In 2007, as more and more wounded combat veterans returned to the United States from Afghanistan and Iraq, supporting their pressing needs became a concern for many across the country. Honored American Veterans Afield (HAVA), a Longmeadow, Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization, was established by shooting and outdoor companies to assist returning disabled veterans with healing and re-integration into American life. Through participation in select outdoor sporting activities and shooting sports, HAVA honors American heroes and raises awareness of the needs required by disabled veterans. The ultimate goal is to boost the veterans’ confidence by helping them reconnect with their passion for outdoor activities and hunting, and, in turn, invigorate their hope for a bright future.
Current sustaining sponsors of HAVA are: Smith & Wesson, Hornady, Leupold & Stevens, Surefire, Yamaha, Crimson Trace, FMG Publications, Mossberg and the National Rifle Association. Many other companies also represent the growing list of merchandise sponsors and are a mix of ammunition, sights, firearms and more.
HAVA hosted its third annual National Family Day on Nov. 13, 2010, at the National Shooting Complex in San Antonio, Texas. More than 120 disabled veterans and active duty military personnel and their family members participated in the sponsored shooting event. Also, more than 100 volunteers from the outdoor industry, VFW posts and surrounding active military units contributed their time to the event. I was one of the lucky few civilians among the 225 attendees who got to meet soldiers and Marines and shoot firearms and learn more about these special people and their families.
Family Day started off with a shotgun shooting exhibition put on by 2008 Olympic double trap gold medalist Sgt. Glenn Eller and multi-national and world champion Staff Sgt. Josh Richmond, both members of the Army Marksmanship Unit. Participants were then entertained by the playful antics and speed-shooting precision of competitive shooting champions Jerry Miculek and Max Michel. They also pulled a few attendees out of the crowd for an interactive shooting competition.
Once the professional shooters were finished, we were allowed to explore the stages of fire, which included shotgun, rifle and pistol ranges, and a cowboy-action shooting course. Whether it was firing a shotgun, dropping the auto-resetting steel targets at 100 yards with a rifle or unloading a .357 Magnum, a good time was had by all. HAVA even set up a tactical shooting course with air soft guns for the younger family members. The day wrapped up with a dinner and raffle.
“As we see more and more wounded warriors in the field and on the line, and the smiles it brings to their faces, it is worth all the effort to host these events for HAVA on behalf of the outdoor industry,” said HAVA Chairman Tom Taylor.
I met several wounded veterans at the event, but one individual in particular was memorable.
Army Staff Sgt. Matt Murphy, 27, of Rochester, Wash., was wounded in his back and ribs, and lost his right leg and parts of his left leg, in 2009 when an improvised explosive device blew up the Stryker personnel carrier he and his unit were traveling in near Khandahar, Afghanistan. Murphy was thrown 70 feet through the air in the explosion that took two of his men’s lives and wounded five others.
Murphy, who also helped in the Hurricane Katrina relief and recovery efforts, had served 15 months in Iraq and then a few more in Afghanistan before he was injured. It took him roughly 14 months of rehab and nine surgeries to get him where he is today. In November 2010 he returned to his unit, but he still expected to undergo a couple more surgeries on his left knee and right shoulder. Family Day, he said, was good for his mind, body and spirit.
“I loved the events. I am a big firearms guy and shoot a lot, so being able to go out and shoot a lot of different firearms and have professional shooters there to watch and help you improve was awesome,” he said. “I thought the army marksmanship guys did a pretty cool show.
HAVA also accepts individual contributions, which are tax-deductible, to support its initiative. Make a contribution to HAVA by mail, send to: HAVA, P.O. Box 60727, Longmeadow, MA 01116.