By MONICA SPRINGER

The Garden City Telegram

GARDEN CITY -- Soldiers who have been injured spend weeks and months in physical therapy trying to overcome their injuries. And for some, a weekend of hunting and bantering with fellow servicemen helps in the healing process, soldiers said.

The second annual Heartland Heroes Hunt brought 13 soldiers and their families stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., to Garden City for a weekend of hunting and camaraderie.

In all, about 50 people came to Garden City and western Kansas for a weekend of healing, said Tim Telinde. Telinde's step-daughter, Mackenzie Nix, started Heartland Heroes Hunt last year as her senior Buff Project.

The event will become a yearly tradition in Garden City, Telinde said.

It's a tradition that Dave Sterling, from northern California, and Ronald Ryker, from Texas, decided to come back for this year.

Sterling and Ryker were two of several wounded servicemen who came last year from Fort Riley and attended this year and helped with the event.

Sterling lost his right hand in Iraq in 2004 due to a rocket propelled grenade.

Ryker was shot in the calf in Iraq in 2003.

Sterling said the weekend was about healing and learning that having an injury doesn't place limitations on servicemen.

"You'd be surprised what you can do," without a hand or part of a leg, Sterling said.

Sterling spent more than five months in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. undergoing treatment and physical therapy.

Ryker was flown to Germany for treatment from Iraq, then flown back to Fort Riley for physical therapy. He said it took 45 days after he was shot to be able to walk on crutches.

Sterling and Ryker, both in the Army, were two of about 30 people who hunted east of Garden City on Saturday morning.

They split up into four groups, then methodically walked through the field looking for birds. Ryker said he cannot run because of his injury and still has trouble walking.

The servicemen walked through the snow in single degree weather on Saturday in search of pheasants. Of the 300 pheasants released at Beavers Game Farm the group shot a little more than 200 birds.

Brandon Daggs, originally from California and now stationed at Fort Carson, spent months without mobility after a form of cancer was found in his throat during his tour in Iraq.

He endured radiation and chemotherapy and lost a good portion of his body weight.

He described the weekend of hunting as amazing.

"It was fun to get out there with the boys," he said.

Now in remission, he said the group of hunters had only planned to hunt on Saturday afternoon. But during lunch Saturday the group decided to go back out into the field.

"It was a really good day," Daggs said. "There's a lot of compassion, hospitality, camaraderie and brotherhood."

The soldiers who took part in Heartland Heroes this year were all male. While they were hunting, their wives had manicures and massages in Garden City and their children completed activities from local businesses.

Daggs said it's good for families to get off of the military post and leave life's stresses behind for a weekend.

"It's nice to put the stresses of the world behind us and enjoy the beautiful Kansas countryside," Daggs said.

Ryker said the soldiers and servicemen aren't the only ones whose lives change after completing tours overseas.

"Our struggles are their struggles," he said of families of servicemen.

The weekend was rejuvenating for Daggs, who said on Saturday night that he's emotionally healthier.

"A lot of soldiers have seen dark days. Minds have been set free and we're completely engulfed in this amazing experience," he said.