The Fallen Outdoors

At left is Jason Wryn of Walsh with a group of Fallen Outdoors veterans after a dove hunt at Peabody-River King State Fish and Wildlife Area in New Athens.
Travis Lott
When Jason Wryn retired from the U.S. Army in 2012, he was suspicious of nonprofit groups that claimed to help veterans.
Many of these organizations have been found to be illegitimate, profiting off of donors’ sympathies toward the men and women who served the country but donating only a small percentage of that revenue to veterans causes.
“There were a lot of nonprofits out there that had a really bad name,” Wryn said.
So, when he came across The Fallen Outdoors, he was suspicious, but curious.
He reached out to the owner and asked what the organization meant by not-for-profit.
“He said it meant exactly that: not-for-profit,” Wryn said. “100 percent of all staffers are volunteers.”
Wryn served his country for a long time, by anyone’s standards. He entered the Army in 1990, becoming a combat engineer.
Prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, his job was all about conventional warfare. His job changed after those attacks, though, becoming more focused on roadside bombs that threatened the lives of soldiers in the middle east.
He stayed in the Army until 2012 and found The Fallen Outdoors about two years after retiring, in 2014.
The Fallen Outdoors is an organization that links veterans with fellow veterans for hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, kayaking and any other outdoor activity. The idea was the brainchild of three soldiers who were serving together in Afghanistan in 2009.
It welcomes veterans of all outdoor skill levels and takes pride in teaching beginner and novice veterans skills they can continue for a lifetime.
He and his wife Michelle lived in Wentzville, Missouri for a while after he left the military, but ended up making their home in Randolph County partially by chance.
A friend in Coulterville had offered them a spot to park their camper, and they stayed residents of southern Illinois while Wryn went to work as a military contractor overseas.
His wife fell in love with southern Illinois, especially the Walsh area.
While Wryn was overseas, he did some searching on Google Maps around Walsh and sent her a picture of a property he’d found, which they both loved.
The property wasn’t for sale, but two months later, that exact location went up for auction.
While they couldn’t bid in the auction, they waited, and around three weeks later, it went up for sale. They jumped on it and built a house on the 35-acre property, becoming permanent residents.
Wryn became a staffer for the Illinois chapter of The Fallen Outdoors. Within about four months, he became the assistant leader of that chapter. Last year, the leader stepped down, and Wryn was put in charge.
Wryn has organized events all over the state, like coyote, squirrel and duck hunting.
Last year, his group organized the first Operation Rally Point, a large group campout for veterans and their families, and 13 families attended the event at Lake Shelbyville.
The name Rally Point was dear to the veterans who knew that term well.
“A rally point is where broken and fragmented pieces of units come back together and get ready to go back out and fight,” Wryn said.
Wryn said the event is beneficial to both the veterans, who are able to be themselves around other people who understand what that life is all about, and the spouses, who sometimes don’t know how to talk to their veteran spouses about what they went through.
Wryn said veterans’ difficulties opening up to others is a product of their training.
“It’s beaten into your head from day one that you never show a sign of weakness,” Wryn said. “You go untreated because you think you’re going to lose your leadership position.
“They get out, and they’re damaged and broken. They get a little money from the VA, and they don’t know where they fit anymore.”
This feeling of despondency can lead to devastating consequences. In 2016, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs reported that an average of 20 veterans die by suicide per day.
Wryn said that, through these outdoor groups, veterans are able to help one another through a mutual understanding of what each other had gone through in the service, and the challenges of reentry into civilian life.
He gave a couple of examples of success stories.
In one, a veteran lost an arm in Afghanistan. He was always an avid hunter, and every year, he would harvest a deer to provide for his family.
The first time he tried after his amputation, he missed his shot.
“He said it was the first time he’s ever dropped to his knees and cried because he lost his arm,” Wryn said.
Wryn put the word out that the man was having a tough time, and almost immediately, someone reached out to help. They took the veteran out hunting, let him use a smaller shotgun that was easier for him to aim, and they shot geese.
“The dude was just ecstatic,” Wryn said.
In another instance, a soldier was stationed in Germany, and his son, who was an avid archer, was going to miss his first bow season. He put the word out, looking for someone who could take his son out to help him harvest his first deer.
One of the group’s members obliged and videotaped the entire event so the soldier could watch his son kill his first deer.
“These are the kind of things we do,” Wryn said. “We throw around the term that we’re saving lives, but if we can even stop one person from doing something—what we call a permanent solution to a temporary problem—it’s worth it.”
One of the points that Wryn stressed is that The Fallen Outdoors is free. There’s no cost, even for the campout for Operation Rally Point. It’s entirely driven through donations and members volunteering their time.
There have been some local businesses that have been supportive of the cause. Wryn said Chester Walmart and Butcher’s Block in Sparta are great local supporters.
The next rally point will be June 25-27 at Lake Shelbyville. After word of mouth spread about the first successful event, 18 have already signed up.
If any veteran would like to join The Fallen Outdoors, go to its Facebook page or online at thefallenoutdoors.com. You can also email Wryn at il.[email protected]
To donate to the cause, email Wryn at that address.



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