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2015 Group Photo at Boot'n & Shoot'n

May 26, 2015

It turns out it’s not hard to get 450 people to take a day off work, brave ominous thunderstorms, spend a few hours shooting sporting clays or piling plates high with fried chicken, break out their wallets (generously) for silent and live auctions and clean the whole place up at the end of the day. When it comes to giving back to military heroes, the guest list fills up quick no matter what’s on the agenda, though it’s hard to complain about a day at the historic Dallas Gun Club. The 4th Annual Boot’N & Shoot’N was once again a huge success, both financially and in furthering the mission that brought those people together in the first place. But it was also a chance for seven veterans to enjoy a little R&R surrounded by grateful Americans.

Among the list of words we use to describe veterans – hero, brave, soldier, wounded – we sometimes forget “resilient.” They’re adaptable, open to change…they have to be. Over the course of their active duty careers, servicemen and women collect experiences most of us never will, and when they return home to their families and friends, they’re faced with settling back into a life that no longer fits quite the same. Service has changed them in ways both seen and unseen, and it takes some adjustment to be comfortable with their “new normal.” Faces of our Freedom experiences let veterans step back, relax and take a break from the work of re-entering civilian life. They also get a heaping helping of love and gratitude for all they’ve given our country.

When the fine folks at Benchmark Mortgage dreamed up the first Boot’N & Shoot’N back in 2012, their goal was to establish support  in the Dallas area, but the event has quickly grown into a world-class experience for veterans each year. There was no shortage of memorable moments this year, of course, like Zac Brown dropping by to hang out with the group, or Navy veteran Ron White writing – from memory – the names of every service member killed in the war in Afghanistan across a 50-foot wall. Even cooler than that? It was the veterans who were the real celebrities that day; corporate brass, well-known musicians and industry leaders were the ones giving the attention, asking questions, listening to stories and stopping for pictures. They understood more clearly what life is like for veterans and why our mission is so important, and they got to know men who are oftentimes represented in the news by facts and figures. They said “thank you” and they meant it.

Brent Taylor, a Hero Ambassador and a former Marine, attended Boot’N & Shoot’N for the first time this year. While he had high praise for the cheesecake provided by the incomparable Babe’s Chicken Dinner House, he also mentioned, “It’s really gratifying getting to be around real patriots and people who just genuinely love the American dream. People who just have a commitment to one another. Everyone wanted to know who I am and not just what I have been through, and I wanted to know them.”

With all due respect to the fundraising objectives of the event, Boot’N & Shoot’N is, simply, a really good time. There’s clay shooting. There’s fried chicken (thank you, Babe’s Chicken Dinner House!). There’s live music (thanks, Cody Canada and The Departed!). There’s a raffle, live auction and an abundant selection of adult beverages (thank you, Shiner Beer and Mike’s Hard Lemonade!). The stage presentations are beyond inspiring; this year’s benefitting partner organizations, Carrick Brain Center and Zac Brown’s Camp Southern Ground, are part of collaborative efforts to help even more veterans and their families. The volunteers are grateful to serve those who serve for all of us, and they have fun doing it. It’s smiles all around no matter what, with the biggest smiles coming from the veteran guests.

Jake Schick is another first-time Boot’N & Shoot’N participant, and wasted no time recognizing the importance of the Boot Campaign’s gratitude experiences for servicemen and women. “The Faces of our Freedom experience at Boot’N & Shoot’N was one that I’ll always remember. Put simply, it fed my soul. It also reminded me why our country is still the best in the world; like-minded individuals came together to show their patriotism and support the fight for the greater good,” he explained, adding, “Thank you for continuing to fight the good fight, honor my brothers and sisters-in-arms, and consistently feeding souls.”

Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” That’s not to say Boot’N & Shoot’N doesn’t take a small army to pull off – months of planning, 75 to 100 volunteers and master logistical coordination are required – but it’s certainly a labor of love. Many amazing businesses and individuals contributed to this success: R.E. Cupp Construction, Babe’s Chicken Dinner House, McGlinchey Stafford Mortgage Document team, Five Star Ford, QSLWM Law Firm, Benchmark Mortgage, BKM Sowan Horan, Products Unlimited, American Track and countless others have our sincerest thanks. The event raised $480,000 this year, allowing sizable donations to Carrick Brain Center and Camp Southern Ground – two outstanding organizations with elements designed with military families in mind. It also paid for a group of American heroes to take a well-deserved break from their daily struggles. You really can’t put a price tag on those smiles.

About Carrick Brain Center

Carrick Brain Center is a private facility where veterans receive treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury free from fear of social stigma or career path repercussions. Donations from the public and private sectors allow Carrick Brain Center to provide travel, lodging, counseling, meals and twelve months of neurological therapy and follow-up at no out of pocket cost to veterans.

About Camp Southern Ground

Camp Southern Ground is a 400-acre facility focused on guiding kids of all abilities through farm-to-table organic agriculture, healthy life skills and fine arts in addition to time-honored outdoor activities. Developed by Zac Brown of the Zac Brown Band, its mission is to operate a camp to allow children to overcome academic, social and emotional difficulties so they may reach their full potential and provide the tools necessary to achieve excellence in all facets of their lives. An initiative called Boots on the Southern Ground is a military-themed adventure course.