LAKEFIELD — Dave Williams was standing Saturday morning outside the Horse Barn & Hunt Club, but he easily could have been somewhere else entirely.
“I was supposed to go to Ukraine, but it didn’t happen, so I called these guys up and asked if it was too late,” said Williams, a U.S. Army soldier, of organizers of Saturday’s morning pheasant hunt fundraiser for Warriors Never Give Up. “They said, ‘Nope, come on up.’
“I was here two years ago doing the same thing as a hunter, and these guys have become good friends of mine.”
Williams, stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has had a busy and well-traveled military career. He’s part of the U.S. Army Special Forces, and he’s served nine tours thus far — including three trips to Iraq, two to Afghanistan and additional deployments to Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Ukraine.
Saturday morning represented a break from all that, not to mention an opportunity to spend time with his wife, Carmen, and son, Elijah, who were both taking part in the hunt. On this occasion, Williams served as a mentor for less experienced hunters while carrying his newborn son, Danny, in a restraint.
“I would be a hunter, but I just wanted to come here and hang out this time,” he said.
Brett Bastian, co-founder of Warriors Never Give Up, was pleased that Willams and others were afforded such an opportunity.
“Warriors Never Give Up provides outdoor adventures for combat, deployed and service-connected veterans,” described Bastian, of Brandon, South Dakota. “Those outdoor adventures would be walleye fishing trips and pheasant hunts at this point in time.
“We’re regional, so we’ve hosted events in Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota and South Dakota,” he continued. “The veterans come from all over the country. For example, we have veterans here from Colorado, Arizona, California, South Dakota, Minnesota, Utah and more.”
Hunters usually learn about the events through social media, or a connection with a local volunteer or previous participant. Bastian said while Warriors Never Give Up reaps the benefits, it’s sponsoring organizations — in this case, Nobles County Pheasants Forever, Jackson County Pheasants Forever and Round Lake Sportsman’s Club — that deserve the credit for events such as Saturday’s third annual hunt.
“They have amazing volunteers and great Pheasants Forever chapters out of both Nobles County and Jackson, as well as the Round Lake Sportsman’s Club,” Bastian said. “We’re the recipients of the generosity of these volunteers’ time, treasure and talents. We provide the veterans, they provide the resources and the volunteers to make it happen.”
Event participants took part in a welcoming gathering Friday evening at the Worthington Event Center. Following Saturday breakfast at the Horse Barn & Hunt Club, the group began hunting together before breaking apart to explore various sites around Nobles and Jackson counties.
Bastian estimated 19 hunters were taking part Saturday, and that the event has continued to grow over the course of its three years of existence.
“We like to keep the group small so it allows for a little more intimacy and the chance for veterans to connect with people who have a little more like-minded experience,” Bastian said, “We know that healing does occur in the outdoors because I have 10 to 15 testimonials that prove it.
“It may be our name on the event, but it takes a collective group of people to pull off something special like this.”
Round Lake Sportsman’s Club President Bryon Foote described what led to the founding of the annual hunt.
“It started with Brett (Bastian) and Scott Rall just happening to cross paths in the Scheels parking lot in Sioux Falls,” Foote recalled. “Scott had seen his vehicle … and wandered over to ask him what the program was about.”
Thanks to the sponsors’ fundraising events — one of which was a raffle for a Browning Sweet 16 shotgun — meals, lodging and required licenses for participating veterans were paid for, and the groups were also able to give away additional guns Saturday.
“It’s the coolest hunt I’ve ever had a chance to be a part of, and I don’t even carry a gun,” said Foote, who was a mentor on Saturday and also hosted an additional gathering that evening, following the hunt.
Williams, among the others, was moved by the weekend’s activities.
“For organizations to show their support for service members, it kind of validates the service members,” he said. The support for our veterans is pretty spectacular, especially with organizations like this who do things like this. “I think it’s wonderful.”