SHEPHERD — Outside of the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings stands a memorial garden honoring lives lost in combat.
The memorial stands to honor soldiers killed in action from past wars.
But the memorial is missing a section for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—inspiring one Shepherd man to build a new memorial.
Rick Baker, an Army veteran himself, decided to start a fundraising project to pay for a memorial that would honor Montana soldiers killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Baker designed a sweatshirt that listed every fallen Montanans name from the two campaigns.
When fundraising is complete, Baker will make the memorial himself. He also owns Metal Tech in Shepherd and is a fabricator and welder when he isn't fundraising for the memorial.
That's how "Hoodies for Heroes" was born.
“It just blew up. We’ve sold just under $50,000 worth of hoodies that have gone out across the US. Minnesota, New York, I’ve sent one to Alaska," Baker explains.
While $50,000 may seem like a lot, the cash in the bank is much less after product costs and labor are deducted.
Baker tells MTN News that he plans for the memorial to be complete within the next three years, depending on the final location.
A few locations are being considered, but Baker is hoping to add two more board members before the project can move along further.
The project is now officially classified as a nonprofit, just launched its website and online store, and is making event appearances after taking a break for the past year to catch up on orders.
Eight businesses have also decided to sponsor the nonprofit, including Hi-Tech Motorsports and Graphic Imprints.
The nonprofit also released a special line in October in honor of breast cancer awareness. Ten percent of their donations for the month will be donated to the American Cancer Society efforts in Billings.
"We try to keep everything local and support other nonprofits as well now that we are officially one," Baker explains.
While it may be some time before the memorial is ready to be placed, other veterans are thankful for Baker's efforts.
Randy Stiles is the Veterans of Foreign Wars commander for Post 6774 in the Billings Heights.
"I could say I made sacrifices and that’s very true, but these guys made the ultimate sacrifice," Stiles explains. "I think that they should be honored so their family knows that they are appreciated, so they know their efforts weren’t in vain."
Stiles tells MTN News that one of his friends from the Army can be found on the list of Montana's fallen heroes.
"That would be a great thing for me to honor Robbie and his family, just knowing that someone else besides me is thinking of him,” Stiles says.
This memorial will be a place for veterans, family, friends, and strangers to come to honor Montana's fallen Afghanistan and Iraq war heroes.
A place to heal, remember, hurt, grieve, whatever you feel is right.
"I think that the memorials we have for fallen soldiers are important for us to have for our history," Stiles explains. "To teach our children and their children that freedom isn’t free, there’s a price to pay, and thank god there are people that will do that for us.”
It's a thought echoed by other Montana veterans.
Baker will continue to sell sweatshirts, t-shirts, hats, and more to raise money for this memorial. After Montana's is complete, Baker wants to extend the project nationwide.
“After I do Montana, I would like to do one in every state. Have a Hoodies for Heroes with their state, their hoodie, and their names on the back,” Baker explains.
If you are interested in learning more or purchasing an item, click here or visit Baker at one of his upcoming events.
Baker tells MTN News he will be at the Blue Cat in Huntley Friday at 5 p.m. selling his pink merchandise, but more options are available on the website.
“We feel like these guys not only deserve and are owed a memorial," Baker explains. "It’s a place where family members, strangers, whatever, other veterans, to come to be able to have a physical location that they can touch and honor, remember, grieve, cry, yell, whatever."