Military service left Doc with deep emotional wounds. A simple act of kindness has him on the road to recovery.
“Initially, he was very quiet, shy and withdrawn, and I could tell that he was struggling to interact with others,” says Bill Eckert, who invited Doc on a fishing trip with other veterans three years ago. “By the end of the fishing trip, he was talkative, laughing and engaging with the other veterans.”
The story doesn’t end there, however.
“I ran into him recently, and he told me that before our fishing trip he was contemplating suicide and was very depressed,” he says. “He told me things changed for him during that fishing trip because he began to realize that people cared about him and that he had value as a human being. He said that the fishing trip saved his life. To know we have had an impact as extraordinary as that makes this all worth it.”
Eckert is helping other veterans experience similar adventures as cofounder and vice president of the board of directors of KAMO Adventures, Inc. (KAMO, a play on the word “camouflage,” stands for Kansas and Missouri.) The nonprofit organization is run entirely by volunteers. Eckert and a friend, Steven Johnson, started the organization in 2012 after taking four wounded and disabled veterans on a turkey hunt.
“We personally paid to fly the veterans in from Austin, Texas on a Thursday, and they returned home that Sunday,” he says. “That was a life-changing weekend for myself and my friends. The veterans felt comfortable and safe sharing their stories about their lives, their military service, their combat experience, their wounds and injuries, and their difficult and long road to recovery--physically, mentally and spiritually. We immediately decided to continue the next year with additional hunting and fishing weekends.”
KAMO sponsors three trips each year--a spring turkey hunt; a September fishing trip to Stockton Lake; and a November deer hunting trip. Ten homeless and disabled veterans from St. Michael's Veteran Center will participate in this fall’s fishing trip. These trips are open to current military members or honorably discharged veterans on a first-come, first-served basis. Although applicants across the nation are welcome, Missouri and Kansas residents are given priority.
KAMO is not currently seeking new volunteers, but it welcomes contributions to next spring’s fundraiser and the scholarships it has set up at the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri. Because volunteers provide everything from hunting guides to meals to transportation, all donations go directly to support veterans.
As Eckert learned on that first adventure, the opportunity to serve is as rewarding for supporters as it is for veterans such as Doc.
“As civilians, we also experienced an amazing weekend and were honored to witness a small glimpse into the lives of these American heroes,” he says. “We wanted to continue to provide this opportunity for others in the future, as much for ourselves as for these current and former soldiers.”
For more information, please contact KAMO at info@KAMOAdventures.com or (913) 491-6886.