Helicopters, hogs, music, food and fellowship are on the horizon for veterans as Operation: Gunsmoke III approaches.
The event is spearheaded by the Freedom Care Warrior Project and will give retired veterans a chance to enjoy fellowship among Army brethren while ridding land of destructive hogs via helicopter hunts.
Basically, veterans and a family member will take a helicopter ride and eradicate wild hogs on the ranch land of Grahamites Daniel Holland, Jim Burkett, Garrett Pettus and Johnny Moreland. The helicopter rides aren’t cheap, but they’ve been discounted heavily for the veterans and amputees visiting the Warrior Ranch in Young County. Businesses and individuals are welcome to sponsor one of 10 remaining veterans. Sponsorship ranges are limited only to the imagination and could help at any price.
Those wanting to participate in the chopper hog hunt may do so with a $1,000 donation, which includes a ride with a veteran to shoot hogs, as well as all of the activities at the ranch. This year, the number of participating veterans has increased from 9 to 15.
“The reason for an event like this is to raise awareness about what we do and get community support just like any event through the donors and participants,” said Jon Van Winkle, president of FCWP.
The alcohol-free event doesn’t provide a lot of income for FCWP because it mainly focuses on the veterans themselves.
“It provides an experience and a fun atmosphere for the guys,” Van Winkle said.
None of this year’s participating veterans have been to the Warrior Ranch before.
“They’re coming from all over the state, and some of them are from Arkansas and surrounding states, too,” he said. “We give them a personal invitation to return to the ranch with their friends and family. That’s what this place is for, to give them place of refuge. If we make some money off of (the event), great, but it’s really for the people that support us in the community and for vets to come out, have a unique experience and see the support a community like Graham provides.”
In its third year, the event has made an impact on past veterans who participated in the event, In fact, five previous Gunsmoke veterans will return to volunteer their time to help run the event.
“(The volunteer veterans) shape and improve experience of these guys,” Van Winkle said. “It just builds our support system. I wasn’t in the service, and God put me in this position to do a helicopter hog hunt to have an experience for veterans that the community (can be involved in). So when these guys come here, we get a lot out of it.”
Operation: Gunsmoke III Events
For veterans, their families, sponsors, donors, participants
Friday, April 11
• 7 a.m. Opening ceremonies
• 7:15 a.m. Breakfast
• 9 a.m. Gun and copter safety classes, sporting clay shoots, practice range open• 11 a.m. Concealed hand gun license class, copter qualifications
• Noon - Lunch by the Humpert Hollar Boys Cooking Team
• 1 p.m. Copter qualifications, sporting clays resume
• 7 p.m. Dinner, HHBCT
• 8:30 Events close, all shooters/vets to briefing area, all others exit Warrior Ranch
• 8:45 Bonfire
Saturday, April 12
• 6:30 a.m. Breakfast, sack lunches passed out to shooters
• 6:45 a.m. Van departs Warrior Ranch to hog hunting with 6-8 shooters
• 7 a.m. Copter departs ranch with two shooters
• 8 a.m. Van departs ranch with remaining shooters
• 6:30 p.m. Dinner, CHL shoot, live music by Ross Shifflett
• 7:30 p.m. Awards given for sporting clays, recap of weekend, debrief hog kills
• 8 p.m. Closing ceremonies
• 8:15 p.m. All but veterans exit Warrior Ranch
• 8:15 p.m. Bonfire
There are 10 more participant spots open and 10 more veterans left to sponsor. To sponsor, donate or participate, visit
Read more in Sunday's Graham Leader.