Injured vets get free ride on Rogue

ALMEDA, Ore. — Twenty-three-year-old Joe Yantz of Sedalia, Mo., climbed over a wall in Afghanistan in June 2010 while on an Army patrol, and the wall exploded.

The same thing happened in Afghanistan to fellow soldier Zach Schick, 22, of Sumner, Iowa, in May 2011.

Friday morning Yantz climbed out of a van on one leg and grabbed crutches, ready to hop in a driftboat for a four-day fishing trip down the Rogue River, sitting alongside Schick with guide Richard Hergenrether.

Shrapnel left scars on Schick's face, arms and neck. The blast damaged the carotid artery and nearly killed him.

They are two of 11 veterans from around the country who experienced the Rogue River with six fishing guides, courtesy of Freedom Alliance, a charitable organization that helps families of injured veterans.

"Some of them are going through hell right now, and others have been through hell," said trip leader Pepper Ailor of Freedom Alliance. "We're hoping this experience helps them overcome some issues they're facing."

The group was scheduled to stay at Black Bar, Marial and Lucas lodges, and then return to Grants Pass.

Besides Hergenrether and Bret Clark, other oarsmen were Terry O'Connors, Bill Inkrote, Jonny Handley and George Oachs, all of whom thanked the veterans for answering the call of duty.

"They would do it all over again if they could," said Inkrote, who took veterans on a trip with a similar group called Wounded Warriors a few years ago.

"They're amazing people. One of the guys was driving a Humvee, a land mine went off. He didn't realize his arm was blown off. He looked down and his hand was still gripping the wheel with his arm blown off. I take my hat off to them. I thank them every day."

Mike Dawson of Grants Pass and his father-in-law Jerry Schuld donate time and money to Freedom Alliance and set up the trip. Dawson has fished with Clark many times, and it seemed like a natural.

Marine Jeremiah Harrold of Wilksborough, N.C., found out just 24 hours earlier he'd be going on the excursion, when another veteran had to cancel. He took a drag off a cigarette as he described his nine roadside bomb blasts and two gunshot wounds in multiple tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"You're on edge constantly. Your head's on a swivel. We have mine sweepers clearing a 2-foot-wide path. If you stepped off that path, it was a 90-percent chance you'd step on an IED."

Trip participant Dan Kremmer of Buffalo, N.Y., is a survivor of the 1983 blast in Beirut that killed 241 American servicemen in a barracks. Freedom Alliance put two of his children through college.

Shawn Horsley, 33, of Holly Ridge, N.C., got hit by an IED and mortar fire in Iraq. The last one severed nerves in his brain, making it difficult to walk and talk. With years of therapy he is improving, and now walks without a cane.

"My mental state is a lot better," he said. "I'm stoked to get on the river."

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