2013 NWTF Convention: In case you missed it (Now…)

Then. Now. Always.

It wasn’t only the theme of this year’s convention; it’s how we view the viability of the NWTF.

We have a strong past, which has proven our organization has what it takes to facilitate success, as evident in the comeback of the wild turkey.

We have a promising future with the Save the Habitat. Save the Hunt initiative.

And now is the time to make sure both have a place in history.

It’s what we do now as an organization that pays tribute to the path paved by those before us. Now is when we lay the bricks for the road ahead of us.

Totally cool to have my photo made with "Gene Simmons." Not creepy at all that I'm old enough to be this impersonator's mom...

Totally cool to have my photo made with “Gene Simmons.” Not creepy at all that I’m old enough to be this impersonator’s mom…

Those bricks aren’t made with good intentions. There’s got to be money in the mix. Money to fund our mission today and tomorrow.

That’s why the Grand National Auction is so important. Just like the thousands of auctions, raffles and fundraisers NWTF volunteers hold throughout the country each year, the Grand National — “the big daddy of ‘em all” — helps foot the bill to carry out our mission and programs. It puts money where are hearts are.

Hunts, a Chevy truck, a triple-barrel shotgun and even an entertainment center from Elvis Presley’s bedroom were up for bid. And the backdrop for the evening was celebrating 40 rockin’ years of the NWTF, complete with celebrity impersonators walking around the room.

For me, the highlight was having my photo taken with “Gene Simmons” of KISS, then using “Madonna” to help sell raffle tickets for a Kentucky elk hunt. Tell me that’s not funny…

SATURDAY MORNING

When is the best time to tell a veteran thank you for his or her service? Now … and anytime you see one.

Their sacrifices helped pave the path that allows us to enjoy hunting, because we live in a country protected by the finest military in the world.

We began the Winchester Veteran’s Breakfast with a photo diary/video of the Outdoor Legends Tours, where members of the hunting community traveled overseas to personally thank active duty military. Many of you may have read accounts from the tour’s frontlines from NWTF CEO George Thornton and NWTF Spokesperson Brenda Valentine on this blog. If you missed it, click on their names for a link to each of their adventures and get caught up. Both offer glimpses into the everyday life of our servicemen and women.

It’s a given that I cry during this breakfast every year. And I shed a few tears listening to NWTF District Field Supervisor Dave Mahlke talk about his son’s enlistment in the Army, how he was injured in the line of duty and made an incredible recovery, as well as how hunting and family played a role in it.

As parent, I can’t fathom watching my son go through so much pain. Dang it, I’m crying just thinking about it. God bless the Mahlke family and all military families.

And if I wasn’t already a hot mess, the super-duper talented brass player Mic Gillette played the haunting notes of “Taps,” as we remembered the fallen, including Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf.

The annual breakfast is always so moving to me, not by just watching what’s happening on stage, but thinking about the individual stories of the folks in the crowd.

I looked up from my production book to see a fella, probably not five years younger than me, walk with a slight limp to receive his commemorative veterans pin (an annual tradition at the breakfast). What was going through his head at that moment? Pride? Heartache? Both?

I can’t begin to understand. All I can do is offer my sincere gratitude and respect.

Thank you to Winchester and the NWTF for giving me a venue to do just that.

 

 

 

 

 

Keepin’ Up With Brenda

Another NWTF representative is eastbound. Our spokesperson Brenda Valentine has headed overseas to personally thank our troops as part of the Outdoor Legends Tour.

She, along with TV personality Jim Shockey and North American Hunting Club’s Bill Miller, are on their way to military bases in Germany and Southwest Asia.

Meet the cast of the second Outdoor Legends Tour of 2012. Safe travels, y’all!

It’s the second tour of the year. If you remember, NWTF CEO George Thornton went on the same type of monumental voyage in March. Miss it? Then click here to get caught up.

Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version for those in a time crunch…

The NWTF partnered with armed Forces Entertainment and the Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Outdoor Recreation Heritage Fund to participate in the Outdoors Legends Tour. George and Mossy Oak’s Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland worked closely with retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lew Deal to recruit outdoor industry celebrities to travel overseas to visit and entertain active-duty U.S. military personnel.

The first crew to head over yonder included George, of course, as well as USMC Maj. Gen. Randy West, former Major League Baseball player Ryan Klesko, Bass Pro Shops TV host Jerry Martin, NWTF national spokesman Michael Waddell and outdoor TV personality Jim Zumbo.

Reading George’s blog entries, no doubt the experience was a life-changer for him. And I’m pretty sure the servicemen and women appreciated the gesture.

Now we have Ms. Brenda over there slathering those brave folks with her sweet-as-molasses Southern charm and extending the most sincere gratitude that I know she has for military fighting for our freedoms.

“I am honored, humbled, flattered. I have so many feelings about being the only woman invited to join the Outdoor Legends Tour,” Brenda said. “If I can brighten the day of troops in the field and hospital with stories of hunting, home and the outdoors, it’s mission accomplished.”

For the next week or so, you can keep up with Brenda by clicking on the “Brenda’s Outdoor Legends Tour” tab to the right. Check back as often as you can to see what she’s up to. Or you can subscribe to have the most up-to-date posts sent to your inbox.

I’ll be back on the scene soon enough … if Brenda hasn’t taken over my job by then.

 

Check your guts here

We’re wrapping up editing/designing the May-June Turkey Country, and I have a headache.

I think it’s stress.

It’s our annual NWTF National Convention wrap-up issue, which I really enjoy piecing together, because we’re giving so many awesome volunteers their due credit. However, it’s this particular part of magazine production that puts me on edge. All these teeny-tiny loose ends just dangle above my head, waiting for me to do SOMETHING with them.

My mind splits into two voices. But instead of an angel telling me to do what’s right and a little devil telling me what I want to hear, I have a mini-Debbie Downer on one shoulder saying, You’ll never get it all done, and a pom-pom-toting cheerleader on the other chanting what’s inevitable: You can do it! You always do! Now make it happen!

Stupid cheerleader…

Just when I’m about to blow out the candles on the pity party cake I’ve made, a letter blips into my inbox. (Seems like this happens to me a lot.)

It’s from a mother in Jasper, Ga., wanting to tell someone at the NWTF what our national convention meant to her son, to her family.

The letter moved me so much that I edited down the others in the Fan Mail section to squeeze it in at the last minute. Here’s the full version:

If you ever wondered what a profound impact your national convention has on people, I think our story should clear up any questions.

Let me tell you about my child, Jeff. My husband and I adopted both our children from Georgia’s Department of Family and Children Services when Jeff was 3 and his sister was 5. They had been severely abused by their birth parents; Jeff was taken from them at 8 months. We were their seventh home due to Jeff’s severe behavior due to being starved, neglected and abused. But we decided that we were meant to be their parents, that this is what God intended.

Jeff Buckingham traveled a long, emotional road to meet his hunting idol, Michael Waddell.

Jeff, now 14, has had a lot of obstacles to overcome, with the greatest being post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a mental issue that has resulted in him not liking loud noises (like guns). He’s also restless and can’t stand being pushed or touched in large crowds.

Jeff grew to love us, especially my 80-year-old father, who due to his age is unable to hunt but passed that intense love down to Jeff. We wondered how Jeff would handle the being still and quiet, which is required for hunting, but he has thrived. He has hunted turkey, deer and coyotes.

Hunting led him to join our local shotgun team. He’s also discovered bow hunting and mowed grass all last summer to save money for his first bow.

Now let me tell what your organization’s convention meant to Jeff.

He went with his father, but was nervous about the large amount of people who would be there. We told him that he’s a teenager now, and he needs to cope with his issues so they don’t keep him from doing what he loves.

My husband said they had to leave the building several times the first day for Jeff to get fresh air because of the crowds. But Jeff would then look to him and say, “Let’s try it again.”

Then came the moment Jeff had been waiting for — meeting Michael Waddell. He said, “If I don’t get to do anything but see him, I will be happy.”

As you can expect, the line to see Michael Waddell was long, and the crowd was heavy. Jeff told his dad several times he thought he was getting sick. But he was so excited that he was able to work through the lines, fighting his desire to flee, to meet his hunting hero. It was a huge moment for Jeff.

So if your group has ever wondered what impact it has on young people, know that Jeff is now a member of Xtreme JAKES and plans on returning to your convention next year. Thank you, Traci Buckingham

This letter serves way more than a gut check; it’s a testament to what hunting does for the human spirit and how NWTF members perpetuate it.

God works through us, and most of the time we don’t even realize it. I mean, who in the convention exhibit hall would have seen Jeff as any different than the next teenage boy seeking an autograph from Michael Waddell? None of us would have never known of Jeff’s amazing story had his mother not felt lead to share what was on her heart.

The next time you’re setting up tables for a Hunting Heritage banquet, staking down directional signs for a shooting event, or in my case, finishing up an issue of Turkey Country, pause for a moment and offer up a small prayer in the name of your efforts.

You never know who God’s going to bless that day. It just may be you.

George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 7

We started our final day in the Persian Gulf region at the ball field, with Ryan Klesko and Michael Waddell pitching for each side. Ryan knocked Michael off the mound with a line drive on the first pitch. The ball hit Michael everywhere but in the glove. He shook it off like a champ and kept on pitching. Most impressive play of the day: Ryan knocked the ball out of the park, setting an Arabian Gulf home run distance record for a ball that flew over the center field fence and through three concertina barriers. That one will stand in the record books for a while.

It is our last day in theatre and without a doubt our most interesting and enjoyable.

We started our final day in the Persian Gulf region at the ball field, with Ryan Klesko and Michael Waddell pitching for each side. Most impressive play of the day: Ryan knocked the ball out of the park, setting an Arabian Gulf home run distance record.

We visited a Patriot missile battery and received a briefing on the duties of the company charged with the defense of the base. The men and women were proud to demonstrate their skills and capabilities.

We received a brief on the camp’s mission from the commanding officer. The size of the responsibility, geography covered and assets deployed is incredible. The base supports on-the-ground activity in Afghanistan 24/7. The commander rolled out the red carpet for us. He had received reports from our visits to other camps and bases and was happy to have us with his troops.

After the briefing we visited a U2 operation where we saw how the pilots are suited up in space suits. We met the pilots and talked with them about their responsibilities and backgrounds. Several within the ranks are hunters.

We were given the opportunity to ride in the chase car that assists in the landing of these specialized aircraft. We chased the U2 at 90+ miles per hour, and the pilot driving the car talked the U2 down. Fascinating! The plane was returning from a 10-hour flight, and piloted by a professional young woman from Atlanta. I believe she is the first female U2 pilot. It’s hard to imagine the discipline and self-control required to do this job. The U2 mission is aerial surveillance over the entire region. By the way, the planes cost $250 million each. The plane itself is pretty basic. The avionics are most impressive.

The F-15 flight line was the next stop. The crew chief gave us a hands-on tour where we talked with young fighter pilots. Just like Top Gun, these are very confident and professional young men. Their mission is the air defense of our Arabian Gulf assets. They are the real deal, one-on-one warriors.

Next we toured an AWACS plane. (AWACS spelled out is Airborne Warning and Control System.) These are radar and communication centers in the sky. I asked the general about their capabilities. He said one AWACS alone could manage a small war. There were quite a few on the tarmac. Several are in the air at all times.

We then had the privilege of going into the Global Hawk hanger. The Global Hawk Drone is a remote-controlled, full-sized aircraft that can act as a communications relay, an offensive weapon or a spy in the sky.  Just standing beside one leaves you in awe of our technical capabilities.

We then returned to quarters and packed for the 30-hour trip home. After dinner, we headed back to the Rec Room for conversations with the troops. Many of the troops came back for a second night and to send us off.  I feel we made some friends whom we will see again. We made commitments to assist everyone interested in setting up hunts when they return. At 10:30 p.m. (2230 hours), it was loading time for the trip home.

I truly believe we achieved our mission of letting our troops know how much support they have back home. Their jobs are difficult, intense and sometimes very stressful and lonely. All of us who were fortunate enough to go on this tour want to thank Armed Forces Entertainment for making this trip possible.

We also want to thank Susan Korbel for escorting us and making the logistics appear to be effortless.

Mostly we want to thank the men and women of our Armed Forces for the jobs they do every day on behalf of everyone in the free world. These people are the real “1 percent” who need to recognized and appreciated.

We believe that Col. Lew Deal and another group of Outdoor Legends will make a similar trip later in the year. I hope they do and that they will share their experiences with us.

— George

Click here to read more about the Outdoor Legends Tour on NWTF Spokesman Michael Waddell’s blog.

George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 6

We spent the majority of our sixth day moving to a new location on the Arabian Gulf Coast, once again a new country and a new city where not long ago there was a tribal kingdom. Compared to other places we’ve visited, the political situation differs greatly here, and it’s a much larger host country. Its cities are modern, with business infrastructure and beautiful housing. It is a strong ally.

We are the guests of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, and are running late because of an administrative mix-up between our host country and us. We have just enough time for a short visit to the Corp of Engineers work area where we are briefed on the construction history and future plans for the area. Maintaining adequate drinking water and public health is a major enterprise.

It was a long day, but we were energized by the personal warmth and energy in our reception by the airmen.

The commanding officer of the Fire Brigade is anxious for us to visit their 9-11 Monument. He was at Ground Zero on that fateful day and lost half his group there. The COE and Fire Protection personnel are extremely proud of their monument to fallen heroes, and for serving with a man who distinguished himself in the line of duty and suffered the loss of so many comrades.

It is getting late. We invite them to join us for a meet and greet after dinner.

We gathered in the Recreation Center to talk about hunting, fishing and home. The room is full when we arrive, much like the night before at the previous base.

The general introduces us and tells the group we are here to express the gratitude of their countrymen for their service. He then opens the evening to group discussions and a question-and-answer period, which goes on until 11 p.m. (That’s 2300 hours in military jargon.) The small group discussions and card games continue until after 1 a.m.

I am amazed at the interest in hearing stories from Jim Zumbo, Jerry Martin, Michael Waddell and Ryan Klesko. The questions range from favorite hunting gear and hunts to most dangerous experiences to how did they find employment in the hunting and outdoors industry. There was a lot of talk about first hunting experiences (theirs and ours) and people who influenced our lives.

One airmen commented that he couldn’t believe that a group of hunters had been sent out after all the comics and rap artists they have seen in the past.

The questions still remain: Did we have an impact on these men and women? Were we successful in our goal?

Here’s one instance when I know we made a difference:

As we met with the troops, Ryan and Michael talked about the role their parents played in their career choices. Ryan’s mother worked two jobs and destroyed her health, while encouraging him to pursue his baseball dreams with his talents. Michael talked about his father’s support, which resulted in him winning a turkey calling contest that changed his life.

The next morning, a young airman who took part in the discussion asked a chaplain to help him contact his father. The father and son had been estranged for years and had not talked at all during his deployment. We were told that with the chaplain’s assistance they spoke and have begun rebuilding their relationship.

That evening, we offered a baseball game with Ryan pitching. Schedules rapidly changed, and we were given access to the baseball diamond between 8:30 and 9:30 the following morning.

— George

Click here to read more about the Outdoor Legends Tour on NWTF Spokesman Michael Waddell’s blog.

George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 5

We are on a small base, and its mission is to provide 24/7/365 support for all operations in the hot parts of the theatre. They take care of things like refueling, cargo, limited fighter support. We feel privileged to glimpse into the logistic and emergency support that is necessary to our success.

Our first stop on the base was a briefing by the commanding officer. It’s a shame our press does not report the great job our people are doing over here. Truly amazing.

When we arrived at the camp gate, the security force met us with a sign that said, “PETA Members Only — No Hunters.” They are all avid hunters and had been preparing for our visit.

During the day we got to see every part of the operation, from fire fighters to security forces, supply and communications. We made a special effort to personally visit all security personnel at their duty stations. They work 12 hours on/12 hours off shifts, and many would not be able to take part in our meet and greet that evening.

The high points of the day for me were:

  • Meeting a SEAL team that spent 12 quiet hours on the base, then departed for a mission we know nothing about. They took an American flag with them for Jerry Martin and will return it to him with a certificate confirming that the flag accompanied them.
  • Putting my name on a bow that one of the fireman spent five days before we arrived carving by hand just for us to sign.
  • Visiting the Security Force K-9 group and meeting Cpl. Ronnie, a German shepherd. He and his handler gave us a full demo where he used a man my size as a chew toy. Very impressive. When not working, Ronnie reminded me of Lucy, my black Lab back home.
  • Sitting in the commander’s seat of a new Striker armored vehicle. It was configured with a 105mm turret cannon, which I got to operate. Glad these are our vehicles. They have and still are saving countless lives. Worth every penny of the $1.5 million per vehicle price tag.

Michael Waddell and I had a bit of vehicle envy. We got to sit in the commander’s seat of a new Striker armored vehicle and took a ride in what can only be described as the military’s version of a fire truck — it holds 3,000 gallons and can go up to 70 mph.

  • Taking a ride in the latest model of fire truck — not your small town red fire engine. It holds 3,000 gallons of water and can shoot it up to 100 yards. It also can run at 70 mph. A bargain at $800,000.

It feels good to see the quality of maintenance that goes into our support and combat equipment.

After dinner we had a meet and greet with the troops. The Rec Room was full when we arrived. It was scheduled to go on for an hour, but the Q&A, storytelling and conversation went until almost 11 p.m. These guys are eager to hear stories from home, and all have plans for hunts when they get there.

Another long day topped off with another round of poker with the same guys from yesterday. I recovered a bit but didn’t get even.

I finally hit the sack around 1 a.m., couldn’t sleep thinking about tomorrow’s early departure, and that I was on a base that doesn’t exist! We shared time with men and women who have dedicated themselves to a critical national security mission that will never be written about — and they will never discuss.

— George

Click here to read more about the Outdoor Legends Tour on NWTF Spokesman Michael Waddell’s blog.

George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 3

We arrived Kuwait City at midnight and were met by American Entertainment and security personnel. We then headed to Camp Arifjan, arriving about an hour and a half later. Reveille sounded great! Off to breakfast in the mess hall. The food, by the way, is outstanding.

Started meeting and talking with personnel immediately at this impressive facility. It’s basically a city of 30,000 constructed in the desert to defend Kuwait and maintain a firm regional support base. We are the guests of the Kuwaiti government as a result of liberating Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion.

We were briefed on the Camp Arifjan mission by the unit’s commanding officer, Colonel R.G. Cheatham and Command Sergeant Major D.L. Pierce. Both are active outdoorsmen and were delighted to receive us. We then moved to a meeting of more than 100 soldiers from all over Kuwait. Some had driven more than three hours from the Iraq border to see us. We had the opportunity to share our personal stories, as well as the missions of our respective organizations. We took questions and shook hands with each one.

Our soldiers are great hunters and anglers, and all miss home and the opportunity to be in the field with friends and family. There are lots of NWTF members and even more turkey hunters stationed here.

Off to Camp Patriot, a joint U.S. Army and Navy base and port shared with the Kuwaiti Navy. It’s the smallest U.S. base in Kuwait but key for supporting embarkation and deportation of personnel and materiel into the region.

We met with the 106th Armored Artillery from Minnesota and shared hunting and fishing stories from their home state. These guys are in the Army Reserve, serving on their third deployment, an incredible personal sacrifice on their part.

Commander, D. T. Lahti and 1st Sergeant J.J. Benson are big outdoorsmen. We shared a great dinner together, then headed back to Camp Arifjan.

We had promised to come back for an informal meeting at the Arifjan Recreation Center. More than 80 men and women came to meet us. Major Gen. Randy West and I left to go to a Friday night Gospel church service, but heard they had a great time. All formality was dropped as they shared non-stop stories of hunting and fishing back home. Tour members say Waddell was on his A-game and entertained everyone with stories of growing up and learning to hunt in Booger Bottom, Ga.

Major Gen. West and I enjoyed the Friday night service, where he gave a moving testimonial of his Christian life journey and the challenges to his faith he had to overcome as a young aviator in Vietnam. There were more than 100 people at the service.

We returned to the Rec Center for more fellowship and to collect the group. By 10 p.m., we were back at quarters to shower, pack and go to the airport for our next Persian Gulf destination before daylight.

I left Kuwait with these observations:

  • The older Kuwaiti generations are warm and friendly. They appreciate America, our role in helping them regain their freedom from Saddam Hussein, as well as our continued presence in their country. Can’t say the same for the 20-something generation. There seems to be a lot of resentment and anger about our presence. I guess it is human nature to forget history and take comforts for granted. A real reminder of how fragile the region is.
  • Kuwait is an extremely rich country with every citizen guaranteed a minimum income that we could only dream of. It can and does lead to a sense of entitlement, which is most evident in their driving behavior. Driving in Kuwait makes driving in Mexico City, Paris, San Paulo or New York look like bumper cars at a county fair. Aggressive to the point that some Americans leave their radio off so as to not be distracted.  Can you imagine driving in a country that prohibits touching anyone in an automobile accident for 30 minutes for religious reasons, Muslim or Christian?
  • Kuwait has a population of 2 million Kuwaitis and more than 2 million guest workers. Kuwaitis spend the winters in large tent camps (There are thousands of them.) out in the desserts, riding motorcycles, four wheelers and horses. They really enjoy getting back to their Bedouin roots.  Sounds familiar, especially to those of us who enjoy the outdoors. For all of their idiosyncrasies and the blessing (?) of wealth that they have, they are a lot like us. Lets hope that they continue to live in a stable region and enjoy their freedoms and privileges.

— George

Click here to read more about the Outdoor Legends Tour on NWTF Spokesman Michael Waddell’s blog.

George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 2

We arrived at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center with a lot of apprehension, not knowing what we would encounter.

We found a beautifully maintained base, spotless. And the welcoming area is a USO office, which felt like being at home. It’s run by a dedicated volunteer and professional staff, some who have been there eight years. They served us a home cooked meal of brisket, and we shared the meal and conversation with ambulatory patients and medical staff. There were many outdoors enthusiasts among them, both anglers and hunters, so you can imagine there were many tales told.

Here’s a bit of history for you. Before WWI, Landstuhl was a hunting retreat for the ruling German aristocracy. Hitler confiscated it and turned it into a Nazi Youth Camp. It was liberated at the end of WWII by the U.S. Army Medical Corp, turned into an Allied forces hospital and has remained in service to this day.

At the hospital, we were introduced to the chiefs of each ward. I’ve never met more professional, caring and dedicated people. The staff is personally involved with each patient.

Visiting Landstuhl Regional Medical Center surfaced so many emotions in me, mostly sadness and thankfulness. It’s uplifting to see the strength these patients have, knowing these are the folks who are over here protecting us. I, for one, could only thank God the center held a light patient load that day.

We talked with a soldier, a severe burn victim, who came through the center eight years ago as a patient and was mentored by another patient. After his extensive treatment, he dedicated his remaining service to mentoring patients. He has a strength of character I only wish I had.

We also met a father and son. The son was four days out of Afghanistan, an IED victim. How do you express your feelings to a father who has rushed to his only son’s side?

The entire experience was one of sadness and thankfulness. Sorrow that the world has not progressed beyond conflict and combat. Thankfulness that we live in a time — and in a country — that has the best of medical technology and resources to care for the people who protect us.

The remainder of our trip is in the Persian Gulf theatre. I don’t know what we will see but we will forever remember the men and women who serve at Landstuhl.

On a lighter note, there is downtime. Gen. West had the first straight flush of the trip and is feeling pretty flush himself (with our money). Ryan Klesko remains a shark and has taken the single largest pot. Never count him out. Jerry Martin sits quietly in the weeds and waits for prey. Michael Waddell and I are like innocent fawns among wolves.

Tomorrow is a travel day. The skies of Lufthansa are not so friendly. They’re undergoing a baggage handlers strike. We have several alternate routes identified and are determined to not let the strike interrupt our tour.

More to come when we hit the Persian Gulf. In the meantime, click here to read about Michael Waddell’s experience on the tour.

— George

Oh, one more thing. I have to share some background on our tour leader, retired USMC Maj. Gen. Randy “Grits” West. Under Gen. Schwarzkopf’s command, Gen. West organized and led the Marine air support task force that coordinated and led the invasion of Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. Under Gen. West’s leadership, we not only liberated Kuwait in four days, but did so without the loss of a single Marine or aircraft under his command. He personally raised the Kuwaiti and American flags over Kuwait City on Day 3 of the invasion.

Gen. West has written a captivating account of his experience. And he gave me the honor of reading his galley proof. It’s a story of personal commitment, discipline, duty, leadership and faith. He attributes his success to the power of personal and collective prayer. You will not find a more compelling witness. I could not put it down.

We’ll let NWTF members know as soon as it’s published.

George’s Outdoor Legends Tour: Day 1

Six months ago retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lew Deal of the Paralyzed Veterans of America contacted me and asked if men and women in the outdoor, hunting and conservation communities would be interested in visiting our troops in the Persian Gulf. What a question! Of course we would! He put together two teams to undertake the trip.

After all the waiting and planning the opportunity to visit our servicemen and women in the Persian Gulf theatre is finally here.

Our mission is simple: Travel to a military hospital and forward bases to express the gratitude of all Americans to those who defend our freedom and keep harm away from our shores.

I am traveling with retired USMC Maj. Gen. Randy West, former Major League Baseball player Ryan Klesko, Bass Pro Shops TV host Jerry Martin, NWTF national spokesman Michael Waddell and outdoor TV personality Jim Zumbo. We’re all relieved to be boarding our plane because just three days ago, the other half of our group had had their tour delayed because of things heating up in the region. Everyone in that group — TV host Jim Shockey, Mossy Oak’s Ronnie “Cuz” Strickland, North American Hunting Club Executive Director Bill Miller, NWTF national spokeswoman Brenda Valentine, and Deal — was bitterly disappointed to suspend their visit.

We are the guests of the Department of Defense’s Armed Forces Entertainment, whose mission is to provide entertainment to troops around the world. We are told that this tour is the first of its kind in that we will be on the ground, meeting one-on-one with servicemen. We all feel a great sense of responsibility to carry the best wishes of our fellow countrymen to sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines serving overseas.

We met up at Dulles International Airport for a flight to Frankfort, Germany where we will tour Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Landstuhl Air Base. This hospital is the first stop for our severely wounded veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq.

You can learn a lot about folks around the poker table. I’m certain I’m a sitting duck to card sharks Ryan Klesko (a shifty dealer), retired USMC Maj. Gen. Randy West and Jerry Martin. Keep your friends close and your wallet even closer…

As a distraction from the delays of travel, and I suppose from the seriousness and gravity of the world we are about to enter, we have resorted to poker. You can learn a lot about folks around the poker table. It’s obvious to me that Klesko spent way too much time in MLB baseball clubhouses, buses and planes. The games he deals are only understood and won by the dealer. Gen. West and Martin spent a lot of hurry-up-and-wait times in their military careers. They are like patient, quiet sharks in the water. DO NOT let them hold your wallet. I am somewhere between a place holder and a victim, but I’m learning fast. Waddell and Zumbo are feigning inexperience, sitting on the sidelines like predators watching prey. I expect they’ll make a move in the next day or two.

Off to bed after a full 30-hour day. More after we return from Landstuhl.

— George