Families Growing Our Food: Veteran Brings Skills to the Ranch

Husker Home Place

After bravely serving his country as a Marine, Elgin rancher returned home to build up his cow herd.

Published on: April 26, 2013

Curt’s Comments:   It had to be tough for Elgin rancher, Garrett Dwyer, when he returned home after serving with the U.S. Marines in Iraq. It is quite a transition, going from an active war zone to the peaceful Sandhills pastures west of Elgin.

Dwyer, like so many of his fellow war veterans, were searching to make their place in society when they returned home after bravely serving their country. And, as Dwyer noted when I visited with him at the family ranch last spring for an article that ran in Nebraska Farmer last summer, veterans bring a specialized set of skills to whatever endeavors they might take up throughout their lives. They are courageous, strong leaders. We’re glad that Dwyer, and many fellow veterans are coming home to Nebraska to set down their roots, building up our farms, ranches and rural communities with the gifts they have developed. Here is Dwyer’s story…

BRAVE LEADERS: Veterans who return to our farms, ranches and rural towns bring specialized skills like courage and leadership back home with them.
BRAVE LEADERS: Veterans who return to our farms, ranches and rural towns bring specialized skills like courage and leadership back home with them.

When Elgin native, Garrett Dwyer, was patrolling with his Marine Corps unit in Iraq in 2007, he couldn’t find many similarities between the terrain there and his family’s ranch back home. The irrigation in the Iraqi countryside was done with trenches, and he observed only a few head of cattle and sheep during his tour of duty. But he longed to return home someday to the ranch.

Thanks to the unique Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots program at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture at Curtis, today Dwyer is living out that dream, with a college degree in his hand and an expanding herd of cattle on his family’s ranch southwest of Elgin.

Dwyer served his country on active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps from 2004 to 2008. After returning home, he enrolled in the NCTA 100 Cow Advantage program, which provided the basis and business training for his return to ranching.

“During the second year of the program, students usually work out their business plans and they are walked through the process,” Dwyer says. “But by my second year, I was already applying for loans to purchase cows and upgrade our equipment.” That way, when he finished the two-year program at NCTA, he was able to hit the ground running.

“I want to expand my herd,” he says. “Our place can graze between 350 and 400 head of cattle, so we’d like to get our numbers up there.”

Dwyer says that it was challenging transitioning back to civilian life from the military, and being an older, non-traditional student at NCTA. Working with his parents, Mike and Mary Alice, as mentors, the program and coursework at college gave him the tools to go home and start on his own operation.  Both the “Boots” and “100 Cow” programs foster entrepreneurship, Dwyer says.

“Nearly half of the military come from rural communities,” Dwyer says. Some are from traditional farms and ranches, and others don’t have family members in agriculture operations. “These programs attract them back home, and hopefully help eventually revitalize rural towns,” Dwyer says.

If you like this story or learned something you didn’t know by reading it, please pass it on to your urban friends who are interested in farmers and food production. Be sure to watch the last Friday of every month at Husker Home Place for more stories about the real families growing our food. Next month, I’ll focus on the multiple rancher-owners of Valentine Livestock Auction in Valentine, who rescued their local livestock market and helped their community too.