Brett Miller’s home for three years was a hospital ward. It was there he partially recovered from severe wounds inflicted by a roadside bomb in Iraq. When he got out, though he still faced many challenges, he found being in the outdoors in his native Pacific Northwest was therapeutic and helped him cope with these challenges. Since then, he has used his experience to help other injured veterans find healing in the outdoors—through fishing, hunting, and unique service projects in national parks.
Miller was first contacted through Disabled Sports USA in 2009, where he was a participant, and asked to help with a project in Yellowstone National Park. The employees of the venture capital firm ARCH Venture Partners had been traveling to Yellowstone since 2001 to volunteer their time on construction projects on corrals and other ranger facilities. ARCH, which also funds these projects through the Yellowstone Forever’s Ranger Heritage Initiative, told Brett they wanted to expand their group by inviting disabled veterans to join them. Brett was happy to accept the invitation and recruit some fellow veterans for the trip.
“I like being part of a group when we have a common goal to achieve, and there is nothing better than doing it with people you relate to the most,” Miller explained.
Miller was no stranger to national parks and wilderness areas, having been a firefighter for the Forest Service for 17 years and fighting wildfires in many places, including Yellowstone.
Miller said that his favorite part of his current work in Yellowstone is determining what the rangers need done, and then going in and not just meeting, but exceeding their expectations. With a ranching background and significant experience in timber frame construction, as well as equipment operation, Miller is in his element when working on Yellowstone corrals.
“These wounded warriors bring a lot of skills and expertise from their former training and careers. When I first came to Yellowstone I realized I really did have a lot to offer, and now my fellow veterans are experiencing that too.”
And Yellowstone, Miller says, also has something to give the participants in return.
“Being in the outdoors engages each person’s body, mind and soul, and gives them a break from thinking about the problems and issues they are dealing with,” he explained.
“This is especially true for the challenging service projects we do in Yellowstone. Plus we feel united with a group for an important task or purpose—something that is often missing in our lives since we left the military, and many of us are yearning to find again,” he said.
Miller’s lifelong experiences in the outdoors, as well as his more recent adventures working alongside other veterans in Yellowstone, were among his inspirations to found Warfighter Outfitters in 2012. The nonprofit organization, led by Brett as the president along with an all-veteran board of directors, provides no-charge fishing, hunting, and service trips to wounded veterans. Any disabled veteran, of any age, is eligible to apply to participate.
Miller hopes to continue to travel to Yellowstone and help other veterans participate in this special partnership. Through Warfighter Outfitters, Miller coordinates a team of between 11 and 25 veterans for each annual trip, depending on the scope of the project to be tackled.
“The rangers and other park employees are absolutely phenomenal,” Miller said. “They support our group in many ways, and make us feel really appreciated. Some of the rangers’ spouses even make pies and cookies and bring them out when we are working. Plus staff members from the Yellowstone Forever come to work with us every year, which is great.”
By Christine Gianas Weinheimer