Nearby, Johnson is bursting with pride. At 2:30 a.m., he harpooned the last gator of the hunt. He's still buzzing, insisting this taste of victory was more exhilarating than anything he felt in Iraq. "I got to hunt with soldiers and the guys that care about the soldiers," he says. "To me, it was a rush. I may only ever do this once in my life."

After the hunt, Johnson and Olech stayed up talking at the campsite in the swamp. Now Johnson can't wait for his cell phone to charge so he can text a picture of the gator to his son. He plans to have the gator's skull mounted. In its mouth, he will hang his dog tags from Iraq.

As the afternoon lengthens, Horn softens. He stops sulking and joins his comrades in skinning and bagging the gator meat. Days later, he will admit he was frustrated. "I don't like being defeated, and those alligators defeated me," he says. "I can't sit here and say I wasn't disappointed."

"That bitch be mine!" says Greg Amira, who was wounded on 9/11 and in Iraq.
Colby Katz
"That bitch be mine!" says Greg Amira, who was wounded on 9/11 and in Iraq.
"It's like a brother bond that can never be broken," says retired Army Sgt. Gary Horn.
Colby Katz
"It's like a brother bond that can never be broken," says retired Army Sgt. Gary Horn.

But Horn also realizes the trip wasn't about just him. Before the weekend ends, he talks to McDaniel about joining Wounded Warriors as a volunteer, running his own fishing trips for vets in South Carolina.

Back at the garage in Melbourne, the exhausted, exuberant troops linger in the sun swapping stories. They divide the gator meat equally among those who were victorious and those who were not. Laughing, telling tales of a mission accomplished, they are a unit again, a brotherhood. And for now, that is enough.

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