Hunter Education for Warriors

One of the most heart-warming stories I've encountered this season revolves around the intersection of two of our favorite populations: volunteer warriors and prospective hunters.

In the stifling heat of the Kuwaiti desert, an impromptu Hunter Education class convenes under the guidance of a Wyoming game warden.

The story comes from an unlikely source, Wyoming Game and Fish's weekly news digest. I can't top this dispatch from my buddy Jeff Obrecht in the department's Cheyenne headquarters:

CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait - When nearly 30 Wyoming Army National Guardsmen tell their grandkids about their 2009-2010 tour in Kuwait and Iraq, among the trials of a war in far-away land, the chats may also include studying a subject near and dear to home: Wyoming hunter education.

For the battalion commander - Lt. Col./Wyoming game warden Brian Nesvik - the stories may include teaching the class.

With their precious off-duty time, these soldiers dedicated four evenings in October to Wyoming hunter education. The idea of "off-site learning" started with some battalion members approaching their commander - who is the south Pinedale game warden in civilian life - about teaching the class.

"My initial reaction when asked to teach the class was somewhat reserved," Nesvik said. "As I thought about it in more detail and discussed it with Game and Fish coworkers, I decided that it was legally and logistically doable. As I started planning the class and ascertaining the interest from soldiers in the unit, I became more and more excited about taking it on."

The student-guardsmen represented both officers and enlisted men and women and Wyoming and Utah residents. A few of the students had passed hunter education in other states as children before moving to Wyoming. Two others had earlier hunter education instructor experience in Wyoming and finished their training helping their commander teach the class. They'll return home in mid-April as full professors.

2nd Lt. Tony Gerrell of Sheridan said although the class - required by anyone born after 1965 to hunt with a firearm in Wyoming - induced some homesickness, it was great for the participants. "They looked forward to it every week, just because it gets them out of the normal military mode and back into stuff they were doing back at home: messing around in the woods and in the mountains and stuff like that," he said.

Lt. Col. Nesvik also appreciated the diversion. "The best part of the class was being able to interact with my soldiers on other than military topics," he said. "While only a few hours at a time, it was a good break and gave me and my soldiers something to think about and participate in an activity that related directly to one of the main reasons we like Wyoming so much - wildlife."

"I think lastly, it symbolized and represented the concept of the citizen soldier. Most of the soldiers in this unit have other jobs and don't do an Army job full time. This was an opportunity for me, while only briefly, to do my civilian job while deployed."

Although hunting is not a cornerstone of Kuwaiti culture, Nesvik reports there's an active contingent of native falconers hunting healthy populations of mourning doves and some shotgunning takes place, too.

But dove hunting is not part of the 2nd Battalion 300th Field Artillery mission. The majority of the members conduct security for convoys carrying supplies to American forward operating bases in Southern Iraq. Nesvik says the second mission is providing security for American troop movements and Department of Defense personnel in Kuwait.

"I also have a spattering of other smaller scale missions that include providing Quick Reaction Forces to respond to, and provide security for, U.S. troop assistance requests," Nesvik said. "They are the '911' for U.S. forces in northern Kuwait and southern Iraq."

While on the homestretch of his second deployment in this war zone, Nesvik reflects on the support his battalion has received from the state of Wyoming and its Game and Fish Department. "The department has been a role model employer, not just supporting me personally, but also by shipping the training materials for the class and issues of Wyoming Wildlife magazine and Wyoming Wildlife News for the whole battalion," said the Cheyenne native and 14-year Game and Fish veteran.