LA CYGNE, Kan. -- Chris Allen was just looking for television show ideas when the idea behind Hunting for Heroes snuck up on him.
Allen and a friend were putting together a fall schedule of outdoor shows surrounding faith and hunting. Allen, a Special Agent with the ATF, wanted to do a couple of hero hunts involving law enforcement officers.
During the course of reaching out to those within the law enforcement community, he started learning some disturbing things.
“When I started calling some guys I knew, I found they had been involved in a rolling gun battle and one was paralyzed,’’ Allen recalls. “I began thinking there had to be an organization that could help me find some of these injured officers. But I quickly learned there was nothing out there.”
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People all over the country are familiar with the Wounded Warrior Project that helps veterans overcome their injuries from impacts of war on foreign soil. They are incredible organizations, Allen said. But there wasn’t anything out there centering on the officers who fight a different kind of war in our cities.
When he dug deeper he quickly realized the need for such an organization.
“Nationally, 25 percent of law enforcement officers are assaulted every year,’’ Allen said, “of those about 30 percent are injured in some capacity, many of them in ways they can’t recover. Friends in law enforcement told me that when it comes to disabled cops, they are quickly forgotten, a loophole that needed to be filled.”
Allen immediately stopped working on the new show and started Hunting for Heroes. Recently, a group of about a half dozen injured law enforcement officers were the guests of honor at the World Turkey Hunting Championships in La Cygne, Kan.
They were there to not only hunt, but to regain something many of them had lost since suffering their particular injury.
“I interviewed probably two dozen disabled cops,’’ Allen said. “I asked, ‘What do you guys want? What do you need?’ They said, ‘We don't want therapy, break-out sessions and all that kind of stuff. We just want to feel like a cop again.’
“That's really the words they used. ‘We just miss that brotherhood.’ I said, I'm going to try to make this happen, and we put together a turkey hunt in 2011 -- it was our first hunt.”
That first hunt was with Matt Crosby, who had been paralyzed in the rolling gun battle mentioned. The anniversary of that battle was April 8. While Allen didn’t know it at the time, Crosby was intending to commit suicide on the shooting’s anniversary. But he decided to wait and see how “this hunt” would go.
“He told his family. ‘I was going to kill myself last night but I'm going wait, go to this hunt, see if it turns me around,’” Allen said. “And it did. It saved his life. His kids came down on the hunt. His mom was there. Now he comes out, he volunteers for us, he donates several thousand dollars a year to us, and he's active. Now he hunts, we just got him past all that.
“It changed the whole way we do business. This year we're actually going with three hunts and a marriage retreat. We've been credited with saving over a dozen lives by pulling guys out from that dark road of suicide to completely turning around.
“They feel like they're part of the family again. It's funny, we use the hunting part to get them on the airplane to come see us. We probably hunt, what six hours over a four-day retreat. We bring whole families out. All expenses paid.
“Every one of these guys are brothers of mine and that's how we portray it. And they come in and we give them that brotherhood back.”
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The organization is growing much faster than Allen ever expected. He has a waiting list of over 60 officers that grows every day, even while losing members who succumb to their injuries or by the silent impact of suicide.
Allen is on a mission, considering these sobering statistics: 410 law enforcement suicides documented from 2008 to 2010. On average, every year there are about 140 law enforcement officers who commit suicide, and another 100 are killed in the line of duty.
Of the suicide deaths, 83 percent can be associated with personal problems. And the reason for the emphasis on families for Hunting for Heroes, law enforcement divorce rates are as high as 75 percent.
“Law enforcement officers fight a battle every day in some way,” Allen said. “They are trained to overcome in those battles. But it takes another step once the battle is over.
“One of the catchphrases I like to use is we teach them to stop being disabled, and start living with their disability. They accept it mentally. They embrace it and they overcome. It is just another challenge, another issue that they have to overcome.
“When I put this program together, I knew we were going to show them a world class hunting experience. I never thought we were going to change lives, let alone save lives.”
For more information to Hunting for Heroes, log on to http://huntingforheroes.org/.
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