DULUTH -- Readers may recall the story of Travis Birr, the Minnesota Army Reserve soldier who returned home to Duluth in May after a 10-month deployment in Kuwait only to find nearly all of his outdoor gear stolen from a rental storage unit in Carlton.
Birr estimates the thieves got away with nearly $10,000 worth of his outdoor stuff, from a fat-tire bike and depth finders to bowhunting gear.
It wasn't just bad luck for Birr, an outdoor enthusiast extraordinaire, but also bad timing for his fledgling nonprofit Veteran Outdoor Ventures, which aims to get veterans out on hunting, fishing and other outdoor trips to get their minds off their troubles.
No gear, no trips.
Slowly, though, Birr has been gearing back up, thanks in part to some 80 people donating $7,150 to a gofundme.com fundraiser (including a single $1,000 donation). And he’s gearing Veteran Outdoor Ventures up, too.
On Wednesday, Birr got a big lift when he met with folks from Vista Outdoor Inc. to pick up a load of outdoor stuff the company was donating to him. Vista is the Anoka-based parent company of a host of outdoor brands. Probably best known here for Federal Cartridge Co., Vista also owns Bell helmets, Camp Chef grills and cooking gear, Camelbak hydration packs, Simmons scopes and optics, Bushnell, CCI, Primos, Remington ammunition and many, many more outdoor-oriented brands.
Meeting in a park not far off Interstate 35 in Lino Lakes, Vista gave Birr a QuietKat Ranger 5.0 E-bike with a Bell helmet and a Luminate 360 light kit, a couple cases of rifle and shotgun ammunition, a Camelbak hydration system, water bottles and more.
Initially, after the first story appeared, Birr was deluged with well-wishers who promised to help. But not everyone who offered back in May actually followed through like Vista did, Birr noted. Several times he sent follow-up emails.
"The fact that they (Vista) came through, when a few other people and companies never did, I give them props. They're really helping out,'' Birr said. “I really was not expecting the amount of ammunition they donated.”
Laura Stoneburner, Vista’s strategic communications manager, said the company got involved after seeing the story on Birr’s plight and his work to help others.
“We do everything we can to support veterans, first responders and getting people outdoors. Travis’ story hits all three and we’re more than thrilled to step up … to support him and the good he is doing in the world,” said Kelly Reisdorf, Vista’s chief communications officer and general manager.
Birr, 41, grew up in Michigan but has lived in Duluth since 2016. He works as a respiratory therapist at St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth when he’s not serving as a combat medic for the Duluth-based 477th Medical Ambulance unit of the U.S. Army Reserves. He had most recently been stationed in Kuwait, assigned to a Texas-based medical unit, dealing with COVID-19 issues among his fellow soldiers. He was coming home with plans to take an outdoor-themed road trip to Oregon, Washington and Montana to do some fishing and scout some fall hunting spots for the nonprofit veterans service group he helped found, Veteran Outdoor Ventures.
Birr also was the guy who wore 25 pounds of Army body armor while running (and finishing) the 2017 Grandma's Marathon. He did that to raise awareness for a group dedicated to thwarting veteran suicides, Operation: 23 to Zero. (The number 23 comes from a Department of Veteran Affairs study estimating that 22 veterans and one service member die by suicide every day.)
Now, Birr and his friend John Yankowiak of Duluth have founded Veteran Outdoor Ventures, which guides veterans on hunting and fishing trips.
Birr has been back to work at St. Luke's now for over a month. But he's leaving next week for a bowhunting elk trip to Colorado. He’s hoping to get some veterans out on Lake Superior yet this fall for some late season trout and salmon action. And he hopes his re-gearing will have him ready by the autumn of 2022 to take veterans on more extensive hunting trips.
“We are gearing back up to go,” Birr said. “We're hoping to get our 501(c)(3) papers filed this winter so we can start (accepting donations for) sponsored hunts for veterans and really get up and running. That’s my goal.”
How to help
If you’d like to donate to help Travis Birr buy new outdoors gear to replace what was stolen while he was deployed overseas, go to gofundme.com and search for Travis Birr. You can donate with a credit card.
Veteran Outdoor Ventures
For more information on Veteran Outdoor Ventures, or to find out how to book a trip or make a donation, go to facebook.com/veteranoutdoorventures or email email@example.com.