You know, I like to watch the popular outdoor TV shows just as much as the next guy. And as much fun as it is to watch Hank Parker and the crew catch monster bass somewhere down south, or to ride along with “Uncle” Ted Nugent and listen to his banter as he stalks deer who-knows-where, don’t you sometimes just wish there was a TV show that featured local guys hunting and fishing in Kansas woods and ponds?
Aaron Childress, who grew up with the nickname “chili,” spent endless hours of his youth hunting, fishing, hiking and otherwise enjoying the Kansas outdoors. After high school he got a degree in business, and to satisfy his love of media presentation, he started his own media company, AC Creation. Then along came the United States Marines. After basic training and schooling as an infantryman, he was deployed twice and was forced to forgo a third deployment because of a serious leg injury and two subsequent surgeries. Several of his team members and buddies lost their lives during that deployment. Childress told me “I was out of action for almost a year and pretty much every friend I lost in the marines was during that time.” He was discharged in November 2005 and his life hit bottom. Haunted by guilt, and angry for not being with his team during their last deployment and mourning for the friends and comrades he lost, Childress attempted suicide in December 2005. For the next seven years he endured intense depression and addiction to prescription drugs, and in September 2012 attempted suicide again. Childress says what was missing from his life was a way to help him cope with all the bad stuff in his head and to “transition” back into civilian life. He says “I lost a huge piece of my life and never refilled it again.”
Shortly after that, while at the VA searching for the help he needed to reassemble his life, he pick
ed up a business card from the Gallant Few, a nationwide organization that specializes in helping veterans “successfully transition” back into life-after-the-military. Childress had abandoned his love of the outdoors since entering the military and during an interview with a representative from Gallant Few, he was urged to reconnect with the Kansas outdoors as a way to help him cope and find himself again. He began with short solitary camping trips to a place in western KS he had loved as a kid, during which he started video journaling. Much like the “Survivorman” TV series, he would set up a camera and film himself talking about anything that popped into his head. “Even if I felt at the time like I was losing my mind, I’d say to the camera, I feel like I’m losing my mind.” It was during these trips “off the grid” that he began to ponder just why God had allowed him to survive two suicide attempts, and decided that with his knowledge of veteran’s struggles plus the hunting, fishing and outdoors skills he had gained as a kid, he was being called to help struggling veterans like himself by taking them along and helping them learn to loose themselves in the great Kansas outdoors like he was learning to do all over again.
It was around this time that Childress decided to film four short video clips of him teaching his son gun safety and to post them on You-Tube. Hunt Channel TV was impressed with the content and presentation of the clips and contacted him about filming some shows for them, giving him two months to film three shows. Despite his excitement over the opportunity, Childress (Chili) could see that this project was way too big for him alone, so he enlisted some past and present hunting buddies and the group and TV show “Chili off the Grid” was born, apply named for his nickname and for the off-the-grid experiences that finally helped him begin to heal. Each member of the group was chosen for a particular skill-set they possessed. Greg Jones became their business manager, Troy Trussell was chosen as editor/director of photography, Chet Sears, affectionately known by the crew as operations tyrant took on the role of hunt-coordinator, and Shawn Craven who spent hours in the outdoors with Chili when they were kids became their sound technician. Chet Sears told me “We don’t film shows per say, but we film hunts and other adventures and consolidate them into shows.”
Working in any way to help military veterans is an especially worthy and popular thing to do nowadays, but can also be misused merely to create good public relations for groups or individuals. Sears offered some insight into “Chili off the Grid’s” mission to help struggling military veterans successfully adjust or “transition” back into civilian life. “Our group strives not to exploit veterans and not to use them just to bring attention to our TV segments. When you watch our shows you will seldom be able to tell who the veteran is. We partner with the veterans we take hunting and fishing, and attempt to form long term relationships with these guys & gals and to be there for them when they need a friend or a listening ear. We help them create resumes, fill out job applications, obtain housing, etc.,” Most of the veterans they take with them into the outdoors are found through social media contacts, and their information is checked out by the organization Gallant Few to be certain they are indeed military veterans and that everything is on the up and up. A couple more things about these guys that sets them apart from most other TV outdoor shows is the fact that they are not professional outdoorsmen, but all have full time day jobs to support their families, and they all live near Wichita, KS USA.
I first learned of “Chili off the Grid” when I met Sears at a recent outdoor expo, and judging by their name, I figured they had something to do with a chili cook-off. Recent statistics tell us that twenty-two military veterans take their own lives every day here in the United States, and I believe these guys, no matter what they call themselves, can have a positive impact on that alarming number.
Chili off the Grid has been picked up by KAKE TV, an ABC affiliate in Wichita and will air at 1 PM on all four Sunday afternoons in October. Also check out the guy’s shenanigans on their website chilioffthegrid.com and on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.