Army veteran still finds way to serve country

GM (Greater Milwaukee) Today
DAN DURBIN

When Lt. Col. John McDaniel decided to retire from the army after 23 years, the decorated combat veteran, airborne ranger, master parachutist and special operations man knew that he still wanted to serve his country - just not in quite the same way, even though guns would still likely be involved.

"You know that we are now at about 35,000 soldiers who have been injured in a war that is five years old," McDaniel said. "That's a lot of people who have made great sacrifices for all of us. I wanted to do something for them."

A long-time hunter and angler who will now split time between his Philips home, and his fishing camp down in the Florida Keys, wanted to get these vets out on the water or in a treestand to help speed up the "healing" process.

"Through all my years in the military I have met just (a) ton of people," he said. "And a huge portion of them enjoy hunting and fishing. I wanted to establish an organization that provides our wounded warriors with outdoor sporting opportunities they would otherwise never have. It's our nation's way of giving something back. It will show our collective gratitude for their service."

That's when The Wounded Warriors in Action (WWIA) was born; well, at least conceived.

"What I didn't really know was how to run a nonprofit group or how to ask people for help," he said. "For one thing, I don't like asking people for help. Also, I've never gone after sponsors or donations."

McDaniel also knew that he had to file for a 501C3 nonprofit status if he was to get the funding and recognition he thought he would need to get the good idea to a real entity.

"It took about a year with counsel from an attorney to finally get the paperwork settled," he said. "We're still waiting on the official 501C3 status but that's just because it takes a few months to get. We're almost there."

McDaniel's main idea was to get people to offer to take these wounded soldiers out in the great outdoors at first just at "Camp Hackett," his 400-acre property in Philips, and his fishing camp down in the Keys.

"I talked to a lot of people about the idea and every one of them loved it," he said. "Experiencing the great outdoors provides more than simply physical healing powers. It also helps people heal emotionally as well. People loved the idea."

He didn't realize how people would really respond though until a small mention of the group was mentioned in Field and Stream magazine.

"At that time we didn't even have our web site up and running so I just gave the reporter my cell number for people to contact," he said. "The phone calls were nuts. People were offering the use of the boats and equipment for free. I had another family offer up the use of their 1,400-acre farm in Mississippi because their grandfather had been a WWII wounded vet and the farm was already set up for wheelchair access hunting. It really motivated me even more."

He got the help of his wife Kellie, fellow Lt. Col. Rich Wheeler, and old school buddy, Tim Macht.

"Rich is my right hand man or sorts," he said. "I never say "I" am the organization because it's not about me taking credit for it. It's about helping out these people."

The goal is to have four, fully functional, self-sustaining regional outdoor sporting centers serving Wounded Warriors. Select Wounded Warriors themselves, providing employment opportunities for those who expressed desire and capability, will run the regional centers.

"My goal is to have this thing to that level by 2015," he said. "It's going to take some time. I'm really have never ran a nonprofit organization before but I believe this is what I'm supposed to be doing. I could have kept going in the military for more time but I really I think I can serve my country better by serving those who were wounded protecting it."

So what does he need from us?

"Honestly, I'm not sure yet," he said. "Money, sure, that would be nice. People to take the guys out fishing and hunting, yup, I need that, too. Corporate sponsors would be great. I'm up for almost anything."

There are a ton of worthy groups out there that are asking for money or time from volunteers. But how many of them allow you to shake the hand of a hero?

Count me in.

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