Visiting Wounded Warriors aim for camaraderie in local dove hunt

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Members of the Wounded Warrior Foundation joined in Imperial Valley’s local dove hunt Friday during the season’s opening day.

BRAWLEY — While many Imperial Valley residents were fast asleep, a special group of dove hunters geared up Friday on a humid, dark September 1 morning in Brawley. Imperial Valley played host to military service members from around San Diego, Imperial, and Riverside counties, but this was not a military maneuver: they were members of the Wounded Warrior Foundation who participated in the Valley’s dove hunt. The group was hosted by Congressman Duncan L. Hunter, the Brandt Family, the Flynn Family and various other Valley contributors.

As a convoy of SUVs and pickup trucks paraded north out of Brawley into the dark morning, members of the hunt were eager to shoot their way to bragging rights for the day; after all, military camaraderie is based on competition and one-upmanship among other things. Returning attendees marveled at the beautiful morning without monsoon conditions on opening day.

Young men from across this country with service-related injuries enjoyed a few hours away from the confines of medical centers and hospitals as they got to spend time out in the open. For some, this trip allowed them to rid themselves of cabin fever and temporally set aside their new challenges. For a few more, this was their first time hunting, and for others, it was a traditional pastime. The average age for this group of Wounded Warriors was 19 to 26.

Imperial Valley is well-known for its generous hospitality to military service members, and in this case, the Wounded Warrior Foundation. Valley residents are also known for taking a proactive approach to hosting, meeting the needs, and supporting events for Wounded Warriors.

Jeff Simonodes, a state hunting safety instructor, has helped certify Wounded Warriors and has been bringing them out for hunting for about 15 years. He said he’s seen firsthand how events like this help service members cope, connect, and begin to look towards normalcy in their lives.

“There’s nothing like getting out, getting away from everyone,” Simonodes said. “A lot of these guys have PTSD and traumatic brain injuries and just get claustrophobic after a while. You know the people in the Valley are so open-hearted and have such big hearts for the Wounded Warriors.”

One of the biggest active supporters of these events is former military service member and current 50th District Republican Congressman Duncan L. Hunter. When asked what he wanted Wounded Warriors to walk away with after their foray into dove hunting, Hunter said, “They have a lot of friends. They are not victims. They have gone through the crucible and came out stronger. And that they have people out there for them.”

“It’s great for these guys to be out here and be with their friends. This is a new experience for a whole lot of them because they are not from here,” Hunter continued. “They got put in Balboa or Camp Pendleton.”

As this Desert Review reporter walked around asking some of the Wounded Warriors (whose names are protected) what they thought about the event, the response was overwhelmingly good.

“I enjoy it, it’s awesome to get around likeminded individuals. I absolutely love it,” one participant said.

Another young Ohio native said, “It’s my first time hunting in California. I’m from Ohio. I don’t think ‘accommodating’ is a kind enough word for it. Everyone has been super helpful. It’s humbling, is the best way to put it.”

At the end of the morning, many doves had been shot and many more shots had been fired, but everyone left knowing someone new after exchanging their stories. They had the opportunity to meet someone going through something in their life just like themselves — something life changing, and sometimes traumatizing. They had found someone and something to help them make new connections and along the way, the Imperial Valley provided the supporting back drop.