'We Talked about the Good Times'
Dyhouse, Tim, VFW Magazine
A Vietnam vet and three Iraq War veterans enjoyed the pleasures of an all-expenses paid trip to hunt antelope on the wide-open plains of southeastern Montana last October.
Each year for more than a quarter century, VFW has helped sponsor this special trip for severely wounded vets. For the last several years, the outing has included younger veterans from the ongoing wars. It is VFW's modest "thank you" for their extreme physical sacrifices they endured while serving the nation.
'We All Lost Legs'
Tony Bullene remembers the explosion four years ago in Ramadi, Iraq, that took both his legs and killed a Marine. But he says he can only recall "little bits" of the events that followed.
Bullene, a Me member of VFW Post 750 in Watertown, S.D., was riding in a convoy on Dec. 7, 2005, through war-ravaged Ramadi when a seven-ton truck behind his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED). Members of his unit - Lima Co., 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines - immediately called for help and dismounted to render aid. As they tended to the wounded, a second IED exploded.
"It blew up on the other side of the disabled vehicle," Bullene said. "That truck took most of the blast and probably saved my Ufe. But some of the shrapnel went flying under the truck and hit five of us. We all lost legs."
What Bullene, a former Navy corpsman, accomplished immediately after the blast as he lay sprawled beside the road while critically wounded is a testament to his selflessness and extraordinary sense of duty.
"Somebody told me later that I was handing out medical supplies and morphine," he said. "But I don't remember that."
In Montana, Bullene heard similar stories.
"We shared how we got hurt," said the 23-year-old. "And we talked about the good times we had. Herb [Tipton, Vietnam vet] also gave me some advice on how to adapt my shower and bathroom to make them wheelchair-accessible."
Bullene, who recently earned an associate's degree in financial services from Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, reports that he shot an antelope on the hunt's first morning.
"I liked how our guide got us in position," he said. "We didn't shoot out of a truck. I got out and low-crawled on my elbows and stomach. I liked that we didn't sit in a blind all day."
Bullene says he has no regrets about his service in Iraq.
"I wanted to be with the Marines because they get to do the fun stuff," he said.
Trapped in the Turret
Mike Owens, a journalism student from San Antonio, also served with the Marines in Iraq. On his second tour with Marine Service Support Group 13 (he also served in Basra in 2003) Owens was near al Asad, Iraq, toward the end of a three-day convoy out of Kuwait.
Owens, manning a .50-caliber machine gun in the turret of a seven-ton truck, says his vehicle was speeding along at some 60 mph.
"We were going fast because it was the most dangerous part of the trip," the 26-year-old said. "Our driver had to swerve to avoid an old IED hole in the road."
Trapped in the turret above the truck's cab, Owens was helpless as the vehicle tipped over. His injuries were severe (his right arm was eventually amputated above the elbow) but could have been worse. The truck's "A" driver, riding "shotgun" in the cab, was killed in the wreck.
Owens' recovery Odyssey eventually took him to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. He says hospital stories were a common topic among the hunters in Montana.
"In the military, you have a bond with those you serve with," he said. "In Montana, we all immediately bonded because of the common experiences. Pretty soon, we were razzing each other and shared stories about VA."
Owens said the "awesome" hunting trip was his first to Montana.
"Russ and Carol Greenwood (hosts of the trip and owners of Doonan Gulch Outfitters) are great people," he said. "I'd like to thank them and VFW for this opportunity. …