Laurel couple helps wounded vets enjoy hunting trips

Operation Second Chance is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to serving those who serve their country — helping wounded veterans transition back to civilian life through a variety of means, whether it's field trips to concerts, ball parks or golf courses. But a local OSC program is focused on a more outdoorsman-like approach.

No Person Left Behind is a program of Operation Second Chance that brings together men and women with an appreciation of the outdoors — all things hunting and fishing — with wounded veterans, and it's a group with strong local ties.

"[The veterans] are very dear to my heart," said Susan Peacock, a Laurel resident who volunteers as the bookkeeper for No Person Left Behind. "It's just such an honor to be with them.

"These are the people who are the reason we have our freedom. That's enough said.

"These are the men and women who are out there, doing it for us. We live this wonderful life in our country because of them."

No Person Left Behind is holding Supporting Our Wounded Veterans fundraising dinner at C.J. Ferrari's on Route 1 in Laurel Wednesday, Nov. 13, from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Ten percent of all sales during that time will go to Operation Second Chance, which means more funds for armed services veterans, and more hunting and fishing trips with No Person Left Behind.

Peacock and Richard Kluckhuhn, president of Laurel Fuel Oil, have been working with No Person Left Behind and Operation Second Chance since 2010, when friends invited the Laurel couple to participate in a No Person Left Behind hunt on the Kittleman family farm in Woodbine.

In 2006, representatives at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center reached out to those friends — Cody Kittleman (state Sen. Allan Kittleman's brother) and Mark Hoke — asking if they would take wounded veterans out to hunt and fish. The pair was putting together two or three outings a year. Now, Peacock said, it's closer to 40-50 a year.

"It's time away from the hospital; and they're able to get out and enjoy the great outdoors, and re-connect — with themselves, with other people, with society," Peacock said. "They're able to be with other soldiers who have shared some of the same experiences. That helps. They're enjoying something they may have done before they were injured, and it helps not just physically, but emotionally."

Some of the wounded veterans who participate in No Person Left Behind events are single- or double-amputees, and being outdoors can provide just as much, if not more, physical therapy as a controlled environment in a medical center. The men and women are traversing grassy hills, gravel and sand; and learning how to manage their prosthetics in the real, outdoor world.

"Most of these guys used to hunt, and maybe after their injury, they think of it as something they used to do, rather than something they can do," Peacock said. "They think, well, I guess I won't do that again. But you can, when we get you out there."

Besides, Peacock said, if the veterans do have trouble navigating, say, the rough terrain during a hunt on the Kittleman farm, Kluckhuhn has the solution: Use his industrial human lift as a deer stand and an RTV to transport people around the grounds. Worse comes to worse, Peacock laughed, "We'll carry you around."

Friendships are formed on these trips, Peacock said. Some veterans stay local after their stays at Walter Reed — which sometimes can last years. And while some events are big to-dos, with dozens of veterans and volunteers on hand, sometimes it's the quieter moments that are just as special, like a small vacation to Peacock and Kluckhuhn's lake house in Virginia.

Hunting and fishing trips may not seem like anything special, but they're so important to the volunteers and the veterans, Peacock said.

"I feel like it's a way to honor them, to appreciate them," she said. "It's a way to show them we love them."

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