Jill McLaughlin Photo
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Kurt Mason hugs a member of the Southeast New Mexico Patriot Guard Riders at Roswell International Air Center, Saturday. Mason and veteran Kenneth Kaighn are headed to Alto for an elk hunt, sponsored by Base Camp 40 and Warrior Bands USA.
Record Staff Writer
U.S. Marine combat veteran Kurt Mason walked into the Roswell International Air Center Saturday night expecting to start an elk hunting trip. But before he did anything, he stopped to hug each man and woman who stood guard before him holding an American flag.
“I think I’m kind of at loss for words,” Mason said. “Words can’t describe what people give back to us nowadays. Ever since I’ve been hurt, people have opened up their houses, businesses. It’s heartwarming.”
Mason, from Wyoming, and Kenneth Kaighn, who also served in the Marine Corps and the U.S. Army, were met at the airport by the Southeast New Mexico Patriot Guard Riders. The two were severely injured in combat and are on 100-percent disability. Both served in Afghanistan, and Kaighn spent time in Iraq and Somalia.
The trip is sponsored by Base Camp 40 — Warrior Hunt New Mexico, and Warrior Bands USA, a Texas-based company that creates wrist bands out of paracord for active military and veterans. Base Camp 40 is a non-profit organization that hosts veterans for hunting trips on private land.
Jon Gifford, owner of Warrior Bands USA, of Houston, said he wanted to help get Mason and Kaighn on the trip.
“I said let’s set up a hunt. Let’s get this list rolling,” Gifford said. “These guys deserve a free hunt for what they’ve sacrificed for us.”
Gifford waited at the airport as the two arrived. He snapped a Warrior Band on them, telling them about its symbolism as he did.
“They’ve never met each other,” Gifford said. “They met in Dallas on a connecting flight here.”
All expenses will be paid during the five-day trip to the Cornerstone Ranch in Alto.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Mason said. “I can’t wait. I’ve never hunted big game before in my life.”
Kaighn, from Colorado, said he was really excited about the trip.
“It’s been a long time since I could get out and be able to do something like that again,” Kaighn said. “It means a lot to me to come out and meet Kurt and go out in the wild and experience it. Maybe we can overcome some of our disabilities.”
Kaighn shook hands with the veterans of the Patriot Guard Riders when he arrived.
“It’s pretty overwhelming for us,” he said.