December 4, 2009
Ft. Hood Soldier’s Dream to Come True, Elk Hunters Vow
MISSOULA, Mont.—U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Patrick Zeigler, shot four times at Fort Hood, Tex., on Nov. 5, dreams of recovering well enough to go elk hunting someday.
That wish has become a welcome command for a battalion of hunters eager to help.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, an organization made up primarily of hunters focused on conserving habitat for elk and other wildlife, has adopted Zeigler as one of its own. Members have vowed to make the soldier’s dream come true—as well as support him through the grueling rehab and surgeries that stand between him and his first adventure in elk country.
“When I told Patrick about the offer to go elk hunting, it was one of the few times I’ve seen his eyes light up since he’s been in the hospital. He loves to hunt and fish and be outdoors. He always wanted to hunt elk but never had a chance. Now, that experience is one of the things he’s driving for,” said Zeigler’s father, Pat, a career serviceman now standing vigil by his son’s side.
Zeigler, 28, was wounded when a gunman opened fire inside a crowded processing center at the Texas military base. Thirteen people were killed and more than 30 others wounded before police shot and apprehended the accused shooter. Some of the survivors remain in critical condition, including Zeigler who still has bullets lodged in his head, shoulder and hip. A fourth bullet passed through his forearm. He is paralyzed on his left side and has begun treatment at a facility in Austin, Tex.
A graduate of Florida State University, volunteer fireman in his hometown and husband to be, Zeigler served two combat tours in Iraq. He had just been selected for officer candidate school before finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time at Fort Hood.
In the days after the shooting, Zeigler told a chaplain of his elk-hunting dream. The chaplain contacted Jim Zumbo, an outdoor writer and former RMEF board member devoted to providing hunting experiences for military heroes. Zumbo, in turn, called RMEF President and CEO David Allen.
“When I heard Patrick’s story, I knew our members would jump at the chance to help this guy. As soon as he’s able to go, we have a donated elk hunt waiting for him,” said Allen. “I’m humbled at the sacrifices that Patrick and his family have made, and pleased that we can offer him something meaningful to help him through a difficult time.”
Allen added, “We are not going to let Patrick and others be forgotten after the news and headlines go away. He deserves better. We want to be a part of his recovery as well as his life.”
RMEF members are offering moral support to Zeigler via Christmas cards, letters, small gifts and donations to a trust fund.
Although RMEF members are communicating directly with the Zeigler family, other supporters can get involved through Operation AC, a group that compiles and ships supplies, cards and letters to soldiers, including families affected by the Fort Hood shooting. Send to Ft. Hood, Injured c/o OPAC, 560 Peoples Plaza #121, Newark, DE 19702. More info at http://www.operationac.com/ or [email protected].
The Zeigler family has set up a trust fund at a hometown bank. Send to SSG Zeigler, Patrick Trust Account, American National Bank of Texas, 5809 Wesley St., Greenville, TX 75402; (903) 455-7592.
Zeigler’s friends launched a web site, http://www.healpatrickzeigler.com/, for additional info.
Allen has invited Zeigler to the annual RMEF convention in Reno in March, and is hoping the soldier is “well enough to attend and get to know his new elk hunting family.”