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Supporting servicemembers with fireworks

Members of The Fallen Outdoors, a veteran and servicemember outreach organization, gather to celebrate their catch after a day of hunting and fishing. Photo courtesy of The Fallen Outdoors

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Who says fireworks are a waste of money? This 4th of July, they're anything but, as Washington state-based veteran outreach organization The Fallen Outdoors (TFO) raises money to support servicemembers through fireworks sales in Battle Ground, Washington.

"We're constantly trying to find creative ways to raise money," said TFO president, Eric Bakken. "We throw banquets, hold fundraiser dinners, races, you name it."

A nonprofit organization that seeks to create support networks among active and veteran servicemembers through hunting, fishing and camping adventures, TFO will hold fireworks sales in Battle Ground from June 28 to July 5. Proceeds will go toward TFO camping and fishing trips provided to servicemembers.

"We have the opportunity to put this (money) to great use," Bakken said, "to send even more veterans out on trips and have a bigger impact."

Bakken, who's originally from Minnesota, grew up hunting and fishing before joining the U.S. Army in 2007. He served as an infantryman for eight years, during which time he deployed several times as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. He started TFO in 2009 while deployed to Afghanistan.

"We had a lot of time out there, and me and a couple of other guys (sic) were talking about how we can connect people like us who like hunting and fishing and who're veterans," explained Brakken, who left the military in 2015 out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. "It's an evolving, growing organization, but it started with wanting to connect people ... It's a network and a support channel."

In total, TFO has 85,000 members across the U.S., 18,000 of whom are in the Pacific Northwest region. In addition to connecting servicemembers, TFO adventure trips are meant to help individuals cope with stressors brought on by a military lifestyle.

"These are veterans taking care of other veterans," Brakken said. "I experienced stress and loss in the military, and when I got out, I learned the hard way about losing (military) camaraderie. I hope people find that camaraderie here, and whether they're dealing with stress, PTSD or loss, I hope they find what they were looking for when they came to us."

Recent TFO events included a catfish fishing tournament, hog and turkey hunting and a rib barbeque fundraiser.

"On some of our trips, we see people like Vietnam veterans and Korean War veterans, who would never have met otherwise, come together and spark something. It's like they've known each other for life," Bakken said. "I love connecting people."

One of TFO's main principles, inclusion, has played an important role in allowing the organization to expand participation and support across the U.S. during the last eight years. The organization takes a firm stand on allowing any servicemember, regardless of service branch, job, or deployment status, to volunteer and/or participate in TFO events.

"I was sick and tired of hearing people tell someone who wanted to help that they weren't good enough because they weren't in Afghanistan or they weren't post-9-11 or they didn't have a visible wound or they didn't do the right job," admitted Bakken. "In my mind, it was baffling that people cared more about what someone did (in the military) and when they did it than the fact that they were willing to serve in the first place."

Through its upcoming fireworks stand fundraiser in Battle Ground, TFO will continue its work connecting and supporting servicemembers. The fireworks stand is located at 805 W. Main St. Although hours of operation haven't been set, patrons can expect the fireworks stand to be open from approximately 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The Fallen Outdoors,

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