Combat Warriors upped the ante in 2022

Nathan Oster

2022 was another successful year for the Wyoming chapter of Combat Warriors, Inc.

A nonprofit organization that started in North Carolina, it organizes and promotes dozens of events annually that bring together groups of active duty and veteran soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen for hunting and fishing adventures around the country.

Travis Marshall is the point man for operations in Wyoming.  A 2001 graduate of Greybull High School, he went on to become a Green Beret and get deployed three times to Afghanistan, twice to Iraq and once to Ukraine, before retiring.  

He now lives in the Shell, where he and his wife are raising a family.

Combat Warriors, Inc., is a cause to which he's deeply committed. It's growing. In year one, two veterans came out for an elk hunt.  In 2021, there were two elk hunters and two antelope hunters, and in 2022, there were three elk hunters and four antelope hunters.

A lot of people contribute to the cause and make it possible.

"If I had to make a list, it would be a mile long," Marshall said of the Combat Warriors support team, which includes individuals and groups who provide financial assistance, as well as those who assist with logistics such as transporting to and from the airport and in and around hunting camp, which is where so many memories are made.

Marshall said the 2022 hunt began in September when an Army vet, first name Doug, arrived with his special needs son, D.J., for an antelope hunt.  They were from Texas and it took them virtually no time at all to fill their tags.

D.J. got one on his first day, Doug a couple days later.

"It was our first chance to do a father-son hunt," said Marshall.  

D.J. made quite an impression in his short time, missing several shots throughout the day before eventually bringing down his target near day's end.  But it was the way he handled the whole experience that impressed Marshall.

"It was hard to say goodbye to that kid — he just brightens everyone's world."

An elk hunt followed.  All three of the vets — Army vet Chad from Oklahoma, Marine vet Camille from Florida and Marine vet Travis from California — had cow tags for seasons that opened Oct. 1.  Chad and Camille filled their tags on opening day.

Travis arrived a few days into the season.  His was the heartbreak tale. On his second day, he shot and wounded an elk, but was unable to recover it. The group spent a considerable amount of time tracking it, without success.

Travis had to punch his tag and left empty handed.

"That's one of the rules of our hunts," Marshall said. "Legally he could have continued to hunt and shot another elk, but we don't want to see people shoot two elk and only take one home.  If you wound one and we all decide it will eventually kill the elk, through infection, injury or starvation, we'll make you punch the tag."

The final two antelope hunters — Jesse, an Army vet from Alabama, and Mike, a Marine from North Carolina — arrived the second week in October.  They hunted around the Thermopolis area, the only place they could get tags.  That was only possible because of Eric Saam of Shell, who had some and was willing to give them up for the cause.

Jesse and Mike had their antelopes within 10 minutes of the season opening; the group spent the rest of the time relaxing and seeing the sights in and around Thermopolis.

Marshall said a couple of moments touched his heart, too. One came in during the father-son hunt when he took a step back as Doug and D.J. walked over a hill together and shot an antelope.  "A father wanted to teach his son and it was awesome to watch," he said, adding, "It affected me emotionally — for the good.  I was just so glad to be a part of it."

Time spent in hunting camp is never wasted time, at least with this group.  Marshall said many of the hunters arrived thinking they'd be "roughing it," as in spending nights in sleeping bags under the stars. But instead they find wall tents and other comforts of home.

Marshall said he was also touched by a conversation he overheard between Chad and his wife, who had secretly reached out to Combat Warriors to line up an adventure for her husband.  His service commitment had ended and he was struggling.  She figured it would be good for him.

"So Chad shows up — quiet, but a very nice guy, not afraid to get his hands dirty and help," said Marshall. "He shot his elk opening day and just had a blast doing it.  The other two guys, every chance they got, they'd head for a high rock, where they could text or call him.

"Not Chad. His phone was off. He was going to experience it to the fullest.  So after he gets his elk, we're packing the meat out, we get to the truck as it's getting dark and we're driving back to camp, the four of us.  We get to a high point and I ask, you want to tell your wife?  He calls her, puts it on speaker. She was overcome, just so happy for him. 'Oh my God, I can't believe it, I can't wait to cook all of it for you.'  We all had to fight back tears."

Moments like these make it all worthwhile for Marshall and other members of the support team.

"That's what it's about," he said.

Marshall is trying to organize a three-day, guided spring turkey hunt, but has yet to receive much interest.  If it doesn't happen, he'll shift his attention to next fall's hunting season and bringing more veterans to this area.

"Everything hinges on the tags and if we get them," he said. "We started with two, then we did three. We know there's going to be a number we can't handle, but we haven't reached it yet.  If we get four, everyone agrees, we'll do four."

"We're gaining a lot of steam.  Every year, we have more and more people and businesses interested in helping us out.  Every year, it gets a little easier to raise money.  But we never want it to grow so large it gets out of control, or to where we have to start dipping into our money to compensate people for their time.  It's 100 percent volunteer, the way it should be."