The DWS Mission is to provide physically and emotionally injured post 9/11 Special Operations Combat veterans with all-inclusive Arkansas hunting and fishing opportunities in an environment that comforts, encourages and fosters rehabilitation, recovery and transition.
In December 1999, I was assigned to 3d Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. A West Point graduate, Infantry Captain, husband and father, it was my dream assignment. I was inthe mix with the best of the best. I learned a lot about my profession, and I made some lifelong friends that I introduced to my Arkansas passion – duck hunting. We chased wood ducks around beaver ponds on Fort Benning, and I told them stories of another level of duck hunting in Arkansas. The weeks and months passed, and I was afforded an opportunity to take command of C Company. Six months later, we sat and watched the events of 9/11 unfold on television. We deployed 9 days later - also my fourth wedding anniversary. On 19 October 2001, we parachuted into southern Afghanistan to start the war in the south. This was the first of many combat deployments for that group of 5 Rangers – men who would share some difficult days together, and men who would become the best of friends.
We returned to Fort Benning in early January 2002, and I proposed a “thunder run” to Arkansas to hunt ducks over Martin Luther King weekend – a federal holiday and four day weekend. We made the trip. While epic at a number of levels, the hunting was poor. We vowed to make another run the next year, and the weekend would grow to become an annual event. Memories of past trips and thoughts of the coming year’s hunt would be the subject of much discussion on future trips to Afghanistan and Iraq.
By 2007 our harvest numbers had peaked, and we realized the weekend had grown to be about far more than duck hunting. It was an opportunity for warriors to assemble in a quiet and safe place, watch the sunrise, observe the world coming to life, and do so in the company of men we all cared for deeply. The environment created a willingness to share the emotional scars we suffered from our combat experiences to date – lost friends, wounded Soldiers, the sometimes unbearable weight of command, the close calls, the impacts on our families, the aching/failing joints, the apprehensive around the next deployment and more. The transparency was cathartic. We suddenly understood that the moments watching the sunrise and the company we shared were synergistic - creating a healing experience that those 5 warriors unknowingly desperately needed. A healing experience that helped them all withstand the weight of the next deployment, and an experience that could undoubtedly help others. It became time to share the experience with others – specifically those like us.