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Wounded soldiers come to hunt in Edison this weekend

EDISON -- More than 40 wounded soldiers and firefighters will gather in Edison this weekend for a holiday of quail shooting and fellowship, said retired Lt. Col. Dan Hammack III, founder of the Purple Heart Outdoor Tour.

"We have Army Rangers coming from Fort Benning, Marines from Camp LeJuene, in California, Special Forces from Herbert Field in Florida and more," Hammack said. "We also have some New York City firefighters who were there on 9/11," Hammack said.

The festivities will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the McClendon barn in Leary where the men will come together for a reception dinner, followed by a "linking" of each hunter with their guides, Hammack said. At 9 a.m. Saturday, they'll meet for breakfast at United Methodist Church in Edison and begin their planned hunt on several area plantations, including Hammack's own Southern Wilderness Plantation in Edison.

Hammack said he got the idea for the Outdoor Tour when he was working with Quail Unlimited and it occurred to him the quail hunt could be combined with a way to serve his country. Today, the hunt is under the "umbrella" of Operation One Voice, a Georgia advocacy group for wounded and fallen military personnel.

"This is the largest outdoor hunting event in the country for our wounded military," Hammack said, "and it's growing every year. It's not just quail we hunt, but pheasant in Iowa and blacktail deer in California. We've hunted elk, too."

Hammack said although the organization would accept veterans, nearly all the hunters are currently active duty military.

"Not all of the hunters are amputees, but they have all received a profound injury of some sort. Some have recovered. They're injured, but not disabled."

According to Hammack, he has nothing to do with selection of who can come for the event.

"Their units make those choices," Hammack said. "I can tell you though, they tend to choose people who would benefit from being here and who may have gone beyond the call of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. They need to "fit in" with the group, of course, and they need to be comfortable with the outdoor life. Not everybody is."

Hammack said that hunters come from all parts of the country to attend, with Southerners the least represented area.

"It's a local event but not primarily with local people in attendance," Hammack said. "Of course we get plenty of support from local people to make it possible."