At 4Outdoors, we have been inspired to provide meaningful outdoor experiences for people and organizations in need. As our mission has grown, we have had the opportunity to connect with remarkable people making waves in the outdoors world. First among them is Stephen Holley, a veteran U.S. Navy SEAL whose passion for the outdoors informed his decision to join the military, to co-found Carry the Load, a nonprofit for veterans, as well as his decision to found SIXSITE Gear, a performance hunting brand with grit. In short, veterans like Holley inspire us to keep creating opportunities for real people to have real outdoors experiences. And for that, and all the work he has done and is doing to serve this country, we salute him.
Since his childhood, Holley has been enthralled by the outdoors. “I grew up in Texas and spent a lot of time hunting and fishing,” Holley said. When Holley had to make a decision regarding where he would attend college, he gravitated toward the Naval Academy. There, he decided he would work to serve on the prestigious SEAL Teams. Even this decision was largely informed by his Texas childhood in the outdoors. “Growing up with a gun in your hand,” Holley said, “joining the SEAL Teams and doing those pursuits just felt like a natural fit.”
During his time serving with the SEAL Teams, Holley had the distinct privilege of fighting during the peak of the Iraq War. In 2011, four years after rejoining the civilian world, Holley founded Carry the Load, a nonprofit dedicated to providing active, meaningful ways to honor and celebrate the sacrifices made by our nation’s heroes. At Carry the Load events, active duty military, veterans, first responders and civilians all come together to carry physical weight in miles-long relays across the nation that build awareness and community and bridge the military-civilian divide. “We are giving people a tangible way to come out and help restore the true meaning of Memorial Day, whether they are in the military or not. There is this vast sea of goodwill out there, and Carry the Load is one of the many ways to engage and celebrate Memorial Day in a meaningful way,” Holley says. “When you get the 99% and the 1% together, that’s the magic of Carry the Load.”
In addition to his ongoing work with Carry the Load, Holley has found a way to incorporate his love for the outdoors into SIXSITE, his performance hunting gear brand that brings the tactical, never-say-die mentality of the SEAL Teams to fitness-driven hunters who live for the chase. “When you look at these people who are using fitness as an avenue to give themselves every advantage when they do go hunting, a lot of those hunts take place because of the landscape,” Holley said. “A lot of those hunts take place out west. I think we’ve seen a shift in the hunting industry: there’s folks that are very interested in fitness for the sake of hunting as well as for the sake of fitness itself.”
The idea for SIXSITE was born, like most of the milestone components of Holley’s life, from his love of the outdoors. In the wake of his turbulent transition from active duty to civilian life, Holley used elk hunting to reconnect with nature. “Right after I got off active duty, my dad and I went elk hunting. It was a way for us to take a trip that we’d never done, to do reconnect and do that on a hunt we both wanted to do. We went out there and had a great experience. Then I started elk hunting on my own. For me, especially that year I was getting out of the Navy, it was a means by which I could be in an environment where there’s no cell phones, no computers, no distractions of everyday life,” Holley said. “Ultimately, in what became a pretty interesting transition from service member to civilian, I have absolutely loved being able to hunt elk.”
For Holley, hunting requires so many of the same skills he honed during his time on the SEAL Teams. At the same time, hunting also allows him to work through transitionary issues by simply being in nature. “It’s an escape to one of the prettiest environments in the world, chasing an animal that’s smart and elusive. Elk are my favorite animal to hunt because of the environment, the lack of distraction, and the remote nature of those hunts.” Something changes in Holley’s voice when he talks about hunting elk. You can sense a brightness, an apparent, felt passion for the wildness of nature. “If I could only hunt one animal for the rest of my life, it would be elk in the month of September with a bow in my hand. The vocalization of those animals, the way they talk, it’s pretty special.”
Holley hopes that SIXSITE can help both military and civilian outdoor enthusiasts get back to what really matters. “For so many people, being outdoors provides an environment that allows people to recharge, refresh, and put things into perspective. SIXSITE has allowed me to do that, to surround myself with a small group of employees, many of whom are veterans, and to be around like-minded people,” Holley said.
At 4Outdoors, we love being able to share the stories of people who put their values into action. As we wrapped up a long, but not long enough, conversation with Stephen Holley, we couldn’t help but ask what advice he had for veterans who are returning to civilian life. “Continue to serve. Service is in your DNA, so find a way to serve people,” he said. “And don’t isolate. Surround yourself with likeminded people. Keep seeking help even when you think you’re all better.” His words keep ringing in our ears. Isn’t that what this life is all about, serving others and building community? As 4Outdoors continues to grow and reach more people, we are glad to know people like Stephen Holley, people who embody our mission and embrace the wild, wonderful world of the outdoors.