ANNISTON, Ala. — While Danny Jackson will be glad to tag a buck at the Anniston Army Depot this weekend, what he really came for was the camaraderie.
Jackson of New Orleans was one of 15 Purple Heart recipients who turned out at the depot Friday for the kickoff to the facility's second Wounded Warrior hunting trip. Two of the recipients were good friends he had not seen in years.
"When I go hunting, it feels like I have a cleansing of my soul and to get to be around other veterans is better because they can correlate with what you've done and been through," said Jackson, who was wounded while serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq. "It's even sweeter today because I've got my friends here and can catch up ... this event is very, very special to me and I couldn't thank everybody enough for this."
The veterans were all honored and recognized for their service Friday at the depot during a special ceremony. They'll each spend the weekend with trained guides, hunting on secluded depot property for deer. The hunt was created at the depot last year as a way to thank veterans for their service, particularly those wounded in battle.
"I appreciate all of you," said Col. Brent Bolander, commander of the depot. "When I stand in front of you all, I get a little on edge, humbled, when I think about what you have done and the sacrifices you have made."
Keith Colbert, director of the depot's department of community and family activities, which organized the hunt, said he was pleased with the turnout. The hunt was expanded to serving 15 veterans from just eight the previous year.
"It's phenomenal," Colbert said. "And four or five are from outside the state ... that shows this is reaching out and people are finding out that Anniston is a bit of a remarkable place to hunt."
Colbert said the hunt organizers learned from last year and better prepared the hunting site to encourage more deer to show themselves. In addition, organizers placed cameras around the property to make sure large deer were in the area.
"There are some monsters ... we've got some big deer out there," Colbert said.
Zack Golfos sat at a table during the Friday ceremony while his solid black service dog, Major, lay behind him near his feet. For nearly two years, Major has been Golfos' constant companion, alerting him when he needs to take his medication. Golfos, who served in the Marine Corps, was injured by an improvised explosive device in 2007 in Iraq.
Golfos said he had participated in hunts that catered to veterans before, but nothing like what the depot had organized.
"It's nice and a lot more than I was expecting ... the amount of people, the size of it ... and there's a banquet," Golfos said. "I was just expecting to shack up in a hotel and go."
Lt. Col. Robert Rouse, commander of the defense logistics agency distribution center at the depot, said he was serving as a guide for the first time. Rouse said he only got to help organize the event last year.
"These guys sacrificed in more ways than one and this is my way of giving back," Rouse said.