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

Handing over the reigns…just for a couple weeks

Because you keep up with me, it’s only fair I keep you in the loop.

For the next week or so, I’ve invited NWTF CEO George Thornton to guest blog on Keepin’ Up With Karen. (Invited is kind of a funny way to put it. He’s my boss, so he can do whatever…know what I’m sayin’?)

Anyway, George is on a monumental tour overseas with some of the hunting industry’s most dynamic leaders on the Outdoor Legends Tour. I’m not going to give away too much information, because the full scoop is on its way. George is sending us reports and photos when he can, and I’m posting them here. (And if I’m understanding things correctly, Michael Waddell may be sending posts every so often as well.)

Keep up with George by clicking on the “George’s Outdoor Legends Tour” tab to the right. Check back as often as you can to see what he’s up to. Or you can subscribe to have the most up-to-date posts sent to your inbox.

And for those faithful Karen followers, don’t worry your sweet little heads. I’ll still post myself every so often, ’cause there’s no need for you to go through withdrawals.