Armadillo Project seeks to lift soldiers from darkness

Shelly Hanson was the first director and stage manager for my Great Northern Radio Show. One of her jobs was to warm up the crowd before we went live. I still remember the show night when, during the warmup, her phone buzzed. She told the crowd that she knew it was rude to look at her phone, but they’d have to forgive her. Her son Travis, a 2013 Hibbing High School graduate, had just completed basic training for the U.S. Marine Corps. Big applause. She was so proud.

This was one of those moments that become even more meaningful as time marches on. Travis served with honor in the Marine Corps, but after two years developed serious depression. Despite exhaustive efforts by Shelly and his family to help find treatment, Travis lost his battle with depression Nov. 10, 2016.

This Saturday, Feb. 18, after many weeks of planning, Shelly and a legion of volunteers will present the Armadillo Project Masquerade Ball. The event takes place from 6-midnight at the Binster’s Ballroom on First Avenue in Hibbing, Minnesota. Tickets cost $30.

The proceeds go toward the Armadillo Project, a name derived from Travis’s online gaming moniker. The first goal will be to complete a dream of Travis’s, to open an Airsoft recreational park on the Iron Range, to give young people an exciting new activity. The second is to fund and aid efforts to help soldiers reenter normal life after their service, with an emphasis on mental health and counseling services.

In addition to Saturday night’s ball, organizers plan a September “Travathon,” a run, swim, bike and archery shoot event. The goal is to raise funds sufficient to build or renovate an indoor/outdoor recreational facility.

Kelly Grinsteinner profiled Hanson and the Armadillo Project in a Hibbing Daily Tribune story last Sunday:

For many marines and soldiers, it takes a least a year to acclimate back to civilian life — no matter what type of support system one has.

“The only thing the military gives them in the separation period is a career quiz, information on education and some financial advice – that’s all they are getting,” said Hanson. “There needs to be a whole lot more information made available, not only to the person leaving the military, but for those who are supporting them.”

Hanson said there are resources out there, but most are not obvious nor accessible.

“The only reason we got where we did was because I knew people,” she said. “And we still didn’t get all our questions answered.”

Her biggest question: why wasn’t Travis set up with the local VA the second he returned?

Despite all the love and support of family and friends, Travis simply couldn’t find what he needed.

“He didn’t get the right stuff and this was the choice he made,” said Hanson. “Instead of dwelling on that, I’m now looking to keep his memory alive.”

Hanson said most don’t understand what she’s going through, nor does she want people to.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to know how it feels,” she said. “People ask what’s the right thing to say, or what can they do. But the thing is that it’s hour by hour. It really is.”

Travis’ passing has had a ripple effect, she noted. His brother, father, other family member, friends, neighbors … they all felt it too.

“People are not sure what to say or do and feel the loss too,” she said. “I appreciate each and every hug, card and those who stop to ask how I am doing.”

An advocate and activist, Hanson’s way of grieving is to go out and do something. She is now running with Travis’ dream.

Find out more about the Armadillo Project at

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