HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Navy SEALS, Army Rangers and Green Berets are some of the elitist branches in the military.
After years of battle, those warriors are coming home to face another battle - civilian life. But an event hosted under the radar and protected by around-the-clock security is working to help these warriors. It's a locally-grown charity called SOWW.
SOWW stands for Special Operations Wounded Warriors. It's a 501c3 charity, where almost 100 percent of the money raised goes back to benefiting special operations active duty members and veterans.
It began in Horry County in 2012, after a group of local businessmen took another group of veterans hog hunting. The benefits for the veterans were hard to ignore.
SOWW has slowly grown throughout the United States, but hosts most of its events in the southeastern part of the country. One SOWW board member and Horry County businessman, Jud Kuhn, has been touched by the charity and now dedicates most of his time to it.
Kuhn, a former Marine, got involved by a chance encounter. He works to make a difference and help bring the guys out of the dark holes they find themselves in.
"We bring all these guys in and put them in these outdoor environments - fishing, hunting, it could just be camping, it could be kayaking," Kuhn said. "We've got generous people all over the United States, North America that allow us to bring these fellas in. (SOWW) pay their way - no expense to them - let them get out of that intense pressure cooker environment, and they start talking."
SOWW's weekend-long Carolina event, Takin Bacon, was held at the end of February. It was named for the inaugural hunt that started the charity.
"It's not a hard group of guys to serve. When they enter the military, they write a check for their life," Kuhn said.
The guys that come to Takin Bacon are special operations active duty members and veterans, many of whom are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and/or physical traumas. The event hosted 12 "hunters for this year's hog hunt. Dozens of other active duty members and veterans showed up for support and to enjoy the brotherhood that comes with the SOWW event.
"And we get pictures from kids that thank us, for their daddy's come home. They've been home, but their brain hadn't, so we get them in those experiences," Kuhn said. "They get to come home and they come out of their shell. That's what these experiences do."
However, this year's event was not like the others.
"I was in a bad place and fighting with a lot of the demons that we fight with, guys like us," retired Army Ranger Tim Lucero said.
Injured while overseas, Lucero struggled to be around people when he came home. He was one of the 12 men selected for Takin Bacon 2017 as a hunter. This year, he came for support.
"I thought we were just hunting. I had never been to anything like this. It wasn't the hunt, it was everything else around the hunt," Lucero said.
Suddenly, he began to find pieces that were missing from the event.
"It just started escalating, everything escalated. To be short, I kind of went nuts here. I was loving it," Lucero said.
Takin Bacon 2018 will always be special to Lucero. He was one of the first SOWW veterans to receive a specially trained military and service dog as part of SOWW's new partnership with Baden K-9.
It came as a complete surprise to Lucero.
"I was just floored, overcome with emotion," he said. "This came from way out of left field. This was the uppercut I wasn't ready for. I had no idea."
Military dogs are not uncommon to see at SOWW events. Other members, as well as Kuhn, have their own specially trained dogs, but most were not donated.
The success of the dogs with other members helped encourage the partnership. Kuhn said the animals serve as these highly-skilled veterans' "sword," and help keep their minds sharp and content.
"We send them to far-away lands in small groups. They do their job. If one of them gets injured or comes home, we take their sword from them," Kuhn said. "They say go back home and reconnect with the community. And now they don't have their sword. These are elite warriors, they're meant to have a sword."
Lucero has his sword back through his new dog. Overcome with emotion, he said having the animal will help him reconnect with family and do things he hasn't been able do since leaving the military.
"This dog right here is going to allow me to go to Disney World with my family. My family has been to Disney World three or four times and I have not been with them. I couldn't go. My dog is going to allow me more freedom. He is going to be right there to pull me and that's what I need sometimes," he said.
Pulled out of the dark hole he came in, Lucero now has a lot to look forward to.
"He'll go everywhere with me. I'll not leave him anywhere. He's going to be my new Ranger buddy," he said.
If you're interested in learning more about SOWW or donating, click here to be redirected to its website.