BEYOND THE BENCH

Hero Hunt: Strength in Community

The Hero Hunt Impact

When retired United States Army veteran Pablo Cadena’s convoy was ambushed while serving in Afghanistan, he was severely wounded by an RPG, nearly losing his leg. The injury marked the end of Cadena’s career in the armed forces and left him in a dark place mentally, even after his physical recovery. Back at home, Cadena was despondent, as he was so used to the camaraderie within his unit, being a part of that special team and helping the other troops through traumatic situations while training or on the battlefield. He turned to the television to fill the space his service once filled in his life.

Cadena’s wife recognized his struggle to return to civilian life and sent an email that would set her husband back on a positive and productive path. She signed him up for a weekend hunting trip with Hero Hunt, a nonprofit organization that provides therapy and camaraderie to line-of-duty injured military, police, firefighters, and other first responders. Cadena was apprehensive at first, but with a little prodding and a lot of acceptance and support from Hero Hunt volunteers and other wounded veterans, Cadena’s first hunt was a therapeutic success. One hunt turned into three more, and a year-and-a-half after that initial breath of fresh air hunting in the woods, Cadena is now a Hero Hunt ambassador, organizing events and helping other veterans work through their trauma.

How Hero Hunt Began

Hero Hunt was founded by Joe Towers, a retired lieutenant with the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department with 32 years of combined service in law enforcement and the military. In addition to his lengthy career in local law enforcement, Towers served in the United States Coast Guard on active duty from 1989 to 1993 and in the reserves from 1993 to 2002. Growing up in a military and law enforcement family, Towers has long been accustomed to the kinship among servicemen and women of all walks. In fact, Towers’ wife also served in local law enforcement until she was forced to retire in 2011 due to an injury she sustained in the line of duty.

In 2012, Towers and his wife bought a 52-acre farm in Robertson County, Tennessee, just north of Nashville. Covered in oak, maple, and persimmon trees, the land was a favorite stomping ground for white-tailed deer and wild turkey, and Towers was overjoyed to have a quiet, private place to hunt with his young son. “The outdoors is my church,” says Towers. “I grew up in the woods right outside of Nashville and the outdoors is my passion. If I could have figured out a way to hunt and fish for a living, I would have.”

On Father’s Day that year, while surveying the property, Towers had an epiphany. Not only was his farm a perfect outdoor retreat for his family, but he could also provide that healing serenity and community to his extended family that needed help the most: injured and disabled servicemembers and first responders. That night, he sat down at the kitchen table with his wife to make a plan, and Hero Hunt was born.

Towers self-funded Hero Hunt for the first three years, hosting weekend hunting events at his farm—a true labor of love born from his desire to help others. He supplied all the food and gear. His house became the event kitchen, family and friends volunteered to help guide the hunts, and Towers used his pull in the local music industry to provide live entertainment for his guests. Best of all, he provided a total support system for these wounded service personnel; a safe place where they were loved, cared for, and respected.

Today’s Hero Hunt

Ten years later, Hero Hunt now hosts about 40 events a year across seven states. “The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is one of our biggest partners, and being vetted by a state agency brings validation to what we do,” says Towers. “Last year we did pig hunts in Texas, duck hunts in Arkansas, deer and dove hunts in Tennessee, offshore fishing in Florida, and a hunt in Alabama.”

According to Towers, Hero Hunt is about so much more than hunting. It’s about camaraderie, healing, and reaching as many disabled and wounded veterans and first responders as possible. “We’re not a one-and-done organization. If someone needs services, we’ll continue to bring them into events as participants. If they really enjoy what they do and understand the mission and want to help as well, we’ll train them up to be ambassadors, so they can be guides and run their own events.”

September kicked off hunting season and hosted one of Hero Hunt’s major events, a dove hunt in Tennessee with 17 service personnel. Even though Towers retired from the police department last year, he continues to coalesce the bonds between servicemen and women through Hero Hunt. “Helping people get back to the good in life is what I do for my therapy,” he says. “For me, there’s been car crashes, broken bones, stitches, all the things that come with service, but I just got lucky, no major injuries. Now, the goal is to reach as many people as possible, everything that comes in just goes back into the program to support the servicemen and women.”

To learn more about Hero Hunt, click here.

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