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Wounded war veterans meet for hunt in Smoaks

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(L to R) Joe Caley, Pat and David Garris, Victoria Garris, John Street, and Travis Dryden. Photo by Rick Tobin

(L to R) Joe Caley, Pat and David Garris, Victoria Garris, John Street, and Travis Dryden.
Photo by Rick Tobin

Recent war veterans visited the Town of Smoaks last week to hunt deer during an event hosted by an older war veteran.

Veterans Joe Caley and Travis Dryden were eating lunch at Wicky’s Corner Store and Diner, Incorporated, at the intersection of Highway 21 and 217, at noon last Wednesday. Their host was Smoaks resident John Street, a veteran of the Vietnam war.

Joe, who lives in Augusta, Georgia, has been the area outreach coordinator for the Wounded Warrior Project since 2011. “Me and Travis met in the hospital,” Joe said with a small smile. Travis underwent seven tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Joe was in the military for 15 years, 10 of those deployed in wars in other countries. Both men were in the U.S. Army.

Travis said he was first stabbed by a 14-year-old youth while checking out a house. “Our team took care of him, and he is no longer here.” Joe was injured on September 18, 2009, south of Baghdad, Iraq. “I was attempting to save an elderly Iraqi man who had been involved in a vehicle explosion, and another IED (Improvised Explosive Device) went off. I suffered extensive leg and head injuries. My head injury was termed as a TBI, which stands for traumatic brain injury, and the injuries are also called Post Concussion Syndrome.” He added that the National Football League has done extensive studies on these types of injuries.

Travis was later also injured by an IED. “I am legally blind in my right eye, and it resulted from a double IED. I woke up 11 days later in a hospital in Germany, and had a tube in my brain to relieve pressure. Everyone else in the vehicle died. If I ever lose my left eye, I’m done.”

Joe said that he and Travis actually met in the hospital while hospitalized for their injuries. “We met in November of 2009 in the Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. We were then flown to a medical center in Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga. for the remainder of our treatment.” Joe said a TBI Clinic had just opened, and doctors who were leading in this field at the time were employed there.

(L to R) Linda Smoak and Reneque Williams.  Photo by Rick Tobin

(L to R) Linda Smoak and Reneque Williams. Photo by Rick Tobin

Joe said the reason that he and Travis were in Smoaks was because John Street invited them to town to participate in a deer hunt. “I also spent time fighting in Vietnam, and I just want to be here for these guys. These are my heroes. They served their country, and got a pretty good reception when they got home along with their debilitating injuries.”

“These two got a better reception than we did. Ironically, I came back from Vietnam through Fort Gordon, and war protesters at the gate threw eggs at us. We were shunned.” Travis said that, when they were transferred to Fort Gordon, they got an escort from the Patriot Guard Riders, a non-profit, all volunteer organization of motorcycle enthusiasts who try to assist veterans and their families through hard times.

Both Joe and Travis have to regularly return to Fort Gordon for treatments. “TBI is an ongoing type of thing and so is PTSS (post-traumatic stress syndrome),” Travis said. “They (their doctors) say we’ve got it, and we say we don’t. Now, I think I may have something, but it isn’t as bad as the doctors make it out to be.” Joe said that he and Travis continually try to prove the doctors wrong.

Joe said that his injury has left him with another permanent disability. “My leg will always be this way, and no surgery is available to treat it. I still walk with a limp, glide, or slide, whatever they want to call it.”

Joe said he has to carefully negotiate stairways. “I have a six-month-old son, and I can’t carry him up our stairs. When he was first born, I had to sit down to hold him. They wouldn’t let me stand.”

Both men share a common problem: migraine headaches. “We both have a lot of migraines as a result of the explosions,” Joe said. “We both carry injectors full of migraine medication, and we both get 30 injections of Botox in our heads every three months.” Travis noted the treatments are meant to relieve pain between the injections, but added the medication usually doesn’t go the entire distance. Joe also pointed out that he and Travis also get nasal treatments on a monthly basis.

Travis said he also has stomach troubles resulting from his medical treatment. “I have stomach problems, and that’s an understatement. The medication they treated me with literally almost killed me. I had liver failure due to my medications, and I nearly died.”

John, the Vietnam veteran, said that he didn’t get out of that war unscathed, either. “I’m still carrying 122 pieces of shrapnel inside of me, and I have a tube in the artery of my right leg. I have four screws and a plate in my left ankle; five screws, two rods, and a plate in my back, and I’m also battling Agent Orange.” He noted that he almost died last July when he went into septic shock after undergoing surgery to remove part of his stomach and gall bladder.

Joe said he is grateful to John for the offer to wounded veterans. “John reached out, and he is hosting the Warriors to enjoy the hunt. David and Pat Garris, and their granddaughter, Victoria, who own and/or operate Wicky’s Corner Store and Diner, have provided us with all of our breakfasts and lunches. Their hospitality has been unreal, and they have really opened up their hearts to us.”

Both Travis and Joe got the chance to take a good look at Carolina Visuals, LLC, a plant that makes flags in Smoaks. “Seeing all of those American flags being made meant a lot to us. We (The Wounded Warriors) won’t buy flags if they are not made in America. These same flags that are used overseas in battle are made here.”

Dave Kellett, sewing operations manager at Carolina Visuals, said the plant, which employs about 100 people, has been operating since 1998. “We’re part of the Valley Forge Flag Company, a major U.S. flag producing company,” Dave said. “We are the only one of their plants located within South Carolina.”

Kellett said the plant produces United States flags from 12×18 inches to six by 10 feet. “We also make a flag that is 30×60 feet, and that’s a pretty big flag.” Kellett said the plant additionally produces state flags and other government flags. “We make a lot of flags every year. We are one of the largest competitors within the industries producing U.S, flags,” he noted.