In 1994 Justin Lightfoot of rural Vesta graduated from high school. That year he also began his service as a member of the United States Air Force. After traveling to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where he learned what it meant to be a member of the U.S. military, Lightfoot received aircraft training at Sheppard Air Force Base ultimately settling in at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. There Lightfoot served on a crew for a B-52.
“I became the crew chief, which means I made sure everything was ready for flight,” explained Lightfoot, adding that meant everything from making sure the bombs were ready to ensuring the tires were inflated.
“The B-52 is a good plane,” said Lightfoot, adding they were initially developed in the 60s and are supposed to continue flying until 2040.
While Lightfoot said he did do a bit of traveling – having been to Alaska to perform bombing runs – the majority of his four-year stint was in Louisiana.
Deciding that serving in the military long term was not what he wanted to do, Lightfoot returned to Minnesota and went to school at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Granite Falls where he studied machine tooling. While Lightfoot worked in that field for a while, he ultimately came back to his roots and today is farming with his dad and two brothers.
Of course, he also has another role that is taking up a lot more of his time. When he is not in the field, Lightfoot serves as a full-time fishing guide on Otter Tail County, with summer and winter seasons.
"I’m a bit of a workaholic,” said Lightfoot, adding that opportunity presented itself a few years ago when he met another guide who had taken him and some ex-tended family members on his wife’s side out fishing. “I asked him if he needed any help.”
What started out as a part-time role became full-time, with Lightfoot spending most of the summer and winter months providing opportunities for others to experience Minnesota fishing.
That experience also led him to an opportunity to serve fellow veterans. Through the Wounded Warriors Guide Service, Lightfoot has been able to take fellow military veterans hunting and fishing all over the United States. Lightfoot said his two younger brothers both also served in the military, but they both saw action overseas in Iraq.
“I saw what that did to them,” Lightfoot said, adding the realities of PTSD are significant in the lives of veterans across this nation. “It has always been on my mind to do something for veterans like that.”
So, Lightfoot got involved as a volunteer for the Wounded Warriors Guide Service and ultimately joined its board of directors.
“I love taking fellow veterans out fishing or hunting,” Lightfoot said, adding in addition to just experiencing that camaraderie, there are always great stories told about their time in the service of their country.
Over the years that Lightfoot has been involved with the Wounded Warriors Guide Service, he has been able to take veterans fishing and hunting all over.
“Marty (Caraway, Redwood County veterans service officer) introduced me to the Wounded Warriors Guide Service about five years ago,” said Lightfoot.
In addition to helping veterans just get to the destination, Lightfoot said the Wounded Warriors Guide Service also has all of the equipment for veterans who want to have that fishing or hunting experience, adding they also have equipment on hand to ensure those with physical disabilities can have that opportunity as well.
Lightfoot said he has taken people hog hunting in Texas and later this month he will be taking a group to Missouri to do some duck hunting. During the Minnesota pheasant opener, Lightfoot also served as a guide for veterans through the program as part of Gov. Mark Dayton’s event in Marshall.
The program is operated by volunteers, said Lightfoot, and is dependent on donations for its operating budget. Four veterans are selected to have a hunting or fishing experience at a time, but Lightfoot said there are always a lot more who apply. Narrowing down the applicants to that final four can be pretty hard, Lightfoot said.
“Everything we offer for the veterans is free,” said Lightfoot.
Lightfoot said there is something about being together with fellow veterans that provides a sense of healing and calm for them. Lightfoot said he was told once by one of the veterans that after his service he had never been able to sleep through the night because of the nightmares he was having. Knowing that he was with fellow veterans on that experience allowed him to sleep peacefully for the first time in years. Those are the types of stories that Lightfoot said makes all of what he does worthwhile.
“It is great to get them in the outdoors,” said Lightfoot, adding they even have Action Track equipment for those who need it to get around in the woods.
Last year the Wounded Warriors Guide Service provided an outdoor experience for 400 veterans, all through the efforts of Lightfoot and the nine other volunteers who are part of the program.
For Lightfoot, getting to know the veterans is his privilege. Participation in the Wounded Warriors Guide Service program is open to any veteran who served their country at any time.
Lightfoot said one of the things he would like to see changed is the fact that many of the veterans who want to hunt are not able to get a license, because they have not been through a hunter safety certification course. Veterans, including those who saw combat and who carried weapons in the military are limited in their ability to hunt because of that requirement.
Lightfoot enjoys the chance he has been given to serve veterans through the program and to get to know them. “I have not met a veteran yet who was not proud to have served their country,” said Lightfoot.
To learn more about the Wounded Warriors Guide service and how to get involved as a veteran or a donor, visit its Web site at www.wwgsmn.org.