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Purple Heart Outdoors Quail Hunt set for Saturday

EDISON -- More than 40 U.S. soldiers from across the country, all of whom were wounded while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, will descend upon Southwest Georgia this weekend for the third annual Purple Heart Outdoors/Operation One Voice Quail Hunt.

The invitation-only hunt will feature some members of the New York City Fire Department who were part of the 9-11 rescue efforts in 2001.

"They're coming down to be part of this event," said Lt. Col. Dan Hammack of Edison, creator of the event. "It's almost like coming full circle."

As part of their visit, the group will speak at several Southwest Georgia schools on Friday, including Deerfield-Windsor School and Sherwood Christian Academy in Albany and Southwest Georgia Academy in Damascus.

Joining the soldiers and firefighters in this weekend's hunt will be Georgia State Sen. John Douglas, who will make a return trip to the event.

"I'm coming home," the Albany native said.

Douglas, who made his first trip to the hunt last year, said he is looking forward to spending time with soldiers who have been injured in the line of duty.

"I'm also looking forward to seeing the 9-11 firefighters," he said.

Although the senator spent most of his childhood fishing at Lake Blackshear instead of hunting, he held his own with the other participants at last year's hunt.

"I got my share of quail," Douglas joked.

He'll be joined by soldiers from such bases as Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Benning, Fort Stewart and Hunter Airfield.

This weekend's activities will give participants a full day of quail hunting across the region.

"They'll be hunting in Dougherty, Calhoun, Clay, Early, Marion and Randolph counties," Hammack said.

That's once the hunters first register in Edison, though. Then they'll head to McLendon Barn in Leary for a reception dinner.

"They'll find out what property they'll be hunting on and meet the land owner and their host," Hammack said.

From there, the hunters will be dispersed to several area hunting properties, including Pine Ridge Plantation, Dry Creek Plantation, Holly Plantation, Mac Farms, Hammack's own Southern Wilderness Plantation, Bell Plantation, Lizard Lope Lodge and Quail Country Plantation.

Once the hunting ceases Saturday afternoon, participants will head back into Edison for a banquet that will culminate the weekend's activities.

"At that banquet, we do a drawing for gifts," Hammack said.

That includes gifts provided by actor Michael Talbott, the banquet's master of ceremonies.

"Everybody's going to get a cookbook," said the actor who is best known for his role as Detective Stanley Switeck on "Miami Vice."

The cookbooks, titled "Heroes Favorites -- Iowa's Favorites," are compilations of soldiers from Talbott's native Iowa who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Plus, Talbott will give away copies of "First Blood," the film in which he starred with Sylvester Stallone.

While the actor will guide the banquet's sequence of events, participants will also see him throughout the weekend.

"I'm more of the social director," said Talbott, who has been part of the annual event since Hammack started developing it in 2007.

According to Hammack, this weekend's event is sponsored by Purple Heart Outdoors, an organization to provide outdoor opportunities for wounded soldiers, and Operation One Voice.

"Operation One Voice is an organization that helps orphans of slain service members," he said. "In both cases, it's for soldiers who served in the Iraqi and Afghanistan war."

It's a cause that hits close to home for Hammack.

"I've been in Iraq, myself," he said.

This weekend's hunt is one of several opportunities for soldiers to get away from it all, including an elk hunt in Colorado and a pheasant hunt in Iowa.

Both Hammack and Talbott agree that these hunts, which are conducted with help from the community are simply a way to express appreciation to American soldiers serving in the Middle East.

"My hat's off to them," Talbott said. "It's just a way to let them forget about their problems for a weekend."