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A special place for very special guests
Through the generosity and ingenuity of several who prioritize seeing after the needs and dreams of those who have served their county honorably, four area disabled veterans were provided on Nov. 18, with an opportunity to do what so many take for granted in the fall of each year, but what for them had become only a memory.
The Gobbler Ridge Disabled Veterans Wildlife Facility, located about three miles southwest of Bloomfield, opened to veterans in the summer of 2012. The 125-acre tract was "gifted" in the form of a lease by owners and veterans, Tom Love and Alan Hedrick, to Kenady-Hanks American Legion Post 59 in Dexter.
"We wanted to provide a place in the wilderness where disabled veterans -- whether their disability stemmed from service time or not -- to come and enjoy the beauty of nature."
Visiting veterans are invited to hunt, fish, take pictures, stay at the cabin on site, or just come out to appreciate the solitude and the beauty of the isolated acreage where wild flowers, deer, turkey and more abound.
The veterans who visited Gobbler Ridge on Nov. 18, each of whom were provided with an accomplished guide as they went their separate ways to blinds on the farm, pushed the visitor's count to Gobbler Ridge over the 100 mark in its history of just over two years.
The four, however, were not the original group that had planned to deer hunt at the farm on Tuesday.
"The original plan called for the Veterans Home in Cape Girardeau to transport six of their resident veterans -- some of whom are World War II vets -- for a day's hunt," Love explains. "But then came the snow and the cold. It simply wasn't safe to transport the men and to take them to the woods in those temperatures and with some ice still on the ground at the farm."
But an alternate plan was quickly put into place. Through the efforts of the Legion and agents with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), who often assist in organizing hunts at the farm, four disabled veterans from the area received were transported and treated to a full barbeque lunch at the cabin and a day's hunt in the wilderness that is Gobbler Ridge.
Key in making the alternate hunt transpire were Dee Dee Dockins, an outdoor skills specialist with the MDC, and Stoddard County MDC Agent Mark Reed.
"It's an American Legion event and an American Legion facility," Reed explained Tuesday as the handful of hunters took to their posts at the farm. "We're playing a support role by supplying equipment and some manpower."
"We do have a partnership with the National Wild Turkey Federation also," Dockins further explained, "which helps fund projects like this."
The plight of the disabled is one that is near and dear to the heart of Dockins.
"We owe so much to them for what they've done to secure our freedom," she said, "and as we work with these veterans, we realize how we've taken for granted how easy it is for all of us to go out into the field, and we recognize that doesn't come as easily for these disabled veterans."
Dockins notes that many issues are taken into consideration when planning an outing for the disabled veteran.
"Whether it's a missing limb or post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) or other issues, there is a lot to be considered when we accommodate these veterans. We're seeing many of the younger veterans come back with these issues, so we need to examine their needs when we approach a project like this."
Dockins says MDC is pledging to sponsor other events involving veterans. Referring to the efforts of Reed, she notes, "You have one person start helping, and then you see all these others come on board, and with this effort, the support has been overwhelming."
That support has come, in part, to supplying adaptive equipment for the veterans who are limited in their strength or mobility to hunt as they did in the past. Dockins arrived at the Tuesday outing with some equipment she recently acquired through utilizing some special funding.
"Some of the older veterans who have suffered strokes, for example, can no longer support the weight of a rifle," she explains.
For those needs, Dockins purchased adaptive measures, including mobile chairs to which a wheelchair bound veterans my easily transfer and then utilize a swivel rifle support device that eliminates the stress of the weapon's weight on the user.
One of Tuesday's guests is a veteran of Operation Freedom, where he lost a leg. The adaptive measures arrived on time to assist him on his hunt.
Referring to that veteran, Dockins notes, "We get more out of getting to know these guys and being around them than we could ever give them."
That wounded veteran (who wishes to remain anonymous) has pledged to help the MDC navigate the path that will lead them to realize what is most needed as disabled veterans go about the task of facing challenges in their everyday lives -- a task that comes with its own challenges.
"It's important," Reed notes, "to respect the independence of these veterans as we go about this mission."
It is the hope of Dockins, along with Reed and others in the Missouri Department of Conservation, to develop a database of disabled veterans who might benefit from what the department has to offer in the realm of the outdoors.
"It's a very, very rewarding project," she says.
Anyone interested in obtaining further information about the efforts of the Disabled Veterans Facility or those of the Missouri Department of Conservation is asked to contact either Tom Love at 573-820-0802 or MDC Outdoors Skills Specialist Dee Dee Dockins at 573-290-5858, ext. 4414.