Veterans come together for Wyoming elk hunt

By Nathan Oster

Travis Marshall felt a calling to serve his country in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, joining the Army and eventually becoming a Green Beret while serving in areas of conflict around the globe, including three tours in Afghanistan, two in Iraq along with shorter deployments in Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Now 19 years into the military life, the 2001 graduate of Greybull High School can see the finish line on the horizon, and as he looks ahead to retiring in about a year, all he really wants is to move his family back to the Greybull area and to share the thing he loves most — those spectacular Big Horn Mountains — with others who have served their country.

Marshall is doing that this week, leading a Wyoming elk hunt for two now-retired combat veterans. He's doing it through an organization known as Combat Warriors, Inc., and upon retirement, he intends to establish a Wyoming chapter, similar to those already in place in North Carolina, Texas, Florida and Arizona.

The military life is all that he's known since 2001.  He'd initially joined the National Guard and was working in the oilfields near Rawlins when 9/11 happened.  The attacks changed his life.  "I grew up with the mentality that I was probably service bound and elected to go the National Guard route at first," he said. "But when 9/11 happened, all I could think was, 'This is my time.  This is my war.'  I didn't think it would escalate to the point that the National Guard would go."

He decided to go active duty army, initially training as a parachute rigger. He did that until 2005, when he answered the call to "challenge myself a little more" in Special Forces.  He spent all of 2006 and the first part of 2007 in training, eventually graduating in March of that year.  He's been with the Green Berets ever since.

According to, the Green Berets, who are known officially as the United States Army Special Forces, are sometimes confused by the public with those of the Navy SEALS or the Army Rangers, but are in a league of their own. In addition to the combat tactics and reconnaissance those groups perform, Green Berets are trained in languages, culture, diplomacy, psychological warfare, disinformation and politics. ­

While not going into great detail about his 19  years, Marshall did describe training the people of Afghanistan to fight the Taliban — the thought being that it would prevent the United States from having to put boots on the ground — as well as one of his more recent missions on county narcotics task force in Uzbekistan.

He's traveled the world and if there's one thing he's learned, it's that, "People are the same — the cultures and languages are just different." He elaborated, "Coming from a small town like Greybull, we understand country, the cowboy life, country music.  But then you go to, say, Romania, and it's a different culture and you don't understand it. Those cultures have been around for thousands of years; ours for only a couple hundred.  Yet they, like us, have the same convictions.  They want freedom for themselves.  But it's a clan mentality.  They don't want outsiders.

"It's led me to think that last bastions of true American freedom are in Wyoming, Idaho and some parts of Montana."

Marshall currently resides in Colorado Springs and is stationed at Fort Carson, where he'll serve the remainder of his time until retirement.  He's been there since 2007 – not counting an approximately three-year period in which he "paid it back" by serving as an instructor at Fort Bragg.

He's married and has a daughter, whom he described as "the joy of my life."  The two share a birthday, in fact.

His eyes are squarely on his future. While his separation date is Dec. 1, 2021, he expects to be done around Sept. 1 when unused leave is factored in.  Job one will be relocating to Wyoming, and specifically, to the Greybull-Shell area, where he can be close to the Big Horns.

Marshall is already a licensed hunting guide in Arizona and intends to continue to do that when he retires.

His passion, though, is starting a Wyoming chapter of Combat Warriors, Inc.  


This week

Late Monday afternoon, Marshall found himself in the company of Bill Warren, president of Combat Warriors, Inc., as well as the two veterans who were selected to participate.  For security reasons, their last names are abbreviated.  

Jeremy W is the younger of the two.  In his mid 30s, he recently moved to Austin, Texas, from North Carolina, which had been his longtime home.

The other, Irvin R, is in his mid 50s, currently residing in Virginia.

Neither is an avid hunter.

Jeremy said nine deployments and the demands of family left little time.  There were also medical reasons. He's a Purple Heart winner, having suffered a traumatic brain injury in the line of duty that required more than a year of rehabilitation at Walter Reed.  It ended his military career.

Irvin grew up hunting in Tennessee, but went 20 years without it until he went on a turkey hunt through Combat Warriors, Inc.

Both said they were looking forward to their time in the Big Horns.

"We are a great team, but my wife was like, 'Go do something for you.'  I'd just retired from the Army and am still transitioning.  I'm looking forward to it as an opportunity to pause all of that, be in the wilderness and enjoy that experience."

Irvin said the closest he gets to an elk in Virginia is when he sees one on TV. "I've always dreamed of going on an elk hunt, but it was just something I never expected to do." A friend once brought some elk meat to his house. "My wife loved it," he said, smiling.  "She gave me the green light to do that anytime I wanted — just off one bite of food."

Irvin did 10 deployments over his 25-year military career, retiring as an intelligence chief for Marine Special Operations Command.  He retired about 3 1/2 years ago.

He knows what this week's hunt is going to be like, having gone on one in the past and spoken to others who also got to go.

"They are truly life-changing events for all the individuals who are involved," said Irvin. "I don't think it's a stretch to say that (these hunts) have kept people from hurting themselves or hurting others.  To be able to have brutal commaraderie with like-minded people — it's just a good release.

"You see that there are people who care. People need that.  Service people deserve it.  Do I think I do?  Most days, I don't. But every one of us will tell you the same thing.  The truth is, they do deserve it.  They do need it.  The experience changes you.  I'll never forget my first experience turkey hunting."


Bigger things

If you ask Marshall, he'd tell you this is just the first hunt.  He is fully committed to starting a Wyoming chapter.

Warren believes he'll pull it off — because he's seen it happen elsewhere. Someone plants the seed, and when people find out, it takes off.

Combat Warriors, Inc., began about eight years ago in North Carolina when five combat veterans participated in a duck hunt. That's how the first chapter was established.  By year three, the organization was up to 10 events.  Today, there are five chapters and they put on 40 events around the country, helping approximately 500 warriors.

Wyoming would be the sixth and Nebraska, Colorado and Mississippi are expected to follow, according to Warren.

He emphasizes that there's an important distinction and Wounded Warriors.

"Ours is 100 percent volunteer — no one gets paid," he said.  "If someone donates to us, we tell them up front that 90 percent goes to these type of experiences — the rest goes the accountants and lawyers who make it possible for us to do what we do for these warriors.

"In most communities, there isn't a lot of solicitation that's needed.  People just want to be a part of it."

Marshall intends to take the lead role in Wyoming, saying it's his way of paying the organization back.  

For this particular hunt, he lined up the licenses — there's one for a bull, the other for a cow — and has already landed a few donations. The owner of Rocky Mountain Sports believes in the cause and donated "swag" for this year's hunt, which Marshall is calling a "pilot" hunt.

He believes Wyoming is one of the best places on earth to stage a hunt and says he knows people "all around the state" who are willing to help guide the veterans on upland game, fly fishing, antelope, elk and deer hunts.

To raise money for the cause, he hopes to conduct banquets and seek the support of businesses and individuals.

Along the way, a board will need to be formed.

But that's down the road.  This week is about hunting and bringing people with common experiences together.  He's lined up local veterans to help him guide, cook and run the camp, which will consist of six wall tents and two campers.  They have up to two weeks to fill the tags and Marshall said he's invited other veterans to join them at the camp in the afternoons or evenings.

"That's the most gratifying thing," he said. "It's not getting the animal. It's the camaraderie in the camp, where everyone is invested in one way or another. It's a family. It feels like a safe place (for the veterans)."

Marshall credited his father, Fred, for instilling his love of the area, and in particular, the Big Horns.

"I'm proud to call this my home and for 20 years, it's the only place I've wanted to come back to," he said. "All I want to do is live, breathe and eat hunting and the outdoors.  Not necessarily the killing.  I just want to share it with people. It's a dying thing.  If I can introduce it to other people, to show them something they've never seen, I'll feel good about it."