Story and photo by Andrea Sutherland
Sitting in his wheelchair at the Soldier and Family Assistance Center Sept. 14, Eric Edmundson scanned the room full of Soldiers mingling and eating lunch. When Staff Sgt. Geoffrey Rhone pulled out his phone to show the group pictures of his latest fishing excursion, Edmundson leaned in.
“He wants to see your pictures,” said Ed Edmundson, Eric Edmundson’s father.
Rhone obliged, holding the phone for Eric Edmundson to see.
Ed Edmundson then showed Rhone and the other Soldiers the pictures he took of his son’s latest catch — a nine-foot alligator in the swamps of Florida.
“Dang,” Rhone said, clapping Eric Edmundson on the shoulder. “Do you need a sidekick?”
Rhone and other Soldiers crowded around to see pictures of Eric Edmundson with his “harvests” — a wild boar, a sika buck, an axis buck with 31-inch antlers and a 1,200-pound bison. Next on Eric Edmundson’s list: elk, bear, antelope and white-tailed deer.
For the past month, Eric Edmundson and his parents have traveled the United States with the Wounded Warrior Project on an unusual quest — to hunt and harvest big game animals in Florida, Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.
“Eric started developing this list of animals when he was a kid,” said Ed Edmundson, squeezing his son’s shoulder.
Growing up, Eric Edmundson hunted with a stick and pop gun. His father, Ed Edmundson, taught his son all he knew about hunting and the two bonded over tracking ducks and geese in the woodlands near their home in New Bern, N.C.
After joining the Army in 1999, Eric Edmundson’s passion for shooting continued.
“He wanted to be a pro shooter for a company after the Army,” Ed Edmundson said.
Those dreams came to a crushing end in 2005 when Eric Edmundson, a sergeant with 4th Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, then at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, was severely wounded when an improvised explosive device destroyed the Stryker vehicle he was driving.
Eric Edmundson, a scout for the combat aviation brigade, suffered a traumatic brain injury, fractured his T4 and T5 vertebrae as well as his tibia and fibula. His spleen ruptured. Two days after the accident, he had a heart attack.
“It took them 30 minutes to revive him,” said Ed Edmundson.
Because his heart had stopped for so long, oxygen could not reach Eric Edmundson’s brain, which led to an anoxic brain injury.
Eric Edmundson lived, but his injuries confined him to a wheelchair and prevented him from being able to speak.
“Because of his injuries, we were told he would never go hunting again,” Ed Edmundson said.
He said his son went through therapy at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
“Eric’s worked very hard to get his life back,” he said, adding that his son has been an avid outdoorsman his entire life.
When the Wounded Warrior Project learned of Eric Edmundson’s passions, they organized and funded his “Grand Slam” adventure.
Ed Edmundson said his son hunts in a customized ATV with a mounted rifle and a camera monitor scope. Eric Edmundson uses a joystick to move the crosshairs, pressing a button when he’s lined his shot.
In addition to hunting North America’s largest game, Eric Edmundson shares his story with local communities, his voice transmitted through a computer.
“When you are severely wounded, your life as you knew it has come to an end,” Eric Edmundson said through a robotic computerized voice, addressing Soldiers.
Eric Edmundson delivered a message of hope and encouragement to Soldiers struggling with physical and psychological injuries.
“It was pretty neat to see someone in his condition receiving the support,” said Cpl. Kenneth Petersen, Company K, 64th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
“When I get frustrated that I can’t open something, I’ll remember him and that it could have been worse,” said Sgt. Sonjamique Ferrell, Company K, 64th BSB.
Eric Edmundson’s parents said their son has worked extremely hard to recover.
“It kind of gives (him) a purpose again,” said Beth Edmundson, who travels the country with her husband and son. She said that Eric Edmundson’s ability to hunt means the world to her. “He’s gone through so much,” she said.
In addition to his duties as a spokesman for the Wounded Warrior Project, Eric Edmundson is a husband and a father of 6-year-old Gracie and 11-month-old Hunter.
“He has his life packed with purpose,” Ed Edmundson said.