CLOSEdriver who fatally struck broadway actress children now dead of apparent suicide police - Veterans Day: Pheasant hunt with ex-NFL star Joe Thomas helps 'warrior' vets heal

Weeks earlier than Veterans Day, Joe Thomas spent an afternoon with former army participants at a searching maintain created in particular for wounded veterans.
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OSWAYO, Pa. — On a windy afternoon in a far flung a part of northern Pennsylvania, Joe Thomas and Brett Rogers trudged via a patch of thorny timber and dense timber, in search of the greenback that Thomas had shot with a crossbow a couple of hours earlier than.

With a bunch of other folks clad in camouflage and neon orange proper at the back of them, the 2 males adopted strains of blood till they discovered the deer’s frame in some grass close to the creek. They pulled the animal into a close-by clearing and flipped it on its aspect. Thomas gave Rogers a fist bump.

“Hell of a morning,” he stated with a grin.

It is been 8 months since Thomas retired from the NFL after 11 seasons — and 10 Professional Bowl appearances — with the Cleveland Browns. And it is been about 5 years since Rogers used to be medically retired from the Military, returning house from Afghanistan with post-traumatic rigidity dysfunction and hectic mind accidents, amongst different harm.

They met on an another way nondescript Thursday a couple of weeks earlier than Veterans Day to seek deer and pheasants at LEEK Looking & Mountain Maintain, a volunteer-run retreat constructed in particular for wounded and handicapped veterans. Thomas joined a bunch of 8 veterans from a couple of army branches at the hunt. Rogers, 34, used to be his information.

For Thomas, this “Heroes Hunt” hosted through off-road car emblem Polaris Ranger used to be a possibility to merge two of his post-retirement passions: Looking, and serving to the army neighborhood.

“With the ability to get all the ones guys again in combination within the open air, dozing in bunks — it more or less offers them that sense of ‘staff’ that they’d once they have been in another country,” Thomas stated. “(It is) a possibility to kind of get out within the woods with every different and percentage a commonplace revel in, speak about the good things about being house, communicate concerning the difficulties of adapting to existence after the army and simply get a possibility to chill out and let move a bit of bit.”

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Thomas has long been passionate about the veterans community; he regularly set aside season tickets for active-duty military members so they could attend Browns games with their families, and he traveled to the Middle East in 2010 to meet with troops. He’s also long been an avid hunter, which is one of the things that drew him to LEEK.

LEEK founder Ed Fisher was quick to admit that the preserve, which sits on more than 100 acres near the Pennsylvania-New York border, is not “a high-fenced operation.” He said he and his wife self-funded the organization for the first few years, and it’s still run entirely by volunteers, many of whom are veterans.

“It’s a place where warriors, injured and wounded, can come to heal,” said Fisher, who himself is a 27-year Army veteran. “I always tell people that while these men and women are healing in the best hospitals in the world — and bar none, we have the best. … But you also have to heal spiritually.”

Buoyed largely by support within the local community, Fisher said LEEK has been hosting roughly six hunts per season for 11 years now — reaching approximately 250 wounded veterans along the way. And it’s made a lasting impact on participants like Rogers, who was so moved by his hunting experiences that he has since moved his family to the area so he can serve as one of LEEK’s guides.

“When you get back, you don’t really feel like people cared that much about what you did over there and all the sacrifices that you made,” Rogers said. “When you come here, you just feel really appreciated for it. The people here make you feel special.”

On this particular Thursday, Rogers’ role as a guide took him to a hunting blind with Thomas, who arrived at LEEK a little after 5 a.m. The two men share a familiarity with Ohio — Rogers was born in Columbus and said he has Browns season-ticket holders in his family — and Thomas said they quickly found themselves “talking like we’ve been friends for 20 years.”

Within the hour, Thomas had seen his first Pennsylvania buck and shot it in the torso from about 60 yards away. Then it was time for lunch, and an afternoon pheasant hunt. Thomas answered questions from some of the veterans about the Browns’ turnaround, what it was like to play on the offensive line and the state of modern quarterback play. It might not seem like much, but for Thomas, it was a small way to say thank you.

“To me, vets have given the ultimate sacrifice with service, giving everything they have up to, and including, their life to their country,” Thomas said. “I think people that have the ability to give back and thank them should, because they deserve it.”

To learn more about LEEK Hunting & Mountain Preserve, visit www.leekpreserve.org

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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