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My Turn: A weekend of helicopters, hogs, heroes and Gen. Bolduc

  • Retired Lt Col. Mike Moffett, USMC, (left), stands with (second from left to right) retired Gunnery Sgt. Tim Weiland, USMC, retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, U.S. Army, and Bryan McCormack of Laconia. Courtesy

  • In this Feb. 18, 2009, file photo, a hovering helicopter casts a shadow over feral pigs near Mertzon, Texas. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 2/27/2020 6:15:11 AM

As a sportswriter, I sometimes look to Sports Illustrated for column ideas. So I was struck by a major piece in the Jan. 30 issue of SI on hunting wild hogs – a.k.a. feral pigs – in Texas. So is hog hunting a legitimate sports topic?

Well, if it was good enough for Sports Illustrated, then it was good enough for me.

Hog hunting resonated because I’d actually been invited to participate in a real Texas Helicopter Hog Hunt on Feb. 22 – one such as described in the SI story.

The unlikely invite came about after Gen. Don Bolduc and I were guests on a local radio show, Cail and Company. A veterans organization called Helicopters for Heroes (H4H) subsequently invited us to attend its annual weekend retreat in Ennis, Texas. The focus there is on vets with Post Traumatic Stress and the weekend includes banquets, concerts, special guest speakers and cookouts, as well as shooting and hunting for those who desire such activities.

Gen. Bolduc was a perfect invitee for such an event, as the Laconia native made 10 combat deployments to Afghanistan and is a nationally known advocate for sufferers of PTS. He honestly addressed his own PTS challenges on a CBS-TV 60 Minutes segment.

H4H founder Philip Brooks spoke at the Feb. 21 banquet to attendees who’d come to Texas from all over the country in search of healing and camaraderie. Brooks told of past participants who’d been on the brink of suicide before reconnecting with fellow veterans at H4H to renew their spirits and replace hopelessness with hope.

But Gen. Bolduc stole the show. The Granite Stater eschewed the podium and microphone and walked amongst the many tables with his service dog, Victor, speaking to scores of vets about his own experiences, and explaining why the condition is best described as PTS – not PTSD.

The only flag officer to publicly acknowledge his own PTS, Bolduc described how his military career was probably cut short by his open advocacy for traumatized veterans.

“Acknowledging that you need help is a sign of strength, not of weakness,” Bolduc said to the big banquet hall crowd, which was absolutely quiet.

But when the general concluded his heartfelt remarks the attendees stood and gave him a standing ovation. Many of the vets had tears streaming down their faces.

The next morning found us at the Staubach Ranch to meet with locals and youngsters, observe static displays of historic military equipment, and do range and skeet shooting. The mixing and mingling created many opportunities to bond and share experiences – good and bad.

And then there was the helicopter hog hunt.

As the SI story pointed out, Texas is plagued by millions of wild hogs running amok. They decimate crops, devouring fields of corn, sugarcane, wheat, oats, melons, pumpkins and whatever else they find appetizing, typically leaving farmland too ravaged to harvest. The feds estimate the total annual damage done by wild pigs is $1.5 billion. A USDA researcher called them “the worst invasive species we’ll ever see.” Feral pigs disrupt entire ecosystems by competing with local wildlife for vegetation and by rooting out seedlings.

So there’s a perpetual open season on hogs in the Lone Star State. And as part of the H4H Weekend, they had seven helicopters flying veterans with rifles over the Texas tundra to take out the marauding pigs. Experience has shown that for many vets, getting back on a chopper – rifle in hand – to go on missions with trusted comrades is effective and cathartic therapy to deal with painful memories.

But it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

I’m not a hunter and I hate flying. Even slight turbulence causes panic, white knuckles, and the occasional involuntary and embarrassing “Whoa!” that unsettles everyone within earshot.

It probably goes back to some bad helo experiences in the Marine Corps, and memories of carrying bodies of fellow Marines down from a horrific mountaintop CH-53 crash in Korea.

Of course, the vets in Texas wanted to see the general fly out to take on the pigs. But I knew Bolduc himself had survived a terrible helo crash in Afghanistan and perhaps, like me, was averse to flying.

Bolduc is also a U.S. Senate candidate, and I pointed out that some might exploit the imagery and optics of the helo hunt against him while reinforcing negative stereotypes of veterans.

“I don’t care about any of that,” said Bolduc. “I am who I am. Let’s go!”

Inspired by the general’s authenticity, I accompanied him and two other shooters to a Vietnam era UH-1 (Huey) chopper.

“Live free or die, General!” yelled a vet with a Southern accent – New Hampshire’s state motto being well-known and respected throughout the military. We were handed AR-15 rifles and three full magazines. They tied us in – two on each side – and up we went.

As we ascended, I was surprisingly euphoric. Flying over the Texas landscape, I suddenly understood the appeal of the Wild West to adventurous spirits. And I marveled at how we were just handed weapons and ammo to fly and hunt, and I felt bad for the 99% of Americans who’d never experience such freedom in our age of over-regulation, over-protection and litigation that brave pioneers never had to contend with.

We returned a half-hour later, having done our part to reduce the number of rampaging razorbacks ravishing the landscape. At the evening banquet, it seemed like everyone was in a great mood as H4H accomplished its mission of bringing folks together to benefit from therapeutic bonding.

On Sunday afternoon I departed Dallas/Fort Worth airport on an American Airlines flight that soon encountered turbulence. It didn’t bother me a bit.

Thank you, Gen. Bolduc.

And I pondered how to write about a H4H weekend that included camaraderie, bonding, healing, politics, flying and hunting. Could I make a sports column out of hog hunting?


If it was good enough for Sports Illustrated, then it was good enough for me.

(Loudon’s Michael Moffett is a retired Marine Corps infantry officer, professor and former state representative.)

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