Support Those Who Fight For Our Freedom
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Moments are Life Changing MSgt Tony Cogdill Honor Hunt By: Bill Carlson

MSgt Tony Cogdill LibertyPark August 2013

August of 2012 while doing a fundraiser in Nashville, TN, Support U.S. Armed Forces had the pleasure of meeting MSgt Tony Cogdill and his two daughters Victoria and Jennifer.  It did not take any time to realize that Tony had a military background.  When we met him, he had 36 years in the National Guard. During his most recent deployment, he also had something happen that in an instance changed his life forever.  During his deployment in Afghanistan in 2011, Tony broke his neck in a training exercise.

That would have been challenging enough but there is more.  He learned from one of his attending physicians who sadly gave him the news.  He was diagnosed with ALS.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a life changing and emotionally challenging illness.  The disease has no cure and is usually terminal.  I have been humbled to be in the presence of the Cogdill family.  They face their challenges head on and do so with unconditional love.  They live life out loud and on purpose.  I got to experience the Cogdill’s first hand as Support U.S. Armed Forces and Zac Cooper from Little Man Big Dreams took Tony and family to Mellon Creek Outfitters on a bucket list hunting trip.  It was an amazing trip full of excitement, laughter, and success.  Sharing in this experience with the Cogdill’s was fantastic.  During this trip, I met some of the most outstanding Outfitter Guides in the hunting industry the team at Mellon Creek Outfitters.

For the guides of Mellon Creek it was just as impactful.  The usual client that comes to Mellon Creek has no medically threatening challenges.  For the most part, they are hunters with means to go enjoy the outdoor hunting experience at the highest level.  That is exactly what the guides at the Mellon Creek do. They are all accomplished professionals, a patriotic group, who are grateful for our men and women who serve in the armed forces.  While hosting the Cogdill’s, the guides at Mellon Creek saw firsthand what we do at Support U.S. Armed Forces.  As we talked and got to know one another, they learned more about our mission.  Through a series of conversations and the following days, we had time to get to know one another.  During that time, the Mellon Creek Outfitters and Support U.S. Armed Forces formed a gentlemen’s partnership.  Support U.S. Armed Forces was invited to return the following October to bring three veterans on a guided hunt just like Tony experienced.  I have to admit to be the host for Support U.S. Armed Forces and to get to share in a second experience at Mellon Creek caused me to watch the days go by with great anticipation.  As the days drew near, the countdown to return was on.  I felt like a kid on Christmas knowing I was about to return to Mellon Creek and here is why.

 With some productive conversation, we agreed on whom Support U.S. Armed Forces would vet, select, and bring on the first MSgt Tony Cogdill Honor Hunt.  Carefully and purposefully, we choose to vet veterans who are decorated with the Purple Heart or above.  Over the past few months, we vetted three Marines who each are decorated with the Purple Heart.  Marines, a branch of our armed forces this former Air Force member respects and admires.

For my Marine friends, and many other veterans, who have defended our freedoms.  Those that have served while in harm’s way experienced a moment in life that most will never encounter.  These Moments are be life changing there is no doubt.  Take a stroll down the hall of any VA hospital. Visit the veterans and there are two things you will see.  The results of life altering injuries and the evidence of our Freedom defended.  The veterans selected for this special adventure are all too familiar with the sterile walls of a V.A. medical center.  Each had to overcome the fragility of life and the mental anguish that comes with deciding to be resilient to get back up, to live life to its fullest.  Briefly let me share with you each veteran’s story.  Equally as important, the determined attitude they all possess.

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 Walt Kelbaugh at Mellon Creek 2013

Walt, the senior veteran participating in this trip, in 1967 came under sniper fire while driving a supply truck in the jungle of Vietnam.  The crack of a snipers rifle fire echoed inside the cab of the supply truck he was driving.  Instantly the windshield of the vehicle splintered.  Walt’s eyes were peppered with glass fragments.  Driving impaired without clear vision he relied on the Marine next to him to tell him how to steer as they drove full throttle through the jungle for over two miles to safety.  The sniper narrowly missed Walt.

Mason and Jeff met their life altering hardship when their respective vehicles were dispatched by an IED (improvised explosive device).  In 2004, Mason was riding in the back of the Humvee where he sustained the brunt of the explosion.  In 2006, Sgt Leeman was in the front seat of his vehicle and was struck by the engine block after the IED detonated.  All of these men had to decide to get back up to stay the course.  They would not let the terrible moment take life from them.   Instead, each tackled their individual struggles on a daily basis, to do whatever it took to prevail over their ordeal.  The attitude in which they handle these life-changing events has everything to do with why they are succeeding today. We all have moments that trigger negative thoughts, adversity hits, even a catastrophic life threatening event … one thing I learned from my time at Mellon Creek is don’t let the hard moments in life interrupt a great life. Your attitude is your greatest asset.  Use it well.

Corporal Walt Kelbaugh, Sgt Jeffery Leeman, and SSgt Mason Poe all have amazing determined attitudes.  None of them let the tough moments in life get them down.  They fought through their difficulties with the dedication and determination it takes to conquer adversity and move on.  They did not do it alone there are always exceptional people in the background the unsung heroes with the amazing gift of love, a wife, our family, a girlfriend, friends, and fellow combat buddies.  Just by being there, they show the fighter, he is worth the fight.  Their presence has unbelievable valuable.  I am no clinician, physician, or counselor, but my first hand experience says that these behind the scenes people are the best medicine and many times the very motivation that leads to a successful road of mending.  The catalyst that helps form the attitude that I will push, I am determined, I will succeed.  Thank you for being there and staying the course too.  The road you chose to stay wasn’t easy but the value you bring was and always will be priceless.

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 Sgt Jeff Leeman (L) SSgt Mason Poe (R) Mellon Creek 2013

 It is important to note how humble all of our Veteran guests were.  Each of our veterans had the same question? Why, was I chosen?  Even to the point where they thought someone else might be more deserving.  With simple patience and explanation to each Marine how several people had recommended/nominated them.  It was the quality of their reputation and the honor they bring to their branch of service why Support U.S. Armed Forces selected them.  Each accepted.  As I have gotten to know each of them, their character sustained their reputation and I was proud to host them.  I garner a lot of satisfaction being a part of giving back and hosting the veterans on behalf of Support U.S. Armed Forces.  I hear the stories and see their broad smiles.  As we sit and share stories, I hear the laughter and the silent release of putting the past behind.  In this moment, they suspend the challenges of life.

Instead, they enjoy the fellowship, the experience, and the newfound friends they met.  For me experiencing that makes it all worth it.  It is a fond memory that I enjoy sharing with friends and family.

This special outdoor adventure to Mellon Creek was to honor MSgt Tony Cogdill for his 36 years of honorable service and to recognize the tough minded full of spirit, loving family, he is a part of.  Tony and family are still smiling any time they talk about their adventure at Mellon Creek.  This special Honor Hunt is also to recognize those, who during their service to our country sustained a war related injury while serving.

For me personally meeting so many people and interacting with companies that became supporting sponsors.  They made this trip exceptional.  We at Support U.S. Armed Forces are extremely grateful. Zac Cooper of Little Man Big Dreams paved the road for Tony and family to go to Mellon Creek.  Chad, Zac’s father, should be and is proud of a young man that any father would be glad to call him son.  He is dedicated, respectful, gifted, and humble.  You can find Zac traveling the countryside sharing family values and his passion for the outdoors.  He does this at outdoor expos, churches, colleges, and any other venues that invite him to speak.  Did I mention Zac is an amazing hunter and crack shot.

It was a pleasure meeting and getting to know Richard Shively of Super Yelper Turkey Calls.  Richard is a Vietnam Veteran and a two-time national champion turkey call maker.  Richard gave a real special handmade Purple Heart Wood Super Yelper Turkey Call for each veteran.  He then had each call laser etched with our veterans name, year awarded the Purple Heart, and a laser etched the Purple Heart medal insignia on the call.  My wife and I sat in their kitchen and listened as Richard and his wife Fran share some special stories.  We could have stayed for hours enriched by all Richard’s stories and knowledge.  I plan to return to their home to hear more stories from Richard, who is a true gentleman. Thanks Richard the men loved the calls.

I was reading an article from the North Carolina Division of Wildlife, I learned about a company right here in North Carolina, Insect Shield.  As an outdoor enthusiast who has experienced the unwanted insect while hunting, I contacted Insect Shield.    I shared with Kristen, Account Manager, with Insect Shield what Support U.S. Armed Forces was doing.   Kristen replied saying she was sending the veterans some special apparel designed to protect them against the unwanted insects.  In the world of hunting, those pests could have otherwise interfered with our veterans hunting activities.

 Last year, just before our trip with Tony, Mellon Creek had had some very unusual weather more rain than usual.  With all the standing water, it was prime habitat for what some call the Texas state bird the mosquito.  Without the aid of ThermaCells mosquito shield, Tony would not have stood a chance.  I watched firsthand the effectiveness of these handheld devices.  Without them, I shudder to think what we would have looked like.  I sent Josh Silva with ThermaCell a few personal photos of Tony holding a ThermaCell unit and more on the ground around him.  Personally, I want to thank ThermaCell for such an amazing product.  For those of you who may have a family member with physical limitations but love to be outdoors, this is a product you will want.  Tony did not have the use of his left arm so trying to swat at mosquitoes would have been impossible.  With the ThermaCell, we could concentrate on the activities at hand with no worries.  Thanks Josh for sending some units for our veterans this year.

Because Tony’s ALS and some resulting limitations of his broken neck, he is unable to use his left arm to hold a rifle.  His brother purchased him a Caldwell Deadshot Fieldpod.  I shared a few pictures of Tony using his Deadshot Fieldpod with Kyle Smith of BTI Brands.  Kyle, understanding that many of our veterans do have physical limitations, was happy to supply each of our guests with a Deadshot Fieldpod.  As you can imagine this rifle rest was an instant success with our veteran guests.  I am happy to report last year Tony while using his Fieldpod used a one shot for each animal.  He harvested a buck, a doe, and a very large 238 # wild boar confidently while using his Fieldpod.  The boar was the most amazing, as it was extremely nervous moving in and out of the sight picture.  I still here Tony yell whoooo whooo after the shot.  It was his first wild boar.  That was also a first for me.  What an incredible experience.  I was right beside him for it all.

Rick Green, a former Texas House of Representative member put together a tremendous class about the United States Constitution.  Rick gladly sent three of the classes for our veterans.  What a great gift to give our men who defended our constitution.  Thanks Rick.  In particular, Mason will be putting some post on FB as he goes through the class.  Mason is as patriotic as they come.  He posts regularly the proper etiquette of handling our flag.  I enjoy reading them and ensuring I follow the protocol too.

Chuck our local Instant Imprints friend did our shirts.  The guys loved them.  I am sure we will get some additional orders.

Thanks to the Holiday Inn and Conference Center, Corpus Christi for your hospitality especially after the airport delay in Houston causing such a late arrival to your facility.

A special shout out to Mike Dorman and Military Missions in Action who helped fund one of our guest with plane fair, hunting license, and ammunition for all our guest.  Mike, it goes without saying but I think what you do for our Veterans is in a word amazing.  Check out what Mike and his team are doing at www.militarymissionsinaction.org The project on Mike’s immediate horizon is http://www.mmiaamericanheroeshomebuild.org this home will be given to a Marine and his family the week of Christmas.

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Mike Dorman

Lastly thanking the men of Mellon Creek www.melloncreekoutfitters.com including Dan, Jimmy, and Dustin of the TV show Wildlifers.  I am at a loss for words of how to express our gratitude here.  You all deserve it.  It is how to put on paper all that you have and continue to do.  With Tony and family, you fulfilled a lifetime dream to perfection.  I watch the video and see the pictures.  All show Tony with a smile a mile wide and a gleam in his eyes.  As Tony’s status and the progression of ALS continues that may be Tony’s final hunt.  I’ll leave that one to God.  If it is his last hunt, it for sure was a hunt of a lifetime.  With the guest this year who came in a little reticent, somewhat reserved in short order you greeted them and removed any barriers that they imagined might be there.  My test for success in an outing like this is simple what do the eyes tell, are they smiling, is there laughter, and finally are they slapping you on the back as old friends do.  Well Hagan, Roy, Jeff, Rick, Dustin, Dan, Jimmy and Trevor the answer to that is yes.  Your formula for outstanding service goes far beyond the hunt.  As Walt would say “I haven’t had this much fun with my clothes on ever”.

 

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Hagan, Dustin, Jeff, Roy, Trevor, Bill, Mason, Dan and Walt Oct 2013

Mellon Creek Outfitters has it all from wing shooting to hog hunting.  You can go on a bobcat hunt, see and hear the poetry in motion as the dogs trail a cat.  In the spring, the Rio Grande turkeys provide an excitement all of their own.  However, the main attraction at this 110K acre ranch (outdoor oasis) is the excellent whitetail deer hunts.  No matter if you are a novice hunter or a seasoned professional coming to hunt these grandiose bucks you’re going to learn something from the guides at Mellon Creek.  I witnessed directly the skills our guide Dan has as he rattled in a very respectable eight pointer from 400 yards.  As this buck came running to join the fight each time his hoofs hit the ground he threw his chest out as to say I’m the badest buck in town.  He covered that ground in less than a minute with one mission in mind to fight.  For Mason who lives in the piedmont of North Carolina, the chance to shoot much further than 150 yards is rare.  He was spot on out to 312 yards.  Although I did not get a chance to see Jeff, I heard from his guide Hagan that he is a one shot one kill master.

In the coming weeks some of the guest for the First MSgt Tony Cogdill Hunt will be featured on an episode of Wildlifers www.wildlifers.tv   There is no doubt in my mind you will enjoy the show and more than that see the smiles from our Veteran guest.  If you would like to support a future hunt and or support our mission of giving back to the men and women of our armed forces and their families visit https://www.supportusarmedforces.org/ I started this article sharing that some moments are life changing.  They truly are.  I am happy to report that my veteran friends from this special trip have overcome their life changing moment.  Spend any time with them at all and you too will have a life changing moment.  They are an inspiration to all who meet them.  Walt, Jeff, and Mason it was my pleasure and a great honor to host you on the first MSgt Tony Cogdill Honor Hunt.


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