WARNING: This story contains graphic photos.
"THIS IS WHERE YOU FEEL AT HOME" - U.S. Army Sgt. Gary Baller
Every winter, in his hometown of Shorter, Alabama, Major Lee Stuckey, USMC, hosts a deer hunt for veterans who have been wounded during conflict. With the support of friends, family and neighbors, the AHERO organization, which Stuckey created to help wounded veterans, provides a weekend retreat for the attendees.
The hunting is a welcome event for some, but it is not mandatory and the visitors can spend the time however they like. The get-together unites veterans of all ages who served in the armed forces and gives them a chance to spend time with others who have had common experiences. The larger goal is to create connections that allow people to open up and combat what Major Stuckey sees as the destructive forces of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"This is where you feel at home. It always feels good to be around soldiers," said U.S. Army Sgt. Gary Baller. "Getting back into society and just feeling normal again. It's not easy after spending 15 months downrange," added Baller, who had spent two years working to recover from traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder.
Stuckey, who has dealt with PTSD himself, emphasizes the effectiveness of the camaraderie in creating a positive experience for those at the hunt and as a tool for recovery. "I think that counseling is great, it's definitely a necessity, but the most important thing is for us to talk to each other," said Stuckey. "If I find one kid to admit that he has it (PTSD) and he gets counseling and doesn't kill himself, then I've done something great in my eyes," he added.