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Wounded combat veterans hunt for healing in Central Ohio

Wounded combat veterans bonded over hunting and nature as they shared stories of their experiences. (WSYX/WTTE)

Combat wounded veterans from across the country were hunting for healing in the deep woods of Morrow County on Thursday. A dozen vets and their volunteer guides fanned out to deer blinds on Handlebar Ranch before dawn.

Mike Gustafson is one of the leaders of the Buckhaven Learning Center, a non-profit that was founded to assist physically disabled veterans with major emphasis on reaching people who have never been exposed to the great outdoors. The program is free to the vets and is made possible by contributions from companies, organizations and individuals.

Steve Holden, from San Antonio, Texas was an Army medic for 20 years. Holden served five deployments in Macedonia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and two in Iraq.

Holden was critically injured when a rocket blasted into a barrier and the shrapnel hit him across the back of his body. Holden also suffered a traumatic brain injury. Holden, 44 said the trip will be therapeutic for him.

"Just to listen to Mother Nature come alive in the morning. That is my therapy. That is healing for me," Holden said.

Holden is a fifth generation soldier. His son just enlisted in the Army as the sixth generation.

Gustafson is a locksmith and avid hunter who said he likes to hear the stories as they sit in the blind.

"You will laugh and cry together and it just really pulled at my heartstrings," he said. "All the veterans come in as friends and they all leave as family."

The archery deer hunt is four-day, but the relationships formed last a life-time said Gustafson.

The veterans also talk about common problems and concerns. Veterans said they feel a bond and mutual respect for other vets who defend our freedom.

Holden said he has witnessed the healing already.

"I witnessed guys that don't know each other that have already started to open up and talk," Holden said.

Organizers hope to expand in the coming years and are encouraging groups in other states to start similar programs.

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