A Simple Hunt Broadens Experience for Veterans and All Involved By Joseph Esparza, Veteran Outdoors Staff On a Friday evening in November, a memorable event commenced two weeks into the 2010-hunting season. All that was missing was the unannounced guest of honor. Veteran Outdoors hosted their “Moonlight Serenade” hangar dance, a fundraiser used to support VO’s mission of providing unforgettable hunting a fishing trips for deserving wounded veterans. A clever plan was also woven into the celebration: to surprise U.S. Army veteran, Rico Roman, of San Antonio, with a grand trophy whitetail hunt with VO to the Live Oak Ranch in Uvalde. VO host Cody Hirt has been rehearsing the logistics of springing the trap with the staff for over a month. Making sure that preparations are made for the “mark” to arrive at the perfect time. “It’s never as easy and as smooth as we want these surprises to be,” said Hirt. “Especially when we are able to get an audience involved, it shows that we all care about this and that we all are grateful for these men and women.” The dance hosted a great turnout. An 8 piece played Big Band and Western Swing to the enthusiastic crowd as a 70-year-old B-25 PBJ, “The Devil Dog,” provided a backdrop reminiscing the Glen Miller days of touring allied European Air Fields, boosting the spirits of our G.I.s with song and dance. Texas Land Commissioner, Jerry Patterson, Col. USMC Retired, presented special remarks on behalf of the many Texas veterans organizations that are serving a strong and unending need to thank veterans for their sacrifice. “Veteran Outdoors is a small organization that does a lot of good, and I’m proud to support their efforts,” said Patterson, chairman of the Veterans Land Board. “Spending time in the field with other veterans is something that can help heal many kinds of wounds.”
Patterson made an entrance as he climbed out of his YO-1 Sentinel dressed in his Marine aviator flight suit and jacket, also in accordance to the themed attire. The attendance filed into the festive venue decorated with 1940’s vintage warplanes and accurately restored vehicles from local clubs and WWII enthusiasts. Community support came by way of sponsorships, donations and admission. But the exuberant crowd clearly expected to have a fun time, as they turned out dressed in 1940’s military regalia and civilian dress. The event was special because in the same way that VO operates to surprise its unsuspecting veteran guests, the organization was able to surprise the crowd with being a part of the rouse. Dan Robles, U.S. Army Veteran and VO Staff member, was crucial in making sure some of the team including Roman and his wife, Nathalie, were on board with attending the party. Robles and Roman are teammates on the all-veteran San Antonio Rampage affiliate sled hockey team. Roman, a 29-year-old native of North Portland, Oregon, moved to San Antonio after deciding to proceed with the amputation of his left leg [above the knee] after suffering injuries sustained in Iraq over a year before. The afternoon of February 22, 2007 is an “alive day” for Roman. While on his third tour in Iraq, the staff sergeant of the 14th Infantry, 10th Mountain Division, was concluding a series of checkpoint missions in Sadar al Yusuf. After a “Return To Base” order was received his platoon was en route when a roadside bomb crippled his gun truck. The explosion damaged both of Roman’s legs. He spent the next year struggling with a decision most of us will never comprehend. His healing would be a long painful ordeal ultimately ending in the option to amputate his left leg in exchange for a better quality of life for himself and his family of four. Since the amputation, Roman has endured rehabilitation and learning to walk again. While at Brooke Army Medical Center, he has met a network of amputee veterans; most of which also enjoy active lives alongside him playing basketball, hockey and cycling. He exceeded his expectations of what a prosthetic limb would bring when he was selected as the first war-wounded veteran to play on the U.S. Paralympics Sled Hockey Team, last September. This was a dream that he never considered until he found himself receiving the same feeling of competition, desire and excitement he felt before his amputation. “I’m proud to be able to wear the colors again in a different way,” said Roman, during a taped interview for the VO television show. “It feels so good to have a drive toward a goal like this. I enjoy the competition and being an aggressive player again.” Roman, a steadfast accomplished athlete of a number of sports, understandably wasn’t sold on a late night of dinner and free drinks when the next day’s tournament schedule pitted the Rampage against the Chicago Blackhawks. But it was a night to celebrate a win and they walked into the hangar along with other members of the San Antonio Rampage Sled Hockey Team. The team was in the Austin area for the weekend for a three-day tournament. They had expected a chance to unwind with dinner and drinks after their first day of games. And maybe win a few raffle prizes. The dance was in full affect when VO Host, Cody Hirt stepped on stage dressed in an authentic Army Air Corps Major’s Uniform. He acknowledged the pride and appreciation contained in the hangar that allows great things to happen in regards to our wounded veterans. He talked about companies and businesses contribute to the aspects of providing all the details for outfitting not just one hunt but the opportunity to start a rehabilitating veteran down the road of experiencing the aspects of the outdoors for a lifetime. All the while, Roman stood in the crowd with his team and friends trying to follow what was happening on stage. Hirt eventually explained how the .308 Patriot Ordinance Factory Rifle was donated to serve “Rico Roman” on a dream whitetail hunt. And eventually Rico picked up on the surprise when the crowd encouraged him to make his way to the stage to accept the remarkable gift from so many who wished to say thanks for his sacrifice. Among a great applause he walked toward the stage and shook hands with the presenters. A genuine sense of excitement and happiness was exuded from Roman as he was handed his rifle. He explained what he could about gathering details of what led up to be him being the man of the hour. Hirt added the short details of “pack your bags,” as the date for his South Texas hunt was coming soon. Roman walked back though an excited crowd of “thank you” and “congratulations.” It was apparent that Roman was excited and still shocked at the outcome of the visit.
The first week of December Roman began to get anxious. VO had been following Roman through the help of his close friend and VO accomplice, Brian Ipock, of Athens, GA, who also was acquainted with Roman while undergoing rehabilitation at BAMC. Ipock communicated the details of meeting Roman to take him to the Live Oak Ranch to VO. He had made sure Roman had obtained his license and any gear necessary to him personally. VO keeps the surprises coming during the trips. Very little is revealed to the guest about the extent of the hunts and details of arriving. It seems it’s as much fun for those involved as it is for the guest. Roman had wondered if Ipock, previously involved with a VO fishing trip, had anything to do with his trip. Other than conveniently having to drop Roman off at a pre-determined place to load up and drive to the ranch. The VO staff consisting of Hirt Jim Stanek and Joseph Esparza were waiting at a general aviation hangar at the San Antonio Airport to surprise Roman with an exciting private flight to Uvalde. The flights were provided by the Veterans Airlift Command, an organization dedicated to providing assistance and travel services to wounded veteran’s needs and special trips. Fitting that it was the first small engine airplane Roman had ever flown in as it was the first whitetail deer he would ever get a chance at. There wasn’t a better place to conduct the hunt than Uvalde, TX. The Live Oak Ranch was a returning sponsor of a Veteran Outdoors hunt. The year prior was a hosted hunt for Stanek; who endured a safari style hunt tracking an exotic Scimitar Oryx through the thick brush of the South Texas landscape. John Hopkins, owner of the Live Oak Ranch, was delighted to have another deserving veteran have a chance to harvest the biggest trophy whitetail buck that Roman happened across. The LO Ranch guides have been seeing a number of +160 B&C class trophies and the optimistic veteran was eager to get out on the hunt. After an exciting take-off out of San Antonio the rest of the way was spent gliding across open rangelands and farms. The small engine airplanes took turns leading and climbing through the light clouds along the way to the destination. Upon arrival, John Hopkins and the two guides of the ranch, Ivan and Travis, met the group at the airfield. Along with Ipock, who drove the VO truck that trailered a Polaris Ranger 800 CREW that was in use by VO. It meant a lot to both Ipock and Roman that they were able to spend time in the field on Roman’s first trophy experience in Texas. The first evening was spent as a scouting chance to see what the ranch had to offer. Stanek and Ipock sat at one area of the ranch as Hirt, Roman and Esparza sat in another. It wasn’t long until the first since of movement came from the brush.
Rio Grande turkey followed by white tail does. Exotics tenderly stepped out of the brush as the group admired their gracefulness and silence. Soon the light faded into dark and the group returned to the lodging to enjoy a meal fit for kings. The next morning, a different spot was chosen and watched over by the group of three. As usual, the does first stepped out of the damp morning grass as light struggled to peer through the low clouds. A few young bucks scampered about as Hirt and Roman softly talked about things discussed in blinds. Hushed excitement was held back as the larger bucks timidly stepped around, avoiding a direct line of sight with the blind. Most of the time only revealing the tips of their massive antlers as they seem to only tease hunters. A massive 9 point braves an open patch long enough for Hirt to explain to Roman that this guy is a mature well structured buck. A 5.5 to 6.5-year-old he’s ready to be harvested. At the moment Roman decides to take his shot the buck draws away and vanishes in the grey morning. “Sometimes it’s not ment to happen,” Hirt assured Roman is a whisper. “It’s exciting to see what else comes out or if we will see him again.” The two smiled and talked a little more about the disappearing buck. Trying to holster the fever that overtakes hunters as they watch a few solid but young buck dart in and around the does. All the while the does threaten to betray the hunters as they turn their noses to the wind as something new has accompanied them for their morning gathering. The sun finally shows signs of strength as it lights up the tops of tress. It’s almost full light when the old 9-point comes walking about behind the hunters. It’s a struggle to redirect their views, having to quietly execute a 180-degree turn to position a well-aimed shot on this trophy. With ease the shooter turns and aligns the .308. Without hesitation, he squeezes the trigger and falls the +2oo pound buck to the ground. An accurate and fatal shoot hits a vital area and the buck halts where it stood. The thunder of the report was unexpectantly short of recoil as the rifle’s manufacturing features a forgiving kick uncommon to a .308 caliber round. Roman explained continuously how much he enjoys the tactical style .308. The extent of the trip, as VO finds out during interviews and easy chatter about all things in the field is that Roman enjoyed the outdoors. He especially loves the science and art of stalking turkey in the Spring. This was his experience prior to sustaining injuries and he expressed the feeling of regret that he might not have been able to break back into these experiences in the outdoors more. Since the hunt, Ipock and Roman have avidly pursued and clinched drawings by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Public hunt programs and continue plans to explore all of the outdoor adventure options easily available to Texas residents. We hope to see the Rio Grande Turkeys in the Spring and maybe visit the top of Guadalupe Peak with these honored Americans and Texans. Veterans: Rico Roman