VIDEO: N.D. Guardsman surprised with hunter's shopping spreePhil Sorenson, a soft-spoken Iraq war veteran who lost the lower half of his left leg to a roadside bomb in 2004, is a reluctant celebrity.
By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald
Phil Sorenson, a soft-spoken Iraq war veteran who lost the lower half of his left leg to a roadside bomb in 2004, is a reluctant celebrity.
“Now what have you done?” he asked Brad Bixby, his traveling companion, Friday morning as they pulled up to Cabela’s in East Grand Forks to buy a few supplies for a weekend archery deer hunting trip.
There, Sorenson, who lives in Williston, was greeted by a cheering crowd of several hundred people, including National Guard troops, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars honor guards, veterans on motorcycles, officers from the East Grand Forks police and fire departments and scores of others who heard about the surprise event or just happened to be on their way in or out of the store at the time.
“This is really cool,” Sorenson said a few moments later. “It’s a little bit of a shock.”
He will be hunting today in an area between Binford and McHenry, N.D., about 100 miles southwest of Grand Forks, as the guest of Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo, hosts of “Archer’s Choice,” a popular hunting program on Outdoor Channel. The show arranged for a shopping spree at Cabela’s to outfit Sorenson.
The Cianciarulos, who also were at Cabela’s on Friday, said the experience is expected to be part of the show’s season premier in fall 2013.
“The turnout is just unbelievable,” Vicki said. “All these people, all these motorcycles. It was cold and raining out there and they still showed up.”
“Thank God for all of you veterans,” Ralph said. “Without you, none of this would even be possible.”
Losing a friend
Sorenson’s war experience made national headlines, including the New York Times, after the Nov. 4, 2004, incident in which he lost his lifelong friend and fellow soldier, Cody Wentz.
The two were 17 when they joined the North Dakota National Guard together, hoping to earn and save enough money to pay for college. They were 21 in early 2004, when their unit, the 141st Engineer Combat Battalion, was sent off to Iraq.
The two were on an evening patrol, with Sorenson driving, when a roadside bomb exploded in their convoy, sending shrapnel into their armored Humvee, a four-wheel drive military vehicle.
Wentz died aboard a Black Hawk helicopter as they were being rushed to a hospital. Sorenson later was transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where his lower left leg was amputated.
“I spent eight and a half months in a sandbox, then 10 months at Walter Reed,” he said Friday.
Today, he’s office administrator for Noble Completions, an oilfield drilling company a friend started a few years ago in Williston, in the heart of the Oil Patch.
He’s been asked to speak at a few events over the past several years, but he mostly shies away from talking publicly about his experiences.
“Sure, I think about it, and I still miss Cody,” he said. “But it is what it is.”
Sorenson learned in August that he was selected to be a guest on Archer’s Choice.
“My parents bamboozled me into going shopping in Bismarck,” he said, adding that they ended up that day at the Amvets Club, where they were met by family, friends, and a crowd of veterans and a sea of cameras.
Bixby was there, too. He’s technical operations supervisor for CableOne, a Fargo-Moorhead cable television provider that hosts an annual charity golf tournament.
In past years, the business has raised money for several different organizations, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Ronald McDonald House.
“I wanted to do something with wounded veterans,” Bixby said. “It took a couple of years to get it going.”
He initially contacted the North Dakota Veterans Affairs Department, which provided a list of several wounded veterans.
When he learned about Sorenson and his love of hunting, Bixby, an outdoor enthusiast himself, figured the Archer’s Choice show was a natural.
“It’s tragic what happened, but Phil’s story is so amazing,” he said. “It’s a great way to honor him and all wounded veterans.”
Call Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1110; or send email to email@example.com.