Weekend offers respite, togetherness for wounded lawmen
Saturday, September 3, 2011
A Belton-based organization founded by law enforcement officers is out to make wounded officers feel remembered, not forgotten.
Hunting for Heroes provides recreational therapy in a hunting camp environment to officers wounded in the line of duty.
“It’s not all about the hunting. The birds make the story fun, but the true, honest memories are what they’re doing out there,” said founder Chris Allen, an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Kansas City.
Today, four officers are being treated to a weekend of bird hunting at String Creek Farms near Centertown.
They spent the hottest part of Friday in the shade, shooting the breeze and waiting for the weather to cool off so they could go out to hunt.
Some, like Joe Haman of St. Louis, are still in physical therapy for their injuries, but the weekend served as mental therapy, too.
“We’re here to give them the feeling of the brotherhood they had when they were cops,” Allen said.
Some of the officers were honored and commended for their service when they were first injured, but the glory has faded.
“I felt pushed aside, not part of the family anymore,” said Mark Bradley of Princeton, West Virginia, who was severely injured in a head-on collision in April.
It took first responders two hours to cut him out of his vehicle. Witnesses said there were tire tracks in his driver’s seat.
Bradley wears a thin blue bracelet on his wrist that reads, “Heroes Live Forever.”
“There’s a thin blue line we walk everyday protecting people. I felt like I was pushed to the other side of the blue line when I was injured,” he said.
But spending the weekend with his long-time buddy, Luke Horn, and other officers made him feel like part of the family again.
“If I went home right now, I’d feel like I had a good time,” Bradley said Friday, just 24 hours after arriving at the lodge.
Haman could say the same thing.
“It feels good to know there is an organization that cares about us all,” he said.
He is undergoing physical therapy for multiple gunshot wounds he incurred in May of 2010 during what he thought would be a routine traffic stop.
“I’ve never met any of these guys before, but there’s the same mentality among cops all over the country,” Haman said.
Scott Ragar of Keokuk, Iowa, fought back tears as he talked about what the weekend meant to him.
He suffered a traumatic brain injury a year and a half ago when he struggled with a suspect who was resisting arrest. The fight made Ragar slip on a patch of ice, damaging the nerve endings at the back of his brain.
“I was in law enforcement 26 years. I didn’t expect my last five years of service to be like this,” Ragar said.
His injury makes it difficult to control emotions, which he said is particularly hard on him.
“I only cried one time on the job, and that’s because we lost a young boy in a car accident,” he said.
“I’m always the one in control. I’ve lost that,” he continued.
Ragar said he is constantly fighting “head games” — the frustration of controlling his emotions and wondering what others think.
“Some people say, ‘He can talk, he can walk. He should be back at work.’ I’ll get back to work someday,” he said.
Mike Lose of Polk County, Iowa, was fortunate to get back to work.
A little more than six years ago, Lose was off-duty when he approached a group of kids racing their cars in his neighborhood.
One of the kids shot him four times, paralyzing him and confining him to a wheelchair.
He has felt well-supported by his department and remains employed in the narcotics task force.
“These guys couldn’t care less if I’m in a chair,” he said.
Having been injured longer than the others at the lodge, Lose knows what their rights are and is willing to go to bat to make sure they’re supported.
“I’ve learned what the laws are. Some of these guys are getting the shaft,” Lose said.
Regardless of what happens in the workplace, Hunting for Heroes is there to take care of its own, and provide a family-friendly atmosphere where officers can bring their kids, spouses or friends out to a lodge for a weekend of hunting.
The event at Stringtown Farms is the organization’s second hunting weekend. They hope to expand to do quarterly events, and eventually purchase their own property to do events throughout the year.
Those interested in donating time to serve as a hunting guide, gopher, cook or sponsor, or money for travel and hunting equipment, can visit the website, huntingforheroes.org, or call Chris Allen at 816-812-7991.
To nominate a hero for the program, visit the website to fill out a nomination form.