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Wounded Warriors and Hunters Again | By Jason Brady

Sgt. Emil Walsh knew something was wrong. There were no children playing, and the streets were much too quiet. But his mind that day was on the safety of his men. As he stepped out of his vehicle to lead the security detail, a sniper’s bullet tore into his right shoulder. Walsh grew up in Missouri where he enjoyed the outdoors, especially fishing. That was before Jan. 17, 2007, before Takrit. He came home from Iraq with a wound that limited the use of his hands and claimed 4½ inches of his right arm. “It was frustrating,” he said. “I never thought I’d be in the woods again.”

Jake Munroe is a civilian trainer at the “schoolhouse,” soldier shorthand for Fort Bragg’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. But that’s just the day job. Three years ago, Munroe and a cadre of other diehard hunters formed the Fort Bragg Quality Deer Management Association. After work and on weekends, they dedicate at least 100 hours every month to teaching fellow sportsmen safe and ethical hunting practices. It was more than a year ago that the group decided to create a program that would give something back to the community. It began as a spring turkey hunt for children of service members but quickly grew into something more, hunts for injured soldiers who thought they might never return to the outdoors they loved. Wounded Warriors to the Woods was born. Now, W3P provides a support mechanism for each wounded soldier, a hunter’s education course and mentors who make sure soldiers successfully return to the woods. “We hook them up with a mentor who helps sight in the rifle or loans the hunter a rifle if he doesn’t have one,” Munroe said. The mentor ensures the hunter has everything required: clothing, ammunition, tree stands and getting him into the hide site. In 2008, the group took 12 hunters into the field. Emil Walsh started out as a participant but now plans to become a mentor and volunteer. He’s even planning a Colorado elk hunt this fall. “It’s my way of giving back,” he said. “I never thought I would be able to get back in the woods and shoot my 12 gauge or my 7mm. It took them saying, ‘Hey, come on, you can do this.’” The only limitation to getting wounded service members into the woods, Munroe said, is having enough volunteers and participants. Members of QDMA rely on word-of-mouth advertising and raise money themselves through a fall banquet and spring golf tournament. Proceeds go to the national program and the four local hunts, two for wounded warriors, two for children of service members. Maj. Kent Solheim is one of those warriors. He has a Purple Heart along with what the Army calls a “life-changing wound.” On July 27, 2007, then Capt. Solheim led a night mission in Kabala, Iraq, when his 3rd Special Forces Group unit came under fire. Doctors eventually amputated his right leg in March 2009. But when he came home to Fort Bragg, he took his son and daughter on a turkey hunt. “After my injuries, I was looking for something to do,” he said. “I was always active prior to my injuries.” His friends, one an avid hunter, suggested hunting, no easy feat considering Solheim used a wheelchair and crutches to get around. Friends helped him set up a hunting blind. “If you want something bad enough, there’s always someone there who can help you,” he said. “At first, it was just the thought of being outside. From there it grew into a passion.” Now, Solheim uses a prosthetic leg. He’s gone from hunting novice to hunting with bow and arrow and has become one of QDMA’s most avid supporters. “They do make a difference,” he said, “for the kids and for the wounded warriors.”