A Life Changed: Travis Grass

Thirty years ago, I arrived at Big Oak Boys’ Ranch. I remember my very first week in The Osborne’s home, playing with baseball cards in my room. Another 8-year-old boy walked into the room and began to ask me questions – who are you, what do you like to do, why did you come to Big Oak Ranch? I answered by telling him that my dad was a famous baseball player, and that is why he couldn’t take care of me. He returned with, “Oh yeah? What team does he play for?” I frantically scrambled through my baseball cards and landed on one in particular, exclaiming, “Here he is!” Weeks later, I discovered that the boy I was talking to was Brodie Croyle.

There are millions of reasons for why we all come to Big Oak Ranch. In truth, I came to Big Oak because I was abandoned. At five or six years old, I sat at the top of the stairs and watched my father and mother fight over my siblings and me, as if it were the NFL draft. After their divorce, it didn’t take long before my father flipped through a phonebook and dialed random numbers, searching for anyone to care for his children. Bouncing from one place to another became the norm, and I felt unwanted. By age eight, I was so angry with God and consumed by questions of, “Why would God allow this to happen to me? Why am I unwanted?” Soon after, I was dropped off for the very last time – at a place called Big Oak Ranch.

My first set of houseparents were The Osbornes, as they became the first people who invested in building the foundation of the man I am today. After days, weeks and months of their love and discipline, I learned many moral and character values that I still hold today – values of humility, integrity, accountability and loyalty. As The Osbornes transitioned to serve at Westbrook and at the Girls’ Ranch, I received Mom and Pop Gilbert as my houseparents, and through them I experienced a compassion, love and devotedness that changed my life. They continue to be solid pillars in my family today, supporting every aspect of our life through still being present with us. They have taught and influenced me to be a better man, to do the right thing and to follow the right path. The difficult questions I had as a young child began to be answered with, “I love you. I’m preparing you. You are wanted.”

My houseparents sacrificed so much for us, specifically through their unconditional love, and their sacrifice – it marked me. It guides me as I serve our country.

After graduating high school, I felt that serving in the military was my path. After talking with several recruiters, I was convinced that the Air Force was for me, especially after finding out that I could be the one to load fighter jets, ensuring they are up correctly and safely. At 20 years old, I joined the Air Force and I have continued to serve for the past 18 years. Being a weapons loader involves working on a flight line and loading munitions onto military aircraft. This position requires attention to detail, the ability to be a part of a team and a strong work ethic, all attributes which Big Oak instilled in me from a very young age.

I began my training at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, and was later stationed in Italy for a while. Soon after, I learned I was being deployed to Iraq and panic ensued, followed by every emotion in the book from anxiety to zealousness. However, I can now wrap up my first Iraq deployment in two words, life-changing. Since then, I have been on seven more deployments, though, I still remember the first – the intensity of the heat, sweat and sand covering everything, the road stretching out to meet the horizon. I still see the faces of the airmen from my unit when I close my eyes, I still feel the excitement and accomplishment when an Aircraft returned to base safely and with a mission accomplished. Being able to serve a greater purpose is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.

In October 2019, I faced another difficult trial as I received a daunting diagnosis of Lymphoma, just as my wife, Courtney, was undergoing strenuous tests surrounding her own battle with cancer. Months of chemo ensued and there were some very difficult and frightening days. But, just like I learned at Big Oak, we persevered and fought for joy. Thankfully, my wife and I are both in remission. And, just like the days of my childhood at Big Oak, we felt the continued love and support of our Ranch family throughout our journey.

I will forever be grateful for the values I learned at Big Oak Ranch, and for the gift of family that a lost child had always longed for.