ENNIS -- The sound of a roaring helicopter is one many veterans haven't heard since serving in the military, but a group of vets climbing into one Friday didn't seem to miss a step.

The non-profit Semper Gratus, Inc. hosted a first-ever helicopter hog hunt for veterans, and organizers say it is a crucial step in the healing process.

'Being in the air brings good memories of when you were doing missions and your up in the air, and it's amazing,' said Omar Avila, an Iraq veteran.

At 28 years old, Avila, an Army vet, is dealing with profound injuries, including burns on the majority of his body. But the worst of the pain, was losing 15 members of his battalion in 2007.

'I was very numb to it after a while. I hate to say it, but after the tenth guy that we lost, I wouldn't cry anymore,' he said. 'I had no feelings. I was just numb to the feelings.'

Avila is a solider to the core, and when he had the chance to get back on a bird, he jumped on it. So did wounded soldiers from across the country.

'Watch every guy when he comes off that helicopter -- he'll have the biggest smile on his face,' said Michael Burress with Semper Gratus.

It's a hunting trip to relive the part of the Army they loved, without the danger and without the risk. Just the camaraderie; sharing a helicopter ride with a handful of soldiers who really understand.

'You know, it's just a difficult transition to move from that environment back into civilian life and have it immediately cut off, so what we try to do is provide a soft landing,' Burress said.


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