Not surprisingly, the magic happens around the campfire, the walks in the woods and the drives to the hunting grounds.
Those are the moments that stick with Luke Bawel and his brothers from their own experiences outdoors. Those are the moments they now want to give to veterans through a new nonprofit they’ve formed, Brothers for Veterans.
It’s been an amazing experience for them since forming in February.
“Yeah, I’m getting texts from guys we’ve taken on hunts this year,” Luke Bawel said. “I almost feel like I’ve known some of these guys forever.”
Luke and his brothers, Tyler Flick and Brock Bawel, have been taking veterans and active duty service members on hunting excursions for a couple of months now. So far, the hunts have been small affairs with just a couple veterans and the brothers acting as guides on their personal property.
But the impact has been lasting.
“These days, I look more forward to taking someone out on a hunt than going on a hunt myself,” Luke admitted.
The idea for the nonprofit formed about a year ago as the brothers began talking about how they could get more engaged in the veteran community with the idea they wanted to give back to the men and women who had volunteered to protect and serve the country. As they considered their options for what this would look like, they decided to combine their mission with their own passion for the outdoors.
“My brothers and I have spent so much time in the outdoors growing up,” Luke said. “Those times in camp around the campfire were special. The camaraderie and brotherhood being outdoors and doing those things together were things we looked forward to.”
They decided they wanted to share those moments of lasting memories and bonding with a group that they admire.
“We figured we should do something we were passionate about so hopefully we will be okay at it (the mission),” Luke laughed.
The brothers were also interested in doing something because of the loss of their brother-in-law, a veteran, to suicide in 2017. That and a deep sense of gratitude for the sacrifice the men and woman of the armed forces make compelled them to form the nonprofit.
“We had reached out to some organizations that had similar goals to what we envisioned,” Luke explained about the process they undertook to decide to start their own nonprofit.
However, the brothers felt they had some inroads in the business community that could allow them to create a pretty impactful nonprofit of their own. So, in January, they established Brothers for Veterans and decided to push their mission forward by establishing its first big fundraising event, Bowfishing for Heroes.
“It’s been a whirlwind since then,” Luke said. “Since forming this and announcing it, the number of emails and messages I have received has been overwhelming and fantastic. It’s been awesome.”
Several smaller hunts have already taken place. The brothers with the help of some friends basically become the guides and outfitters for the entire experience. They provide all the gear, food and transportation for the hunts which typically includes about five veterans.
The hunts aren’t designed to be therapeutic. Luke, his brothers and the other guides aren’t there to talk about the veterans’ experiences. It is simply about showing this special group a good time in the outdoors and if new friendships form, that’s a bonus.
“We just want to say thank you. The fact we have this business (Jasper Engines) and I am able to go into the woods with a shotgun is because of their service.” Luke Bawel
Each veteran or active duty military member is teamed up with a guide and taken on a hunt. So far that has been mainly turkey hunts because of the season but deer hunts are being planned for this fall. Fishing trips and other hunting excursions are also being planned as more and more people come forward volunteering their services or their land to the cause.
The impact on the veterans and military members has been lasting. Although a lot of time is spent on the hunt, as mentioned before, the conversations that spark on the trips and around the campfires are where a lot of connections are made. Bringing the veterans and active military members together in a special moment has allowed for new friendships to form around common experiences and support networks to be expanded.
“If there is one guy that is out there and he feels like he is alone and we can link him up with someone else that can form a bond that I can’t because I don’t have that background, that is great,” Luke said.
Bowfishing for Heroes is an event designed to help fund the brothers’ mission as well as introduce more veterans to a new sport.
“Part of being in the tournament means you leave a spot on your boat for a veteran,” Luke said.
Each team will have a veteran assigned to their boat. Those veterans will be equipped with all the necessary gear by Brothers for Veterans.
Teams will register at Jasper Engines & Transmissions parking lot on Saturday, June 22 between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. At 7 p.m., they will be released to go fishing on any waters in Indiana and Kentucky with the goal of returning Sunday morning for weigh-ins. A total of $10,000 is being offered in cash prizes for the top five teams in addition to other prizes as well as a cookout.
“I’ve been blown away by the reactions we have gotten so far,” Luke said. “One guy wrote that he now has seven new brothers. That to me is what it is about. I don’t just have a guy I took hunting; I’ve got a new friend.”
Those who would like to assist the nonprofit in any way and veterans interested in events can reach out on the Brothers for Veterans Facebook page or email BrothersForVeterans@gmail.com. The group also has a website, BrothersForVeterans.com.