Combat survivor credits Hunt With Heroes for better lifeOct 1, 2017 By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer
When you're a confident young man, it takes time to realize that you are not 10-feet tall and bulletproof.When you're a young Marine, that realization is even more difficult.
It took Douglas Bassford longer than most to make the transition.
Bassford and his family recently moved to the Bass Lake area after a life-changing experience hunting antelope with Hunt for Heroes in Fremont County two years ago.
Bassford entered the U.S. Marine Corps in 1989 and graduated from basic training at Camp Pendleton, California, a few miles from his home in San Diego.
"The rumor is that the Corp gives you the opposite of what you want but I did want I wanted and asked for the West Coast," Bassford said.
After graduating from Marine Combat Training, he went to artillery school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, before assignment to the 0811 Field Artillery on an M198 155mm howitzer.
"I was a gunner. I adjusted deflection and azimuth," Bassford said. "Coordinates come down from fire direction control. You just put it in and adjust the tubes. If you transpose one number, and you're shooting your own people."
Bassford earned three stars for combat duty in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
"They flew us in from Okinawa after a six-month deployment there," Bassford said "They moved actives to Kuwait and sent reservists to Okinawa."
Bassford's initial assignment was to draw fire but not return it.
"We were fired at but never able to fire back because they didn't want us to give up our position," he said.
Bassford's four-man team was sent on as an advanced party to set up a new positions.
"That's when we were blown up," Bassford said.
An enemy artillery round hit directly on their new position.
"I was the only one out of the four who walked out. I got blown up but was still able to continue," Bassford said. "I was knocked out from the concussion."
He suffered a traumatic brain injury in the explosion. Still, after he regained consciousness he remained with his unit.
"The other three went to the ship, then Germany then to Palo Alto. I still talk to just one guy, Mike O'Neil. He lost his face, fingers, part of his arm and legs," Bassford said. "He got blown up real bad. We text each other once a year on the Marine Corps birthday."
Bassford returned to the states in 1991 and suffered from migraine headaches and short term memory loss. For a long time, he ignored it.
"I was too young and proud. I'm not going in for this," he said. "As I got older, I started having mini strokes. MRIs revealed the damage. PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome) caught up with me.
"I got out of the corps on a Friday, then went to work on Monday. I worked 16 hours a day as a laborer, then operating engineer, and finally a superintendent. I spent every hour doing that. I wouldn't' go to functions with my family. I avoided people.
"Some people bury themselves in different things, and mine was work."
In October 2012, after suffering with his injury for a decade, he started going to the Veterans Administration's PTSD program in Palo Alto, Calif. It was a live-in program for six months.
"The PTSD program helped," Bassford said. "It gives you tools on how to deal with anxiety or issues with stuff.I did make Jack Daniels my first friend for years."
Bassford's wife, Deborah, met with volunteer chaplain Glenn Chrisman near the end of the program.
"We had lunch, and he told me about Hunt with Heroes," Bassford said. "I wasn't ready for Hunt with Heroes. I didn't know if I could shoot a rifle. My first day of combat, I had 73 confirmed kills, just from my gun.Walking into the aftermath and seeing the damage was tough.
"Glenn and I did a lot of things. He had me go to Safari Club banquets and in 2015 he invited me to the first Hunt with Heroes. Brooke Bekken was my guide."
Chrisman continues to bring people for the hunt every year.
"It was a little nerve-wracking at first, when I shot the antelope. I walked up to it and didn't know how the smell of blood affected me. That was the first thing I shot at that wasn't shooting back at me," Bassford said. "I got there and smelled the blood, started to clean it, and it was a relief.
It was like a brick was taken off my chest. It opened a whole new world to me. Before that doctors asked me what I wanted to do with my life, what I wanted to do. I didn't want to do anything. It opened up a whole new world.
"I've hunted ducks in California, and I won the sheep tag in 2016. It gave me a great pressure release. I'd tasted blood and felt it from the enemy. This hunt changed my avenue of thought. It's turned from a negative to a positive for me."
His wife saw the positive change immediately.
"This has been such a miracle. It really changed Doug's life and changed our family and everything," Deborah said. "I don't know what it was that was a good thing for him.I was a little bit worried because he has different triggers. I didn't know if the smell of blood would trigger, but it made him so relieved. It's made him a little more outgoing."
The 2015 hunt was so profound an event that Bassford decided to move his entire family to Wyoming.
"I've never met people in my life like I've met in Wyoming. Everyone is polite, everyone is nice. They look at you, shake your hand, wave when you go down the road," Bassford said.
"I'm medically retired with TBI and PTSD. I get migraines quite often, and I have a tough time keeping a job.I've always wanted to raise cattle and ride horses. By working a little with Rich Pingetzer (a local farmer and rancher) and other people I'm learning things."
Pingetzer's son. J.J., is considering a career in the military. Bassford had a man-to-man talk with him.
"If he goes into the military, make sure it's a job he can use when he gets out. It's a good place for a young man or woman to go into. You don't have to worry about anything except your job. My son, Patrick, is leaving for boot camp in the next month or two," Bassford said.
Deborah's story is typical of the situation many families face when a husband, father or son returns from combat with PTSD or other battlefield injuries.
"They knew he had PTSD when he came back.He didn't want to be labeled with anything. The more I learned about it, he had 15 of 16 symptoms," Deborah said.
"The PTSD program did wonders, it educated both of us. We'd go out to dinner, and when the food would come he'd say 'box it up, we have to go.' He was hyper-vigilant. I didn't understand. When he came back he'd say they were 'coming here, they're going to hit us on our own land.'"
National events in September 2001 had a proudly bad affect on Bassford.
"When 9/11 happened it was a master trigger for him. He went to the store to buy a ton of ammo. He was really concerned he was going to have to defend his family. For me it just wasn't real. He spiraled down after that. His PTSD was the worst. All three of our kids had secondary PTSD. My 18-year old son saw a pop can in the road one day, and he yelled 'stop, don't hit the can, it can cause an explosion.'
"All three of them are that way," Deborah continued. "It affects the entire family. Hundreds of women and we're all telling the same story. The government is finally treating the entire family. My heart goes out to these moms and wives right now. We're going to have a flood with all of these guys coming back. I'm in a private online support group for military wives, young women 23,24,25. Their husbands are coming back, and they are not the same people they were when they left. It was by the grace of God that it worked out the way it worked for us."
The couple spoke highly of the residents of Fremont County.
"Shoshoni, Riverton and Dubois, I've never met people like this. They've been so warm and supportive. This has been the perfect place for healing for us.I wish there was some way to repay it or pay it forward," Deborah said.
"When you have a brain injury and it causes short-term memory loss with debilitating migraines, it's a little intimidating. It was a recent dream of his, originally it was a hunting/vacation home. It changed to our forever home."
This year's Hunt with Heroes continues with a bit of a twist.
The antelope and deer hunters will remain mostly men, but four women are arriving to hunt elk with volunteer guides this year.
"We got to the point in our hunts where we are trying to get a few more ladies to hunt. There are a lot of lady veterans," said Dan Currah, a Hunt with Heroes coordinator from Casper. "We thought this year it might be a good fit for us to hunt with Shawn (Steffen) and that group out of Lysite."
One female veteran from Florida and three from Wyoming are scheduled to hunt this fall.
In addition to the hunt veterans will be presented with Quilts of Valor at the Shoshoni - Wind River volleyball game Oct. 6.
"Shoshoni really steps up. That's amazing for a little town,"Currah said.