Wounded warriors seek out alligators

FloridaToday.com
R. Norman Moody

Gregory Amira, a former stockbroker, was injured after being buried in the collapsed rubble of the World Trade Center in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The retired Army captain was wounded again while fighting in Iraq in 2007. Now, he can't wait to go on another alligator hunt.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I'm even more looking forward to cooking it up later."

Amira, 42, who lives in Trinity, near Tampa, is one of five veterans wounded in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan who will participate in the Third Annual Wounded Warrior in Action Foundation's Gator Hunt today in Brevard County.

The Brevard Airboat Association, American Legion Post 81 and Camp Holly are working with the foundation to coordinate the hunting trip for the men, who arrived Friday in Melbourne. Legion Riders will escort the veterans this morning from their hotel in Palm Bay to Camp Holly in Melbourne.

"It's really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Duane Wallace, an associate of Wounded Warrior in Action. "There is an element of danger. You have to be careful because you could become the one hunted."

 Wallace said the men are veterans wounded in combat who chose the gator hunt instead of deer hunting or ocean fishing. They relish the opportunity in part because there are some risks capturing and killing a large alligator.

"It's just that element of danger they are comfortable with," Wallace said.

The men will be briefed on safety, harpoon throwing and crossbow shooting. Organizers have specially rigged crossbows for those in the group who are unable to throw a harpoon because of their injuries.

John McDaniel, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and founder of Wounded Warrior in Action, said the hunt is a way of giving back to the troops and to express gratitude to them in a meaningful way.

"We help heal the wounds that doctors can't fix," he said. "With alligators, they are hunting a dangerous animal here, and they are amped about it. They are in their element."

Wounded Warrior in Action, a non-profit based in Apollo Beach, provides combat-wounded Purple Heart recipients with outdoor sporting activities such as bass fishing, deer, hog and duck hunting.


In addition to Amira, other veterans are coming from Kentucky, Minnesota, South Carolina and Pennsylvania for the alligator hunt.

Amira, who was a vice president for Morgan Stanley at the World Trade Center, was trapped in the rubble of the collapsed building for five hours and suffered back, neck and head injuries. He was in the lobby of Tower One, trying to help with evacuations, when the second tower collapsed.

A captain on ready reserve, Amira was called back into the Army in April 2006 despite his injuries. He was sent to Iraq, where he spent 13 months. He was injured when he dove into a canal to help save fellow soldiers after a roadside attack that sent a vehicle in his convoy into the water. He suffered head injuries and the effects of chemicals in the water.

"Racing up to the scene, people were shooting at me," he said. "If I hunt animals, they don't shoot back at me."

Amira said he went gator hunting last year and couldn't wait to go again this year. As he and others were trying to pull in a live gator during his first hunt, he fell on the slippery ground and slid toward the water.

 "This is no way near as dangerous as somebody with an AK-47 shooting back at you," he said.

 

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