Troy Coleman was once an infantry front line gunner in Iraq. Now his sights are set on a different target.
As president of Hero Hunts, an organization based in Maurice whose mission is to reintroduce disabled veterans to the outdoor life, he provides equipment such as wheelchairs and specially equipped boats.
He doesn’t talk much about his own year in Iraq, only to say his outfit once lost seven men in one day. “It’s rough,” he said.
Now a production operator in the oilfield, he prefers to look ahead.
“I like to keep active. When I got out, I went to college while working full time. Me and my friends talked, and the idea came about overnight,” he said.
Depending on the veteran’s limitations, Hero Hunts can do both day and overnight trips for either groups or individuals, all of whom Coleman finds by word of mouth and through his website.
His organization took 60 trips in 2013 and have been busy this year.
“We’ll probably surpass that,” he said. “I had 10 out at one time last weekend, scattered between Intracoastal City, Illinois and Mississippi.”
Coleman was raised hunting, adding that it was his crutch following his parents’ divorce.
“I thought it would help veterans escape from PTSD,” he said. “It’s easier for a vet to get a vet to come hunting.”
The average hunt costs upwards of $1,000 per person and while veterans don’t have to be disabled, the disabled get priority. There is no charge to them, thanks to sponsorships from a number of groups.
All volunteers either work full time or are retired, and Coleman says he can muster between 15 to 20 active men and one 24-by-60-foot boat — the biggest Pro-Drive boat made with a hollow bottom for more buoyancy. It’s a mud boat unlikely to get stuck.
“We’re working on a crane,” he said, explaining that some veterans have to be lifted into place. “We’re doing pretty good — the boat’s paid for. Pro-Drive discounted the $40,000 boat to us for $27,000.”
Although women who want to hunt are few and far between, Coleman would provide them with their own hunt and guide.
“No reason to steer clear,” he said.
Like Coleman, the veterans themselves don’t talk much.
“Oh, man. They don’t have to. They talk about getting dogs and guns afterward. It’s in their voice,” he said.
Thirty-three year old quadriplegic Chris Sullivan is among them.
“It’s a great organization,” Sullivan said. “Gets veterans into the outdoors like they were before.”
“Since then, that’s all he wants to do, hunt,” Coleman said. “I sent him to Wisconsin on his first deer hunt and he got his first deer.”
Sullivan recently bought a crossbow. “I told him, don’t go tryin’ to cock that yourself,” Coleman laughed. “Wait for some assistance.”
Vietnam veteran Wayne Istre of Crowley has been on three hunts with Coleman.
“It’s meant a lot to me,” said Istre, who was shot in the back in 1968. “I run across Vietnam veterans on hunts and we’re able to communicate. The amount of money Coleman has to raise to do this and the time he devotes, it’s overwhelming to us.”
Costs to operate Hero Hunts include $2 million in insurance plus insurance on all equipment, fuel, websites, marketing and plaques. On the list of future purchases is a Bad Boy buggy.
“It’s hard for many to put their leg over a four-wheeler,” explained Coleman. “Four or five people can ride at one time, but they cost $10,000-$12,000. We have a shotgun and would like to upgrade, and we’d like to lease a blind.”
Hero Hunts serves veterans from the Acadiana area and Coleman hopes to see more people get involved. “We need more people to take and more people to take them.”