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By Steven Bunting

To: Big Country Veterans, Sponsors, and Volunteers of the 6th Annual Big Country Heli Hog Hunt


“Because modern society has almost completely eliminated trauma and violence from everyday life, anyone who does suffer those things is deemed to be extraordinarily unfortunate. This gives people access to sympathy and resources but also creates an identity of victimhood that can delay recovery.”

- Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging


I would like to start this letter by trying to convey the level of gratitude I have for each and every one of you. As stated in the above quote by Sebastian Junger there are a lot of misconceptions about war and how it should be processed. A lot of times there is a stigmatization of veterans and an impression that we are broken. This statement reminds me of a quote by my good friend Dan Brown. He was fortunate enough to experience war before me. Upon his return from a history making deployment with 1st Recon Bn to the hell hole known as the Helmand River Valley, a young Steve asked his friend how he deals with the stress he just endured. His response to me has stuck with me ever since. He simply replied, “Steve, we worked very hard to get here. Kinda like a dentist works very hard to become a dentist. When a dentist finally gets to pull his first tooth, he doesn’t cry about it, he just pulls the tooth. I pulled a lot of “teeth” and I’m not about to cry about it.” One of the biggest fails that I see with the veteran outreach programs is that it facilitates an identity of victimhood and delays recovery. The HeliHog Hunt is not one of these programs. The Heli Hog Hunt is one of the best experiences I have had. 


“The public is often accused of being disconnected from its military, but frankly it's disconnected from just about everything. Farming, mineral extraction, gas and oil production, bulk cargo transport, logging, fishing, infrastructure construction—all the industries that keep the nation going are mostly unacknowledged by the people who depend on them most.”

- Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging


This quote is the epitome of the Heli Hog Hunt. The people of Truscott and all of the amazing sponsors and volunteers speak to this quote. While we sit and allow mainstream media to shape our minds and create divides in our nation, people like you all are making it happen. It’s because of you all that we have all that we appreciate (or take for granted). The fact that you all do what you do with little recognition and for the simple fact of doing what is best for the nation really was extremely humbling. To see such humility and pride in your work really touched my soul that you would choose me as someone to dedicate your time and energy to. Before this trip I would not have considered your actions a common virtue. This selflessness and love that you all provided us, was the most profound experience I had while at the ranch. So many times, I had to ask myself “why me? I don’t deserve this. Someone else should be here.”


“Humans don't mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”

- Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging


While I was contemplating what would make a person dedicate so much to somebody they didn’t even know I realized that there is a greater sense of person that is occurring here. On both sides. The veteran and the volunteer. You guys made me feel necessary. I could see the looks in your eyes as you shook my hand, served me dinner, handed me loaded mags, a beer, and genuinely asked how I was enjoying the experience. Many of your occupations are forged in hardship. The day to day struggle of ranching, cooking, flying, or serving. This struggle is so very important for humans. I know why I was there. It was to feel necessary and to provide that necessity for other people. The amount gratitude expressed for my service to the nation really solidified the fact that I was necessary. By seeing the amount of difference, you made in my life, I know that I AM necessary. Just as you all are necessary. This Heli hog hunt was beautifully orchestrated and just know that you all nailed it. If I in anyway helped provide that feeling of necessity to any of you, I am honored. 


“How do you become an adult in a society that doesn’t ask for sacrifice? How do you become a man in a world that doesn’t require courage?”

- Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging


One of my favorite experiences was mentoring a young man on his decision to join the military. It was such an honor and a privilege to help this little man explore his sense of purpose and encourage him to have the strength to take the leap of faith. In a world where there are “safe-spaces,” where words equate to violence, and to Love your Country is considered a nationalism compared to Nazism, it did my heart good to see so many people unapologetically proud to be an American. For that kid to reach out to me for advice, gave me purpose. The discussion with the Vietnam Veteran that flew the bombers during the war, really hit home. I could honestly listen to his stories for days. When he spoke about standing on the tail gate of the bomber and just sobbing, that was so powerful. It is so important for many veterans to hear that story. Life is so much more beautiful when you aren’t afraid to cry, hug your friends, tell them you love them. Many veterans struggle with survivors’ guilt because they didn’t take the time to do these things when they had the chance. 


“Today's veterans often come home to find that, although they're willing to die for their country, they're not sure how to live for it.”

- Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging


This quote speaks to this specifically. Many veterans live in the false illusion that their time at war was or is the best time of their lives. Although many experiences will never be replaced by their times at war, there is so much more for life to offer. It’s really about the little things. When I first arrived, I was immediately asked what my boot size was and what styles I would like to choose. I was dumbfounded. Boots? For me? Wow!! I’ve never been so happy to receive a pair of boots. It will be my first pair and I can’t wait to wear them for the rest of my life. But it’s more than the boots. It’s that feeling. The feeling where I’m grinning from ear to ear as a man gives me something, and expects nothing in return. Almost as if the debt was already paid. Such a powerful experience. Another small example of when I felt that feeling is when Becky brought Whitney Houston in for me to meet. This occurred after a brief statement of me loving weinie dogs. When I realized that she did that for me, all I could do was smile and enjoy that feeling. That elusive feeling that was lost to the war. That feeling that would never be replaced or experienced again. But you all managed to drag that awesome feeling out of me at every turn. 


“War is a lot of things and it's useless to pretend that exciting isn't one of them. (pg. 144)”

- Sebastian Junger, War


War is exciting. Many would describe it as days and days of boredom followed by minutes of pure excitement. Well, this my friends is true. But, as with everything, you become desensitized to that excitement. That feeling we often describe as “chasing the dragon.” Many veterans come home to realize that the dragon is very elusive and may never be caught again. This leads to substance abuse, negligent behavior and subsequently mental health issues. Many vets survive war just to come home and die chasing the dragon. The Heli Hog hunt experience is about as close as it gets to touching the dragon. For the first 10 minutes of my first flight with Sam Brown, we didn’t say a word. We just sat there in awe as Jace Cole masterfully navigated that helicopter like a dragonfly. As I was lost in the vastness of all the land, Jace comes over the air, “we got one!” Within seconds we were on top of that hog and just like that we had our first kill. Sam and I let out some battle cries and smiled from ear to ear the rest of the hunt. That moment, was the dragon. Thank you for letting me touch it again. Words can’t describe what that does for my soul. There was something about it that spoke to my DNA. Thank you so much. 


“When people are actively engaged in a cause their lives have more purpose... with a resulting improvement in mental health,”

- Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging


There is no doubt that you all have purpose. You can see it in each of your eyes, the smiles on your face, the way you shook our hands. You all are genuinely happy because you have found such a beautiful purpose. My good friend Justin Wilson once stated, “I am not broken from war, just changed.” The example that you guys provide to veterans in need is so important. To see the power of purpose, and the importance to place your fellow man before yourself is a lesson that is so valuable to people “changed” from war. It is so sad to imagine that I gave my better self to the war. That would be so tragic. But it’s not the case. It’s experiences like the Heli Hog Hunt which makes me value the life I have moving forward more than any accomplishments I made in the past. As fun as the hog hunt was as a participant, I have twice the fire burning inside me to volunteer and make this happen for other people. Showing veterans that there is purpose outside of their time in the military and that there are people that are there to help is worth its weight in gold. Nobody can do it on their own. It is so important to have people that love you and care in your corner. I saw each and every one of you in my corner, and it means the world to me. Thank you so much for everything, I will never forget this experience. I can’t wait to see you all next year. 


Your Life long Friend, 

Steven Cristien 


P.S. This was sent from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. There are still good people here doing the Lord’s work. :)

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