When Shawn Mills, founder of Backwoods Veteran Foundation, made contact to the Travis Mills Foundation asking if they wanted to be involved with the Backwoods Veterans Ride at Pittston Farm February 17th-19th, Warrior PATHH Guide, Ray Edgar, knew he had to be involved.
“I wanted to be part of the ride but wasn’t sure how to proceed,” Ray said. “I researched the organization [and] ride and completed an application for what I thought was an application to participate in the ride.”
Ray later found out he applied to be a sponsored rider at the event – and was accepted. Ray was humbled to be one of seven veterans selected for sponsorship by Judged, a snowmobile gear company.
Backwoods Veteran Foundation
Shawn was inspired by what SSG (Ret.) Travis Mills has successfully done by giving back to recalibrated veterans, saying he “set the bar for him.”
The Backwoods Veteran Foundation was founded in 2020 by Shawn when his friend was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“He was just freshly back from a deployment,” he said. “ I had to do something to give him an escape up here in the woods.”
The following year, Shawn made a few other calls to get more veterans involved with the ride and knew he had a “responsibility” to do something.
“The possibilities are endless,” he said. “Our biggest motto is ‘All is One and One is All.’ Meaning we are such a tight knit community that we have to look out for each other; and our foundation doesn’t just target the most needy or the guys who are disabled – we have responsibility for every single person who signed on that dotted line.”
Shawn is a veteran himself – serving a short tenure in the U.S. Marine Corps. He feels remorse that he could not serve our country longer and reach his personal, self-set goals in the service due to medical reasons. However, it instilled in him a greater desire to serve our nation’s veterans and servicemembers – by finding a way to give back to them.
“My short tenure in the service taught me to show others that, yes, you are still worthy and you are still appreciated,” he said.
“The idea [of the ride] was formulated more or less to give somebody that expression of [the] survival [of] nature and to be self inclusive around like-minded folks.”
The ride is based out of Pittston Farms in Rockwood, Maine where once leaving out the back door on the snowmobiles, participants go 20 miles in the middle of the woods – with no cellphone service. Shawn said that being surrounded by nature it takes a lot of veterans back to the days of trainings, exercises, and deployments.
“There’s not much connection to the outdoor world,” he said. “It is hyper-focused to get a lot of our veterans back into that nature again.”
This year, there were 75 veterans who participated in the ride along with Ray. Shawn hopes to see the program and organization grow next year.
Ray served for a total of 27 years in the U.S. Army with various duties.
“I was a little uncomfortable having someone else pay for my costs,” Ray said. “But I quickly realized this is their way of giving back and acknowledging the sacrifices I have made.”
Ray went on the three-day ride and while there, he said that he was able to make connections with other participants and supporters – many of them veterans, first responders, and medical professionals.
“I felt a deep sense of pride knowing this small segment of our population is looking out for one another,” Ray said.
Prior to the first ride, the event began with the “National Anthem”, which is always a moving experience for Ray because of his extensive military and combat history.
Throughout the three days, Ray was able to get to know those participating alongside him and make connections. He said that one of the rides was the largest he has been on, estimating about 50 riders total.
“The final night culminated with a great fireworks display with the initial part of the fireworks being synchronized with the ‘National Anthem’,” Ray said. “As I stood there surrounded by these great people watching these fireworks, I realized how grateful I was for the entire experience.”
“The two points I am hoping to make are my gratitude for [Backwoods Veteran Foundation and Judged for] sponsoring me [and] coordinating a ride to support veterans and how the event was both very fun and very moving.” Ray said.
Kayla Krause, Finance and Administration Manager at the Travis Mills Foundation, represented the organization at the ride, which she attended with her fiancé, a 25-year Air Force veteran.
Additionally, the Travis Mills Foundation sponsored a veteran to participate in the event.
“It was awesome,” Kayla said. “It was all about getting veterans together and enjoying the outdoors. Veterans from throughout the country were flown in to participate – for some of them it was their first time on a snowmobile.”
While Kayla’s position at the Travis Mills Foundation doesn’t often allow her to participate in such programs, she loved being part of the ride for many reasons.
“It was humbling experience [to see] firsthand what we’re able to do for our veterans,” she said. “It also bridged a gap between another great Maine-based foundation.”
Kayla, an avid snowmobiler, said it was an incredible experience to ride with such a large group – about 60 to 70 sleds.
“These miles under our tracks had real meaning this time,” she added.
About the Travis Mills Foundation
The Travis Mills Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports post-911 veterans who experienced life changing injuries while in service to our country. The Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat offers our nation’s recalibrated veterans and their families a week-long, barrier free, all-expenses-paid experience at its world-class retreat in the Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine. It offers various programs that help these brave men and women overcome physical and emotional obstacles, strengthen their families, and provide well-deserved rest and relaxation. The Foundation also offers the Warrior PATHH Program (Progressive & Alternative Training for Helping Heroes) for combat veterans and first responders, the nation’s first of its kind program designed to cultivate and facilitate post-traumatic growth. Learn more >>> www.travismillsofundation.org.