Not So Average Joe: Chewy of all trades
Checking in with Chris “Chewy” Bracht
Chris “Chewy” Bracht earned his nickname a few years back, when he grew his hair and beard out – and looked like Chewbacca. He doesn’t mind the moniker as he’s always one to appreciate wit. Case in point: he recently told a story of two friends – both named Justin – who went to the courthouse in Portland and legally changed their last names to Case and Time.
He’s often spotted working at the Country Market, but also swamps the Sit and Spin Laundry Lounge and prep cooks at Lone Peak Brewery.
“You speak so well, Chewy. You should go into politics,” I said.
“Yeah, I just can’t trust anybody in this town to keep their mouth shut,” he replied with a chuckle.
Bracht hails from southern Washington, just on the other side of the Columbia River from Oregon. Rugged coastline and lush from rain, it’s the gateway to wine country and near the Graveyard of the Pacific. Called a “navigational nightmare” the graveyard is a sketchy patch of water and ever-shifting sandbar where the rushing river meets the ocean. Over 2,000 ships have gone down there.
“It’s beautiful, but too many damn people,” Bracht said of his home.
He enlisted in the Army National Guard when he was 17 years old. Three months of discussion with his recruiter led him to make the decision before he told his parents. They had to sign off on him going to basic training since he wasn’t legally an adult.
“It really floored them,” he said. Every male on his father’s side had served in one branch or another since 1927.
He joined what is called a split option program: basic in between your junior and senior years, finish your senior year of high school, and do job training or AIT (advanced Individual training) the following summer.
His training was in heavy artillery.
“Pull string, big gun goes boom,” he said with a chuckle.
He served from 2005 until 2011 which included a deployment to Iraq from 2008 until 2009. He described it as an intense and interesting time.
“There were parts of it that were extremely boring, yet there were parts of it that were extremely nerve-racking,” he said. It was during an election year and in the middle of the recession. The recession impacted his decision to re-enlist.
“My parents were having to refinance their house while we were leaving trillions of dollars in vehicles in countries we invaded. It made me kind of pissed because you could see this direct correlation – you could see, ‘Okay our country is going into debt while we’re fighting two wars which are quagmires.’ It was a pretty easy correlation to make.”
The frustration with the war machine in addition to seeing the effects of war on his friends simplified his decision to leave active duty.
“I lost a few friends to PTSD and that’s also more reasoning for my departure: ‘How good is this for my mental health? How good is this for my wellbeing: physical and mental?’ I had always wanted to travel after getting out of school,” he said. “I thought if I don’t leave now, I’m not going to leave and I’m not going to be that guy. I’m a firm believer that everybody should leave their hometown.”
Bracht crossed the Continental Divide and never looked back. Yellowstone will do that to you, he explained.
“There’s just this amazing environment: untapped and raw; filled with incredible people doing incredible things. It’s inspiring – to be around inspiring people in an inspiring place. It makes you want to experience it,” he said.
He’d felt alone in the world in the way he viewed life until he made it to Big Sky. The experience of finding his home was rejuvenating and refreshing.
Bracht describes Big Sky locals as hopeful while also being very realistic.
“At least for our community’s sake, I think recreation is a vital part of life. It’s how we as human being are able to detach ourselves from what’s going on in the world,” he said. “The fact that we can help make that happen – that recreation for other people – is stressful but a positive thing. I like to be a part of that positivity.”
Yet he also wants to remind visitors to be kind to service workers while on vacation.
Bracht loves his life and really loves his job at the Country Market, where he works for Lynne and Steve Anderson and with the “walking inspiration” Dick Allgood.
“[Lynne’s] a very inspiring person to work for. She’s such a part of this community. She started the food bank. She has such a huge heart that it makes it really easy for me to want to step up and help out more,” he said of his employer for the last year and a half.
Being around her has inspired him to consider his own way of giving back to the community. He’s a part of the American Legion, and has noticed the a large contingent of younger veterans in Big Sky. He’d like to get them together for regular meetings for coffee or to head to the river or hill. His idea is to create a local group focused on handling issues from their time of service while also helping the community. He aims to “wrap in being a veteran and being in Big Sky.”
“A big part of why people serve is for civic duty. Veterans really should have a vital role in their community,” he said.
One idea he has is to gather a group of young veterans to work towards bringing second-hand outdoor gear to low income families.
“There’s so much second-hand gear floating around that is either free or cheap. I want to focus on getting low income families outside. Stats show that lower income voting demographics seldomly vote for environmental efforts. It’s hard for people to vote in favor of something they know nothing about,” he said. “You don’t need brand new ‘Patagucci’ gear to get you out there doing things, you just need that initial gear to get you out there. I enjoy being outside and other people should be able to experience that regardless of their economic status.”