All of them were heroes.
Eight Purple Heart recipients turned out at the depot Friday to participate in the facility’s first wounded warrior hunting trip event. The veterans, three of whom worked at the depot, were honored and recognized for their service during a special ceremony Friday. The hunting trip will take place during the weekend on a secluded section of the depot’s acreage.
Col. Brent Bolander, the depot commander, said the sole purpose of the event was to honor and give thanks to veterans, particularly those wounded in battle. Purple Hearts are awarded to military personnel wounded during service.
“Sacrifice, courage, there are no words that can identify what you all are about,” Bolander said while speaking to the veterans at the event. “I’ve seen many, many soldiers come and go and you represent what we’re about.”
Bolander noted there were also quite a few large deer roaming around the depot, one of which a vehicle recently struck.
“Part of the reason you’re here is so they don’t do that anymore,” Bolander said with a laugh.
Michael Knight, a maintenance worker at the depot, first came up with the idea for the hunt.
“I just thought it was something we needed to do,” said Knight, who has not served in the military. “It’s a way of giving back with the resources we have.”
Wearing a camouflage jacket Friday, Johnathan Purser, 35, of Jacksonville looked eager to get outside and find a large buck. A quality assurance specialist at the depot since 2006, Purser was severely injured when his helicopter fell from 9,000 feet and crashed in Afghanistan in 2003 during Operation Enduring Freedom. Out of 12 passengers, only five survived. Another soldier made it possible for Purser to be where he is today.
“He cut me out of my harness and saved my life,” Purser said.
After more than 20 surgeries, Purser retired from the U.S. Army and eventually found his way to the depot through the Army’s Always a Soldier Program, set up in 2004 to place wounded soldiers in Army civilian jobs.
Micah McGuffey, 28, of Alexandria has worked for more than three years at the depot as a tools and parts attendant. Before that however, McGuffey served between 2003 and 2007 in the Army military police. He was injured during his second tour of Afghanistan about a mile away from base.
“We passed a vehicle and it detonated and our truck went up in flames,” McGuffey said.
McGuffey suffered a concussion and second- and third-degree burns.
McGuffey said he thought the depot’s hunting trip was a great idea, even though he is not an avid hunter.
“It’s just awesome to come out and participate in something like this and mingle with other veterans,” McGuffey said.
Unlike McGuffey, Derek Fowler, 34, of Cropwell is a hunting enthusiast and actually tagged a large deer last year in Louisiana during another wounded warrior hunting trip.
Fowler has worked at the depot’s small-arms facility since 2007, the same year he retired from the U.S. Marine Corps. Fowler was injured when an improvised explosive device struck his vehicle right outside Fallujah in Iraq. After recovering from his wounds, he could have ended his military career and gone home. But instead he decided to stay and serve.
“I had all my buddies and I didn’t want to leave them there,” Fowler said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.