Mills Car Show Raises $13,760 for Disabled Veterans via Hunting with Heroes Wyoming
When Frank Grillo returned home after serving abroad in the United States Military, he was struggling.
"Probably about 10 years ago, I came home and I was in really bad shape," Grillo stated. "I started putting on weight, I stopped sleeping, and I was on a pretty bad downward spiral. I was trying to go to school because the only way I could afford to live was the GI Bill and I started to crash pretty hard. And somebody turned to me and said, 'I've got a buddy. He wants to take a bunch of veterans hunting...'"
And so began Grillo's story with Hunting with Heroes.
Hunting with Heroes Wyoming was founded by "two avid hunters, United States Army Veterans, and Wyoming natives" named Dan Currah and Colton Sasser. Currah served in Vietnam from 1968-1969 and is an OCS Distinguished Graduate. Sasser served, and was wounded in, Afghanistan in April of 2012.
They started this organization in 2013 as a way to give back to disabled veterans. Per their website, "Hunting with Heroes Wyoming is honored to provide hunting, fishing and other unique outdoor experiences to our nation’s disabled veterans."
This non-profit partners with the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, utilizing their 'Licensing for Veterans' program. That program allows anybody with a big game license to donate and reissue their license to a disabled veteran. Hunting with Heroes then takes a group of veterans out for a hunting trip with their comrades. It gives them a safe place to fellowship, to shoot, to fish, and, most importantly, to bond with their brothers-in-arms, rediscovering a purpose that they may have lost once they came back home.
Frank Grillo was one of those veterans. When he came back home, he was directionless. He was angry. He had this boulder on his chest that, try as he might, he just couldn't get rid of. He said he was spiraling and didn't know what, if anything, could save him.
That's when he heard about Hunting with Heroes Wyoming. His friend told him about the organization, and he signed up. He didn't know what to expect at first and, luckily, his first day didn't define the experience for him.
"It was terrible," Grillo laughed. "The wind was whipping the first day. It was raining but it was snowing at the same time. I had ice forming on my camouflage and it was just miserable."
Luckily, Grillo said, the second day was a much different experience. It was on that day he realized just how powerful trips like this can be to a veteran.
"The second day I got up and, as we were dropping back, I saw a bunch of deer and I was like, 'You know what? I'm just going to go put a chair over there.' And I shot a deer; I actually shot three deer that day. And when that happened, it kind of gave me a purpose."
And that's the point of Hunting with Heroes - to give disabled veterans a renewed sense of purpose. When veterans come home, often times they are lost. They struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health issues. Many suffer from PTSD. In this year alone, the Central Wyoming Counseling Center received calls on their suicide prevention lifeline from 33 veterans. In many cases, it's hard for veterans to find peace. Hunting with Heroes Wyoming provides that peace, at least for a little while.
"Wyoming has amazing people, and they have an amazing law that says 'If you're a disabled veteran over 50%, then somebody can donate their license to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, who will then dictate that it goes back to a veteran," Grillo stated. "So we get ranch owners and others who donate their license, and our organization takes veterans on these hunting trips for free. The only thing we don't cover is travel, so we do fundraising events like what The Hideaway Bar is doing, and the end result is probably going every veteran that's hunting in Casper this year is going to be paid for."
The Hideaway Bar, located in Mills, held a car show on Saturday, July 31st with all of the proceeds going to Hunting with Heroes Wyoming. It was the 2nd year The Hideaway had put on this event and it was the brainchild of LeeAnn Sulzen, the manager of the bar.
"Last year, when my boss, Dave Wilson, said he wanted to do a car and bike show, it was kind of an impromptu thing," Sulzen stated. "But the wheels in my head started spinning and I said, 'Oh, that sounds like a good time to do a fundraiser.' And he asked me who we could do the fundraiser for and I said, 'Hunting with Heroes, of course!'"
Sulzen got to work quickly, as she only had a couple weeks to prepare. The Hideaway Bar put on a car and bike show last year that included a silent auction, guns being raffled and more. Sulzen said they ended up raising more than $10,000 last year, even in the midst of the pandemic.
Naturally, this year they wanted to go even bigger, so they held the 2nd Annual Car and Bike Show on the riverfront in Mills. 63 cars registered for the event and, just like last year, there was a silent auction, various raffles, and more. Grillo, himself, even built custom guns to raffle off at the event.
At the end of the day, the car show ended up raising $13,760 - all of which will be donated to Hunting with Heroes Wyoming.
"This means everything," Sulzen beamed. "It means all my hard work and all my stress for the last month was worth it. To be able to give back to our veterans is huge. This year, I think we have 16 veterans going and the money we raised helps pay for their lodging, their food, their hunting trip, the whole spiel."
Sulzen said that Grillo explained to her one day what this organization really means to veterans, and it immediately tugged at her heart strings which, hopefully, means this fundraiser will continue in the years to come.
"What Frank told me is that you can't even understand what it does for these men until you see them," Sulzen offered. "They get to meet other veterans and it helps with their mental state. It's a huge deal to them."
Grillo is proof of that.
"Nowadays, Hunting with Heroes takes anywhere from 250 to 300 veterans hunting every year," he stated. "And when a veteran comes, they don't always come by themselves. They come with family, they come with dogs. So when we bring a veteran, sometimes it doesn't cost that much and sometimes it costs thousands of dollars. So you've got to be able to accommodate the family, because you want the veteran to come out. It's a healing experience for us."
That is exactly what happened to Grillo. When he first began working with Hunting with Heroes, he didn't know what to expect. He just knew that something in his life needed to change.
"After my first trip, the next year I told myself that I needed to start preparing," he said. "So during the next hunting season, I picked up a rifle and I started learning to shoot better. I started learning to control my breathing, and this is all technique. It's all military technique that just comes back to us. And when you're in a spiral, when your life is just horrible, you've got to go back to the basics. And that's what I did."
Grillo went back to the basics and, in doing so, he found a renewed sense of purpose. He began working with Hunting with Heroes as a certified gunsmith and armorer. He began building guns for veterans to hunt with, and he started taking out his brothers on trips. He would hunt with them and he would talk with them and he would bond with them. They would share their experiences with each other, and they would remind each other that it was okay. That they were okay.
"After my first few trips, I started bringing veterans with me," he said. "I would find somebody who was having trouble like I was, and I'd be like, 'Come on, let's go do a little hunting."
And it's because of the people of Wyoming that these veterans are able to go out and rediscover a part of themselves that they may have forgotten. Fundraisers like these, like the car show that The Hideaway Bar & Grill put on, are about so much more than showing off cars. They're about giving something back to the men and women that have sacrificed everything for their country. They're about giving them peace, giving them hope, and giving them the reassurance that they are home, they are safe, and they are not alone.
Hideaway Bar Raises Money for Hunting with Heroes