I am a member of the Air National Guard and I have served 18 years (two years to go till retirement). I am a boom operator on the KC-135R refueling jet. My main mission is to refuel aircraft in flight so that we can extend their abilities to accomplish the mission. With the extended war on terror, I have been called to duty a lot. Approximately three years ago while I was deployed to PACAF, my son began having troubles in school. Normally, my son is the nicest child, he gets straight A's and is very considerate of other people. His good manners never left, but he was having troubles focusing in school and his mind would wander. It was at that time that my wife, Susan, learned he was having trouble focusing because he missed me, and was worried. He, like many other people, have seen the harm war has caused our soldiers by watching the news and going to veteran functions. With some counseling through the school, my son worked through his troubles and again attained superb grades. My deployments continued.
This past fall, I had to go to Qatar for an extended period. This country is in the Middle East. My wife (bless her heart) was left again at home by herself, shuttling William to his wrestling practices, keeping our 3 year old, Austin, entertained, and a house in order. She really is the rock of our family and I don't know what I would do without her. While I was gone this time, we tried having things in place for William. Things he could reach out to if he was having trouble while I was gone. We also tried keeping him as busy as we could with Brewer games, fun with other families, etc, so the time would go by quicker. This also meant more stress and time on my wife, but it seemed to work. My missions were long, and the ability to talk was poor, but it seemed to go better.
This January-February I was again called to active duty. This time I was sent to multiple locations around the world for about a week at a time. While I was gone this time, William hit a new low. Susan was giving Austin a bath. She was extremely busy and told William he could not watch a particular movie he wanted to watch. After she finished the bath, she came downstairs and found William at our pantry. He had a bag packed with clothes, and he was filling his backpack with items from our pantry. She asked him what he was doing, and he said he was running away to live in the woods. He told her that we (Susan and I) don't love him anymore. He said daddy is always leaving me, and mom is always spending time with Austin. She literally had to tackle him as he tried going out the door. That was very hard to hear. My boys are my life. I would move mountains for them. To hear my son say he didn't think I loved him because I am always leaving him hit hard. It still hurts today as I write this. I knew we had the hunt coming up in a couple of months and I knew I needed it now more than ever.
Fast forward to the trip to Okeechobee. William and I boarded a plane at 5:00 AM in Milwaukee, WI. That meant getting out of bed at 2:00 AM. We flew down to Orlando and picked up our rental car. William fell asleep and we drove to the camp.
We were greeted right away by Carla and Danny and shown our rooms. The place was amazing. Tons of land, great rooms to sleep in. Everything was perfect. That night, William and I went out to a double tree stand. I sat on the left side of the stand, and he sat on the right. This was William's first time ever hunting. I have taken him to the range to practice shooting, but this was a new experience. He was in awe at mother nature. We were taking in the views and admiring God's work. About two hours into the hunt, three hogs came out 100 yards to the left of our stand. I wanted William to have a chance at it, but this would not work for him. I picked the largest of the hogs and shot. We now had one hog down. It was now William's turn. About another hour into the evening, the forest came alive. We watched one large hog, and William was watching it closely, waiting for the opportunity for a clean shot. As we were doing this, about 30 hogs came running in from behind us. Some as close as 10 feet from our stand. We stayed as still as possible, but something gave away are presence and the hogs ran away. This was a good learning experience for William as he never attempted to take a bad shot and injure an animal.
The next morning at breakfast Danny asked William if he wanted to go horseback riding. Again William's eye's lit up as he said sure! We spent the afternoon horseback riding a forest and seeing turkey, turtles, goats and many other animals. When we returned, we got ready for the evening hunt.
We returned to the same stand as the previous evening. A couple of hours in, four hogs came into a small opening about 100 yards straight in front of us. The largest one was behind some brush. I told William to pick the largest one that he has a clear shot at. He lowered his head on the scope, took his time to get in position, and fired one time. The hogs took off running. I asked him if he had a good shot and he looked worried. He exclaimed, "I put the cross-hairs right on the shoulder dad, that was just nerves right?" The night before, my hog didn't run, so I could see the doubt in his eyes. I explained that sometimes there is a twig in the way that we can't see with the scope, or something else happens. We couldn't see where they ran because it was only a small opening. We continued sitting in the stand, and I could see he was still thinking about this. Then, we saw more hogs. Big hogs. William looked at me and asked if we should shoot one. I explained that he already shot a hog. He said just in case I missed though dad. It was another perfect opportunity to have a teaching moment with him. I explained to him that we need to wait, and there will always be another opportunity to come back into the woods. But we don't just shoot as many as we want, we shoot what we need. He understood, and we spent the next few hours enjoying the night. Watching many more hogs, possums, and squirrels.
Then the guides came and picked us up. We explained to them where William had shot at the hog and they brought us in for dinner. We got cleaned up, and as we entered the dining room Danny answered his phone. He looked at William and asked him "you want the good news or the bad news first?" William said the good news. Danny told him "they found your hog, but the bad news is, you have to eat all your dinner before you can see it." William was all smiles as was I. Danny was helping dish out dinner and asked William if he wanted some. "What is it" asked William. Danny told him it was possum and William said sure. Danny looked at me with a smile when he told William it was possum. In reality it was a delicious pork meal. William ate every last bite and told Danny that possum was delicious. He still tells everyone at home that he had possum and it was awesome.
William went outside after dinner and was able to see his hog. The guides, Brian and Casey, tracked the hog and were now cleaning it. Brian even made William his first knife using a deer antler. He was very excited about this as well. For all the doubt in the stand, William had the perfect shot. He did very well.
The traveling, horseback riding, and hunting were amazing. But the best part was the time I spent with my son. It was some quality time that meant the world to me and him, even though he probably doesn't realize this yet.
So again Mr. Fred Dasner, Mr. Ray and Mrs Karen Masciarella, Mr. and Mrs. Barry Hull, Mr. Scott Stoughton, Mrs. Jamie Levin, Mr. Karel Volot, Mr. Nick Rauber, Mrs. Marin O'Leary, Mr. Alex Johns, and Danny and Carla SantAngelo, I can not say thank you enough. I truly can not. You have made something possible that wouldn't have without your help.
Danny and Carla truly have an amazing place and with your help, he puts on a first class hunt for veterans and their family. Here are some photos for you to view from our hunt, my family and one of me doing my job for the Air Force. It is an F-22 refueling over the Persian Gulf by Iraq.
I hope you realized the difference you are making in so many lives. Thank you and God bless.
SMSgt Will Mattert
208 Woodland Preserve
Watertown, WI 53094
Good Morning Everyone -
First of all, I know that you all are very busy people. This email is a little longer with background information, and our story. If you are too busy to read all of it, just know this. I can not say thank you enough to what you have done for me, my son, and my family. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are amazing people, and truly made a world of difference in our lives. I have attached some photos I thought you might like. Now for our story.
Approximately one year ago I applied to participate in a hunt with Okeechobee Outfitters through the Hunt for Vets program. I was selected and instantly excitement began building in thoughts of spending some quality time with my son in the woods. My son, William, is 10 years old, and has been having some troubles lately because of my commitment to our great country.
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Amy and I would like to express our sincere gratitude for your sponsorship of the Sportsman’s Foundation for Military Families. We were fortunate to visit the Lorida property with our four children this past August.
Danny and Carla were exceptional hosts, whose vision for helping veterans connect with their families is unmatched. They understand that the military life involves not only the service member but also encompasses a network of friends and, most importantly, their family. My wife and children, like many military families, frequently handle the stress and burden that the military life entails by enduring long stretches of time when I am away from home, including both training and combat deployments. I think General Odierno, the retired Army Chief of Staff, said it best during his retirement speech about his wife:
“She sacrificed her entire life for me. I can never repay her for that. It's often hard for me to stand up here and make other people understand how much our spouses sacrifice. You don't understand. You don't understand everything that they do every day in order to make us a better Army. I don't believe there's any other profession (where) we count on our spouses to do so many things.”
Our time in Lorida gave our family the opportunity to focus on each other while enjoying a professional hunting lodge experience. It was truly remarkable to see my son Zac’s smiling face and authentic enjoyment when we shot our boar together, my youngest daughter Isabelle’s intriguing expressions as we dressed the hog with our guide Brian, and the confident smile my daughter Abigail had when riding her first horse. Danny and Carla also blessed Amy with a facial and full body massage, an opportunity for her to take some much needed time to herself to relax and recharge.
Thank you for your contributions to the Sportsman’s Foundation. They understand that military life is more than one individual, but part of a network with the most fundamental element being our families.
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