the great Florida cattle drive 16 was a week-long cattle drive that took place in central florida with a focus on living history this ride is a reenactment of the cattle drive done back in the eighteen hundreds on the cattle drive about 350 riders heard a group of five hundred cattle 50 miles from the Whaley ranch south of st. cloud to the Silver Spurs practice arena in kenansville the drive took place in January which has fewer bugs but more rain. When people first called in and said Mr Connor what we gonna do if the weather is bad so what you gonna do is remember longer. The committee putting the drive together started a new scholarship program for combat wounded veterans proposed by committee member David Hunt when I presented the idea to the committee about taking some veterans it was immediately everybody in the rooms in favor of Hunt is also coordinator at operation outdoor freedom a nonprofit organization run by the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry committee wanted veterans to be active participants in the drive. The next question is how do you make that happen and so if you have a better and it is disabled enough that they can’t ride a horse or if I can for a day then then how do we accomplish that? David Hunt ask others for help in making the drive more accessible. He contacted Chris Dacy at Wounded Warrior Project to see if he could interest more veterans and participating in the drive. So David gave me a call I approached by my chain of command and and they liked it they thought it would be a great great advantage opportunities so we took him up on it. David had also asked one of his old friends in North Carolina to bring a wagon and mules along to carry a veteran. And he said the wounded warriors and he said that I said well you tell me where to come to and i’m only there. That’s all I dos to say. He was in. the Chair for the cattle drive committee Doyle Connor Jr. reached out to his friends to contact Jeff Parker the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch to provide additional wagons and horses as well as to invite four of the boys at the ranch come along. If I’d kind of put these these troubled youth and these wounded more years together they might be a some synergy there that’d be helpful to both the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch is a residential care facility for troubled boys it is home to around 80 boys between the ages of 8 and 18 a lot of kids from single-parent not all of them some like any adults in their life so they come in here for all sorts reason broken home some award the state and then they don’t have parents. One of the options for the boys at the ranches to work on the farm which gives them an opportunity to learn new skills. Though it can be life changing it can totally change their outlook you can change your personality you can give them something else they never imagined doing. The cattle drive allowed both veterans and the boys from the ranch to experience something entirely new I However the weather wasn’t always perfect on the cattle drive a front of storms arrived. The storm pattern that came through with those three front back-to-back-to-back on those two days was very intense and very difficult on everyone involved the cows horses the people. The highlights for me is I think most of the people would say they hated it but I loved the weather and how it brought us all together through military you you learn to as we say embrace the suck and so that became our motto. Difficult things that probably be the rain the rain the rain really sucked. so the guys are like we really no needing for us to worry about a bath were already soaking wet. The difficult weather was also an opportunity for people to learn to rely on one another. Not only with a veteran helping each other out but we we reached out and you’re helping out there with the other riders well so it caused a great sense of bonding i think in our circle that I don’t know that would have been there as quickly or as strong had it not been for that weather. After three days of rain the sun came out on Friday it was also a day off for everyone before the final day people spend time relaxing and we’re counting memories from the last few days we’re all one big big group and I love that. He wasn’t the only one to feel that way. We got the privilege of being a part of the brown team which is the best team apart of the whole Florida cattle drive we rode with the wounded warriors these men and women soldiers are awesome and participating in this. Great group of people out here trying to keep up real life alive. It wasn’t about being a veteran it wasn’t about being a non -veteranr and it’s about being part of our circle in the bond we built. Other veterans also found a sense of peace in the land and trying new things with new friends. It’s just a calm feeling you know riding through the woods, mules and it’s all pretty mellow, thats what its about. Showed me what to do how to control the horse you know yeah we’ve made we’ve made a friendship out here this week. Getting Steve pile on that cart or on their wagon was I think just serendipitous. yes when I handed Steve Pyle reins on my mules, my highlight was when I handed off to the same grin and come on his face I think seeing how hurting steve was when he came into this event and the boost that Doug and Neil gave him and the camaraderie in the the friendship that they they built such a close bond and group there, I had one of the veterans tell me, Doyle, six or eight months ago i’m not sure i’ve been here but going through this let me know that there’s a lot of stuff to do in life that are worth being around you know things aren’t always bad and how do you respond to something like that. You say well I’m glad we’re here to help. For a number of the veterans that cattle drive was life changing. The cattle drive itself is the fourth time i’ve ridden a horse. the transformation is all myself just it was incredible, it was an incredible time being one with with everybody there and in the bonding experience the boys from the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranch also bonded with the veterans. They definitely connected with I could tell that they they love know they love that we think you know to the time the to give put ourselves out there and help them and you know make sure that they were safe and taken care of and stuff like that. Friday afternoon David Hunt and Chris Dacy had a private belt buckle ceremony where they gave all the veterans their own belt buckles for participating in the cattle drive. The belt buckle become a big symbol that towards the end of the drive of of completing something that was it was not easy but it was a lot of fun and enjoying the bonds and the Brotherhood and sisterhood that came out of that. One of our veterans came to me and said I want to give some belt buckles to the Sheriff Youth Ranch Boys. You know what gentlemen, for over 20 years I lead men all over this world and i tell you what I’ve never ever seen a group of anybody that’s they went through as much as you guys did this week bad weather they’re limited equipment all kinds of challenges to overcome all the time I did not ever hear one grumble complaint no bickering or fighting or any dissension whatsoever and Mr. Parker said for you guys today can do something it got done and it got done right then but I’m very very proud of each and every one of you know thank you because this is an opportunity to do something that I’ve never ever had a chance to do and I appreciate it. Tyler. It’s been a complete honor on my behalf of the boys and as far as a Boys Ranch as well, words cannot describe what my guys and learned over the past week about themselves and about to use as well. Thank you very much for that opportunity. Saturday marked the final day of the cattle drive and it was going to be a short ride to the Silver Spurs practice arena in Kenansville. Commissioner Putnam joined the brown group to ride with David Hunt to the veterans. I wish I’d been able to do the whole ride instead of just today but it’s a just been spectacular morning. By the time riders arrived there were over 700 people in and around the arena waiting to see the cows come home. The leadership of the cattle drive asked us if we would write into the rodeo first and I approached the veterans with that and I wasn’t really a fan of it they mirrored my sentiment with it without even having to say is if we wanted to ride with our circle. And the veterans came to me and said where are you going to be I said I’m going in the back that’s that’s where were supposed to be in the bedroom said well I’m gonna ride with you we’re going together. A group of veterans motorcyclist we’re inside the arena holding flags of the various armed forces the American flag in the state flag of Florida. We wanted to be there together you know we started that ride together, we stuck through it together, we wanted to finish it together, we felt it only right. We all wrote in together and that’s that’s the end and that’s what it’s all about.