While I was on the phone with Terry Johnson and he was inviting me to attend last year’s Show of Support hunt, I thought someone was pulling my leg. Finally, he convinced me it wasn’t one of my friends. I was on cloud nine. All I could do was think about getting a chance at a great Texas whitetail and hunting some of the best ranches in Texas!
Terry informed me the event would take place in Midland. Being a native Texan, when I think of Midland, some things that come to mind are oil fields, barren land, and Permian High School football- not deer hunting. What else for Heaven’s sake could be out there?
Upon our arrival, the Mayor Pro Tem of Midland, and “Duck Tape” from the Patriot Guard Riders greeted us. Duck Tape announced, “Staff Sergeant Mark Ballard and his wife Rhonda, United States Army.” As we came down the escalator to a sea of American flags, it felt as if every person in West Texas was there clapping for us! We were greeted by people of all ages and veterans that paved the way for all of today’s war fighters.
From that moment on, I realized that it wasn’t about “Friday Night Lights” and MOJO football in West Texas, it was about the people yearning to pour their hearts out to perfect strangers who had defended their freedom. We didn’t have a dry eye the rest of our stay. The Sheriff’s Department and the Patriot Guard Riders escorted us for our entire five-day trip of a lifetime. Texas Trophy Hunter’s Association sponsored me for the event. How cool was this? By day two, the icing on the cake was piling up to the clouds.
To be recognized in front of thousands of people, veterans, retired generals, Gold Star and Blue Star Families, Boy and Girl Scouts of America, Air Force Jr. ROTC, keynote speaker, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Oliver North, and the awesome people of West Texas that sponsored and attended this event, was truly amazing. The hunt had quickly shifted to the back burner. It was a surreal and humbling feeling. All you hear about on the news these days is how our country is falling apart and we have lost our way. I will tell you that if you believe that, you need to visit the people of the Permian Basin. They will fill your heart with God, honor, and country.
One of the coolest things about this experience wasn’t just about the war fighters, but people recognizing the wives who have the toughest job in the military, being married to a Service member. They are tasked with many responsibilities and emotions when their Service member is deployed and it was very special and well deserving that they received their day in spotlight.
By the time we set out for our hunt on Friday, we had been involved in various banquets, luncheons, and parades. I was still pinching myself. I met so many great people who provided, and some who still provide, the blanket of freedom we live under. We will never forget all the hard work by the West Texas people who hosted this remarkable event with meals, facilities, and donations to champion the Show of Support program. They’re ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
It was time to leave our wives and Midland for our hunt. We attended a Heroes Parade hosted by the wonderful people of San Angelo, the surrounding communities and several schools that recognized me and 24 of some of the most brave men I have ever had the pleasure in meeting. It left me completely in awe! By the time we arrived at deer camp, I think most of us were still numb by the things that had been said and done for us. Fortunately, I did take a buck, but the actual hunt itself was the final layer of icing on the cake.
I’m a Life Member of the University of Texas Exes Association and found myself surrounded by Aggies! I will tell you that I was in uncharted water. I bleed burnt orange and thought, “OK, now reality is starting to set back in, no more tears and emotions flowing out of my body.” Let’s face it; I was surrounded by the evil empire. Not only had I been driven around by an Aggie, I was going to hunt on the Pfeuffer Ranch and they were Aggies too! The friends that were made from this experience will last a lifetime, except every year on Thanksgiving Day when Texas plays Texas A&M. To the Aggie that woke from his sleep at four o’clock in the morning to “The Eyes of Texas,” just remember they’re watching you.
We were called heroes for five days everywhere we went. Terry Johnson, you and the folks from Show of Support are our heroes. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you West Texas, Texas Trophy Hunters Association, all the sponsors and supporters, AND the folks wearing maroon from that other Texas school. Thank you for all you do for veterans and our families. God bless America.