spouses and caregivers on select outings.  The guys go pheasant, turkey and/or deer hunting and the ladies go out for a day on the town getting makeovers and massages.  It’s all provided at zero cost to the participants, and many of the goods and services are donated as well.


I’ve personally seen participants go from suicidal to thriving.  As an example, last year a young Marine participant was despondent after losing a foot to an IED.  HOOAH! sent an Army/HOOAH! alumnus to show the young Marine what a guy who lost both feet can do.  The Marine now does power-lifting in his spare time and is working hard to return to his former unit.  Numerous others have overcome their own issues, thanks in part to their HOOAH experiences.  When they credit the support of their new-found HOOAH “family” (both the local HOOAH and the Ft. Campbell HOOAH!) for saving their lives, it moves you.

And that’s why the program continues to grow, thanks in large part to gun owners and outdoorsmen far and wide.  In fact, the local program has become so successful that a group of like-minded patriots in Kansas are working to create their own organization using the HOOAH Deer Hunt for Heroes template.   God bless them.


Each year, the local HOOAH Deer Hunt for Heroes founders say they are going to hold the line on the number of soldiers served.  They find it hard to say no when they see the lives changed for the better, suicides prevented and friendships formed, especially when new volunteers (and former alumni doing well return to pay it forward) materialize to pull off additional events successfully.  This year the program is on track to serve just over 100 soldiers, not counting participating spouses and caregivers.


There’s plenty of logistics that have been overcome.  The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is on board, donating all the necessary licenses and permits, including moving vehicle hunting licenses for the Heroes.  Landowners and hunt clubs donate the use of their land and hunt guides donate their time and experience.  Volunteers help with feeding the soldiers and fellow volunteers.

The Heroes got a honorary procession to SCHEELS last fall led by police and fire trucks, and dozens of Patriot Guard riders.
The Heroes got a honorary procession to SCHEELS last fall led by police and fire trucks, and dozens of Patriot Guard riders.


SCHEELS sporting goods store in Springfield, IL outfits the Heroes from head to toe at the biggest outing – the deer and pheasant hunt.  Last year, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, an avid outdoorsman, heard about the program and came out to welcome the guys to Illinois and wish them well on their hunt.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner welcomes the Heroes to Illinois at the Springfield, IL SCHEELS store in 2015. SCHEELS outfitted the Heroes from head to toe at no charge.


And for everything else, there’s constant fundraising to pay for the stuff that’s not donated.  After all, the program is 100% done at no charge for the soldiers.  The local group even pays for gas and meals for their trip from Ft. Campbell or other military bases, and lodging as necessary.

My wife coordinates the northern golf-outing and fundraising banquet while I help with publicity and promotions. We all have a role as the group has grown, sort of like how GSL has grown.  Our GSL family serves as the backbone for the golf outing with lots and lots of volunteers.  One of our favorites is a former Chicago Bear John Janata who loves golf.  He’s larger than life in so many ways and for a $20 donation to HOOAH, he’d guarantee a shot on the green of one of the par 3s.  One lucky foursome enjoyed a hole-in-one with one of his shots last year.

Former Chicago Bear John Janata, right, and former Denver Bronco David Blaha lent their time and talents last year. Here they are with one of the soldiers, Spc. William Ontko.

This year, the “Fire and Ice” Raffle is the big drawing.  The Big R chain has donated an M1A Scout rifle for the “Fire” half.  Peoria-based Bremer Jewelry brings the “Ice” with a Simon G 18k yellow gold and diamond pendant.  For the auction, GSL Defense Training is donating a pair of guns and tuition waivers, Liberty Guns has donated a gun as well.  Guns Save Life has donated a YETI cooler for another drawing and C.I. Shooting Sports donated indoor range time for all of the soldiers and golfers.  Several Guns Save Life members have donated guns for auction as well, and also a slew of hand-made quilts courtesy the Neoga, IL Sew Happy Hearts Quilt Guild.  Yes, The People Of The Gun are truly generous.


This year’s golf outing is coming up on Saturday, September 24th at the Pontiac Elks Club in Pontiac, Illinois.  The golfers go out at noon and the fundraising banquet starts at 6pm.  If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and say hi.  Or better yet, bring your clubs and a foursome to play 18 holes.  Or bring the family and friends and come out to the dinner in the evening.

If you would like to donate something to auction at the banquet – or to the soldiers participating – contact Wendy at [email protected].



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  1. I’m so damned happy to see this generation of vets get so much support from the people. It wasn’t always so. Keep up the good work.

  2. You know, I don’t ever think I’ve seen or heard of any gun haters ever doing anything like this for our troops.

    POTG are the salt of the earth. I can’t say the same for gun haters, who would pour salt on everything we believe in.

    Good on GSL and those local people helping a program that really helps vets. God knows those people at Wounded Warrior Project are too busy partying and self-promoting to do something positive like this with their $300+ million annual income stream.

    • I was going to post the same thing. Hoplophobes pitch hissy fits, lie, and generally are full of hate and bile. I can’t recall any time when any gun control group has publicized anything they have done to help “victims of gun violence”.

      What an interesting difference. I wonder that I never explicitly noticed it before, but I’ve known the genral difference between hostility and welcoming for a long long time.

  3. I’m not going palling around with suicidal vets, or suicidal anyone, at the range, on hunting trips, or anything firearms related. Sheesh.

    There are plenty of effective and worthy organizations out there doing great work for PTSD vets. This hunting one sounds well-intentioned, and may even help some people, but overall it strikes me as imprudent.

    • Yeah, because they don’t do anything at all for vets that lost limbs, or anything. It’s not like there’s several pictures in the article that shows that…

    • Jonathan:

      There are indeed some good programs out there for servicemen and veterans. This is just one of many that I’ve seen with my own two eyes positively impact the lives of men who considered themselves broken at one time, and now are productive, contributing members of society making our country a better place.

      I thought it a positive, upbeat story to start the weekend.


    • You need some serious education on what suicidal actually means (and a lesson in compassion and another in cowardice). You clearly have no idea what you’re talking about and are making statements based on arse ignorant assumptions. Oh, and you’re factually incorrect in your ignorant assumption. Suicide involves a progression from depression, to contemplation, to planning, to preparation, to execution. The only one you’ll have a hard time bringing someone back from is the last one. If the last one is planned for a sponsored charity deer hunt, you’ve got an exceptionally broken individual on your hands and you’re never going to stop him because you’ll never see him coming.

      Someone with suicidal ideations who hasn’t made any sort of actual attempt (even an attention seeking attempt) is the least dangerous and the easiest to bring back with simple measures like HOORAH! is making happen.

      The folks that are actually incredibly dangerous are the ones you’d never even realize were suicidal. They’ve already made a plan, chosen a time and method and decided if they’re wanting to take someone else to hell with them and how they’ll do that. They’ll be on a mission and normally externally more stable seeming than someone in the earlier stages. If you think avoiding interactions is going to stop some self-killer from taking you with them, you’re just being ignorant and living in fantasy.

    • At least he tried to make a positive contribution.

      Unlike some dipshits I see around here on TTAG, such as one person, I won’t mention his name, but his initials are “More Dead Soldiers.”

      • Or maybe he should leave treatment to qualified medical professionals instead.

        Other notable positive contributions from Chris Kyle: admitting to shooting unarmed civilians, making stuff up and being exposed as a fraud in court.

  4. It was always sort of interesting watching Dad go off on a rabid tangent about all these modern soldiers having all these PTSD problems and therapy programs. He really let the inner Staff Sergeant all hang out.


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