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Sitka Helps Veterans Gear Up for the Great Outdoors

Sitka Customer Story

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One of the best things about working at BigCommerce is the amazing brands we get to work with. Our platform powers some of the biggest outdoor retailers in the world, from GOREWEAR to Black Diamond. For someone who loves the outdoors as much as I do, it’s exciting for me to have a connection to those brands in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. 

While the “brand recognition” factor is neat on its own, sometimes those brands end up impacting our lives in unexpected ways. That’s where GOREWEAR, Sitka, and my friend Jonathan Blank enter the picture.

The day that changed Jonathan’s life

We didn’t know who was injured. We just knew there had been an explosion. 

It was October 26th, 2010, and it would be hours before we found out who was injured. As the story came in bits and put together a bigger picture, we found out that there had been an IED explosion. We slowly started to find out who was “OK,” and finally we found out the men that had been seriously injured and medi vac’ed out of the scene. 

It was a day I’ll never forget.

We got word that Jonathan Blank had lost his legs in the explosion, and also experienced shrapnel wounds to his left arm and head. I didn’t know him well at the time this all happened, but I’ve built tremendous respect for him since then. 

The First Force Recon Marine unit was only days away from ending combat missions, and weeks away from coming home. They had been in Helmand province of Afghanistan for over seven months. Due to lack of resources (this was in the height of combat in Afghanistan), the dog and K9 handler that had been with their unit was reassigned. 

Rona, the Malinois they had with them on deployment, and her handler would no doubt have found this IED before it became an issue. Rona’s amazingness, intelligence, and partnership with her handler was a constant lifesaver for the entire unit. It’s no coincidence that the first and only mission they had without her had such devastating results. (I eventually began fostering puppies for the Military Working Dog Program as a result of this, but that’s a story for another day.)

Jonathan spent years in recovery at Brooke Army Medical Center, recovering not just from the physical pain, but also the mental and emotional wounds these injuries had caused him. That’s a journey that may never fully end for him. There were a couple of other men in the unit with life altering injuries as well. A lot of them ended up with traumatic brain injuries from being so close to the blast.

“The better”

This is a story that has transformed lives — and not for the better. 

“The better” came as a result of their choice to not let this moment define them. While there has been a roller coaster of events to get them to where they are now, they have all turned the experience into “the better.” 

Jonathan has specifically been a huge inspiration and influence for me. I’m not sure he even knows how much it’s impacted me. My continued support of veterans and the individuals in service is a direct reflection of my respect for him and my loved ones that have served and continue to serve our great country in the military today.

Supporting Jonathan’s dream

One of the many ways I’ve been able to provide support is through working at BigCommerce. I’m a long time member and co-chair of B:United, our veteran and first responder Business and Employee Resource Group

I also love supporting veteran owned-and-operated businesses that use our platform. I became a huge Sitka fan when I took up archery, two years ago. When I go hunting, I’m decked out in Sitka from head to toe. 

CZ Sitka Customer Story
Christine Ziegler, Senior Executive Assistant at BigCommerce, in her Sitka hunting gear.

In an almost serendipitous fashion, not only are they a BigCommerce customer, they’ve also played a major part in Jonathan’s journey.

It was a dream of Jonathan’s to go on a Dall Sheep hunt. It is the graciousness of Sitka, the Wild Sheep Foundation, and a generous donor that helped him turn that dream into a reality. 

For the unaware, these hunts take place in very difficult terrain, which would prove to be a challenge for Jonathan — but Sitka wouldn’t let that stop him. After Jonathan was generously gifted a sheep hunting trip, Sitka helped develop specialized clothing for Jonathan, and a special pack that enabled Cole Kramer to carry him into the backcountry. Then he headed to the northwest territories for this experience of a lifetime. It’s beautiful to see his sacrifice recognized and for people to continually surround him in making this life as amazing as it can be. 

Jonathan Sitka Customer Story
Cole Kramer carrying Jonathan in his specially designed Sitka pack.

This short film called "Together We Carry On" by Sitka Films showcases Jonathan’s ability to adapt and to overcome obstacles and adversity. In Jonathan’s words, it’s a “story of friendship, selflessness, and grit.” Sitka describes it as “a story of how one man’s sacrifice and grit was met by another man’s unwavering selflessness.”

The final word

Jonathan is a living example of resilience and brings that to all that he does. As he says in the film, “You have to play the cards that you are dealt and just get after it and figure out a way.” When I think things are hard, I think of him and what he’s overcome. This has gotten me through a lot of challenges and difficult times. 

I’m extremely proud to work for a company that powers companies like Sitka and enables their success through ecommerce. 

Sitka is a member of the Fair Labor association, which promotes and protects workers’ rights and improves working conditions in their contracted factories. They also sponsor Sitka Ecosystems Grants, which provide financial support to help ensure their conservation partners can meet their goals each year. And near and dear to my heart, they also support active-duty and military veterans as well as current law enforcement, fire, and EMT/paramedic personnel through their Pro Program

I can personally say that I wouldn’t want to be in anything else while I’m out in the backcountry with my bow. Thank you Sitka