In 2013, Union Pacific Railroad locomotive engineer Dave Oder and four of his buddies wanted to find a way to help disabled veterans in St. Louis. They decided that the outdoors was a good place to start.
They each put in $100, bought some rods and reels, and took five disabled veterans on a daylong fishing adventure. The event was in collaboration with Camp Valor Outdoors, a Missouri-based nonprofit that provides support for wounded veterans across the nation, offering outdoor adventures in 21 states.
Today, the idea Oder and his buddies developed 10 years ago has grown into the Tournament of Warriors, a three-day event in May hosted by members of the UPVETS’ St. Louis chapter where disabled veterans from across the country can come to connect, learn and have fun. UPVETS is one of Union Pacific’s nine Employee Resource Groups, which are employee-led organizations that promote a diverse and inclusive workplace.
“Vets just want to help other vets,” said Oder, who served as president of the UPVETS’ St. Louis chapter for seven years. “We feel fortunate. We’ve got good jobs with Union Pacific. But a lot of veterans haven’t been as lucky. Some haven’t been able to readjust to society.”
Oder served in the National Guard and Reserve for eight years, in law enforcement for 13 years, and has worked with Union Pacific for the past 17 years. He likes working in the train crew because of the people, the opportunity to travel, as well as the pay. Oder’s route runs from Dupo, Illinois, to Jefferson City, Missouri, and UPVETS lets him connect with other veterans at Union Pacific and in the community.
The St. Louis chapter of UPVETS has more than 100 members. The Tournament of Warriors is their biggest event of the year.
“The St. Louis chapter is one of our shining stars,” said Aaron Dwuznik, Intermodal Pricing Manager-Marketing & Sales, and a former Omaha-based UPVETS president. “We make the Tournament of Warriors fun for participants and volunteers. The camaraderie it brings is pretty special.”
This year’s event will be May 3-5 at S Bar F Scout Camp, a 6,000-acre facility with a 500-acre lake, in Farmington, Missouri. Ten disabled vets—whose experience ranges from WWII, Korea, Vietnam to the Gulf War—will attend. During the tournament, vets will participate in events including a bass fishing tournament, a crappie fishing tournament, and a Five Stand shooting competition. The veterans participate free of charge, thanks to $15,000 in sponsorship money raised by UPVETS members, with the help of local VFW organizations and donations from community members in Farmington, Missouri, and the surrounding area.
“It’s good for the veterans to be outside and learn new skills,” says Dave Oder. “Some of them may be new to fishing. But the real healing comes from the camaraderie with other vets and volunteers. That’s something these folks are hungry for.”