Ronnie Gullion, a retired Sgt. 1st Class, came to the Willing Sportsman Event in hopes of seeing his fellow Wounded Warriors take a bird on the Lewis and Cunningham farms.
However, little did he know, he would be walking away with a bird himself.
“I wasn’t even wanting to hunt,” Gullion said. “It’s about those guys. I’m a wounded warrior, but I’m the one that organizes everything and puts it together. I’m the last one to go out, and to get rewarded like that for trying to be unselfish, it was pretty cool.”
Although Gullion is a wounded warrior himself, he works as the Area Outreach Coordinator for the Wounded Warrior Project.
He said Billy Ball and Terry Lewis, president and vice president of the Pine Mountain Longbeards, call him each year to let him know how many hunters can attend the event.
Gullion contact the Wounded Warriors and lets them know about the opportunity from the National Wild Turkey Federation.
“It’s life-changing for every one of us,” he said. “To be around the community that cares about what happened to us and appreciates that we defended the country, we don’t think we’re heroes, but they’re treating us like it.”
Gullion was greeted with handshakes and words of congratulation as he entered back into the Lewis Farm.
In the back of the side-by-side, rode a turkey, which Gullion had just killed.
However, the bird wasn’t your everyday turkey. It had three beards.
“It was a surprise, really,” Gullion said. “I just picked the bigger of the two birds, and it was prettier. When I got over there and it had three beards, I was like, ‘Wow!’ It was just fitting, and it was great.”
As most of the hunters said, however, it wasn’t all about the kill.
The fellowship is something these hunters look forward to, as well.
“The Wounded Warrior logo is, ‘A service member carrying another service member because they can’t carry themselves,’” Gullion explained. “We introduce each other, and you make friends and bond. Next week, two guys may get together and go hunting with each other. We’re kind of embodying our logo of helping each other carry ourselves.”
Gullion also said this bond does more than just build relationships.
He explained it also helps the healing process of each of the wounded hunters.
“Instead of relying on an agency or psychiatrist, they’ve got a new friend that they can peer mentor each other through it,” he said. “It’s just the comradery. We come in and show some love to each other and get some love from some other folks, and really, just to have a good time and not worry. It’s relaxing, and it takes us away from our everyday troubles and woes.”
Ball said he got to experience the healing first hand.
“I had a Wounded Warrior today that’s lost three family members in the last two weeks,” Ball said. “He got a bird today, and he was just talking about what a good time he had. It took his mind away from that and the other things he has to deal with in his health issues. It’s priceless.”
According to Gullion, every hunter that goes on the Pine Mountain Longbeards’ hunt wants to come back the next year.
Although this year, half of the number was returning hunters and half were first timers, Gullion expects the newcomers to be back next year.
With the hospitality and friendship they receive, Gullion says it’s not just your everyday hunt.
“Some of them, we don’t know when they get here, but when they leave, they’re like a family to us,” Ball said. “Most of them, we’ll be friends with for life.”
“It’s a family atmosphere, really,” he said. “They treat us like a family, with honor and respect, and they just love us. I think the feeling is mutual…I think about half of the guys had been here before, and half of the guys hadn’t. They’re all happy to be here, and I bet you the half that wasn’t here before this year will be the guys that are saying they only want to do one hunt. It’s this one. They make you feel at home and special.”