Dwight Hayes is a regular at the Bracken Rifle & Pistol Range in San Antonio, Texas. With his Lone Star cap snugly in place, he goes to the range to work on guns, organize shoots, and gather with friends. It's a long way from his time as a Special Forces Weapons Sergeant at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, but it's time well spent.
"If you're in San Antonio, Bracken is the place to be," said Hayes. "Bracken and the folks at Alamo Mobility have been great to us disabled vets."
Working with disabled veterans is of great importance to Dwight. It's an attitude he developed while hospitalized after a failed High Altitude Low Opening, or HALO, jump. Having more than a hundred such jumps under his belt, this one should have been all but routine.
"I broke one of my rules," smiled Hayes. "Gotta stick to the rules."
So what are the rules?
"During a HALO jump, you're okay if you can see the road. If you see the cars, you're still okay. If you can make out the color of the car, you're still okay. If you can tell the difference between a Ford and a Chevy, you're still okay. If you can make out the gender of the driver, you're still okay. But if you can make out the license plate, then you're in trouble."
Before there's a chance to react, Dwight rocks his wheelchair with laughter and slaps my back. Apparently the story is a standard.
"They love that one back at Audie Murphy."
Audie Murphy is the Audie Murphy Veterans Memorial Hospital back in San Antonio. According to Hayes, they have one of the best Spinal Cord Injury Centers in the country. It's also where he spent two years recovering from his failed HALO jump. Now he goes there to comfort those new to the ward.
"I know what it's like," Hayes said. "I know all about time alone, watching the walls, sitting in an empty hospital. I go there and get them out."
With assistance from Audie Murphy and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Hayes and other vets do their best to take the patients out into field. Everything from deep sea fishing to time on the range (sponsored by Winchester) to hunting trips.
"They even have a deer lease," said Hayes. "Got a doe and an eight-point buck last season."
The main lesson he tries to pass on is perseverance. He shares this through the story of his injury, his rehabilitation, and his twenty-five years in the U.S. Army.
"The injury occurred eighteen years in," Hayes explained. "I was able to serve a full twenty-five because I successfully petitioned for reinstatement after demonstrating that I could still do my job. Maybe, when some of the kids at Audie hear that, they'll know that they can still be productive too."
And that, too, will be time well spent.