Friday, June 9, 2023 Jun 9, 2023
70° F Dallas, TX

A Navy SEAL’s New Mission

Armed with his wife's sewing machine, Stephen Holley figured he could craft better camo.
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What was the worst part of SEAL training?

We started the indoctrination phase with 118 guys. Once we finished Hell Week, we had 19 people. The biggest thing that made guys quit was just being cold and wet for weeks on end. It was December. The only time we wore wetsuits was when we did 2-mile timed swims once a week. Otherwise, no wetsuit, no rubber.

Was it hard to transition from Navy SEAL to civilian life?

Being 6 feet tall and bulletproof like we all thought we were, I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it was a very tough transition. I had my dream job as a SEAL. When you get out, you lose that camaraderie, you lose that sense of identity as a SEAL, and, most important, you lose that sense of purpose, that higher calling of being able to serve your country. I left the teams because my wife got pregnant in 2005, and I had been gone almost constantly. Some days are still tough, but those tougher days are fewer and fewer now. But there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss serving with those guys.

What changed?

It wasn’t until another former SEAL and I founded a nonprofit called Carry the Load here in Dallas that I was able to get that sense of purpose and service back. Coming out of our sixth year, we’ve raised over $8 million for nonprofits supporting military, law enforcement, and fire and rescue personnel.

Why did you start your own hunting apparel line?

I was a commercial real estate broker for almost eight years before I left in 2015 to start SIXSITE. In the SEAL teams, everyone was comfortable altering clothing and gear to make it more intuitive, based on the fact that everyone might be carrying a different weapon. If you lined up 100 guys who all have the standard issue, none of them look the same. When I got out of the Navy, I started applying the same principles to my hunting stuff and messing around with my wife’s sewing machine. That turned into designing apparel that has small details built in that make a difference from what I call a tactical functionality perspective.

Can you give an example?

For anyone who’s ever hunted for any length of time, you’re going to get rained on. The problem is that with the echo of the pitter-patter on a hood, you lose all of your auditory senses. So in our waterproof, breathable jacket and pants coming out next year, we’ve incorporated a feature that creates a waterproof seal around a person’s neck so they can keep hunting without a hood and still hear those ducks overhead.

Do you have a hunting philosophy?

What I do not like about the outdoor industry—and outdoor TV in particular—is that the end-all, be-all of every 30-minute segment is about a dead animal on the ground. For me, it’s just as much about the experience, and about spending time with my five kids and passing on this tradition. Shooting an elk and a few deer a year, we really don’t buy any meat at the grocery store. Everything comes out of our freezer. That’s something to be proud of, ethically and responsibly harvesting your own food.

With five kids, you’ve got a lot of mouths to feed.

I always tell people if this business goes broke, I’ve got all the manpower to be a subsistence farmer.