Camp Ross, a veteran Marine Corps sergeant, went deer hunting Wednesday and didn't get a deer, but he counts himself a lucky man.
Ross was one of three Pee Dee war veterans who were guests of the Florence County Sheriff Office on a hunting trip in River Neck Acres on Wednesday morning.
Throughout deer season, sheriff’s office personnel take wounded veterans hunting for a day. Local soldiers, as well as terminally ill children, take part in individual hunts and two larger hunting events.
The most recent major hunting event was held in October at Pinewood Hunting Club in Pamplico where approximately 20 children participated. The second major event is the annual SCI Wheelchair and Wounded Warrior Hunt, which takes place at Charleston. Pee Dee area youth are invited to the event each year and are paired up with soldiers with disabilities. The money raised from these events benefit Camp Pee Dee Pride, a summer camp for children held at Francis Marion University.
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Besides the two large hunting contests, the sheriff’s office hosts small individual hunts such as the one Wednesday morning, where three disabled veterans had the opportunity to hunt on 2,000 acres of private land.
Sheriff Kenney Boone said being able to provide a short getaway for the veterans helps boost morale and take their mind off the past.
“A lot of these guys don’t have the opportunity to do something like this,” Boone said. “It just makes a difference. Having the opportunity to do something that’s fun and get away from what they’ve done as soldiers and get out and enjoy the great outdoors.”
The veterans who took part in the Wednesday hunt were Marine Corps Sgt. Camp Ross, Air Force Staff Sgt. John Zigler and Army veteran John Wright. The three men didn’t have any luck hunting in the deer stand early Wednesday morning, but when Ross talked about his brush with death during a tour in Iraq, he said he is pretty fortunate regardless.
In 2004, Ross was a crew chief on an amphibious assault vehicle when a rocket struck the vehicle and exploded two feet behind him. The explosion blew the left side of his skull off and shattered his left scapula. Ross was knocked unconscious but woke up to see his fellow servicemen rushing to save his life.
“They had somebody holding my brains back into my skull,” Ross said. “I was knocking at death’s door.”
Ross survived the initial blast and endured a lengthy recovery. In order to reduce brain swelling, he was put into a medically induced coma for nearly four weeks. He remained hospitalized for three months and received outpatient therapy for a year. Ross said he had to relearn everyday functions such as walking, talking and using the bathroom, but now his disability is hardly noticeable. Other than the scars on his head, Ross said, the only lasting injury is his extreme difficulty reading and writing.
Overall, Ross said, he knows how fortunate he is to be alive, let alone be able to spend a day hunting deer.
“It’s amazing,” Ross said. “For Sheriff Boone to have the passion and the heart for disabled veterans and the kids that do this, it’s just really awesome.”