These Veterans Are Mining Gold for a New Start During the Pandemic

Fred Lewis Gold Rush
Veteran Fred Lewis sets out to start a mining business on season 11 of "Gold Rush." (Discovery Channel)

Over the past decade, “Gold Rush” has been a consistent success for the Discovery Channel but plans for a season 11 in 2020 were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Enter former special forces medic Fred Lewis and a crew of fellow veterans who helped make the new season a reality.

Fans know that the show is filmed in the Canadian Yukon and, while the miners themselves were deemed essential workers by the government, their camera crews were not. Border crossings got complicated and longtime cast members Parker Schnabel, Tony Beets and Rick Ness are forced to take some extra risk as they try to get business cranked back up after the shutdown.

With limited opportunities to film on the usual site, producers decided to follow Lewis as he leases some land and sets up a mining operation in the wilds of northeast Oregon. Joined by fellow veteran and experienced miner Kendell Madden, the men aim to create an opportunity for fellow military veterans to escape economic hardship and use the skills they acquired during service to build a better life.

Episode 3 of the new season (airing November 6 at 8 p.m. ET/PT) introduces the complete crew of veteran men and women at the Oregon mining site and sets up their adventure for the rest of the season. Viewers can watch the show on the cable network or stream it via the DiscoveryGO app with a participating cable or streaming service login.

    Fred Lewis was introduced to the “Gold Rush” universe while working as a medic on Parker Schnabel’s spinoff series “Gold Rush: Parker’s Trail” in Papua New Guinea in 2019 and, as the crew mined as they adventured their way across the country, decided that this mining gig was something he had the skills to tackle.

    As you can see from the clips included with this post, Fred’s got the kind of magnetic personality that works for television. He’s also remarkably blunt about the challenges he’s faced since completing his service.

    “I'm like a lot of veterans, I'm still in my transition, even though I got out in 2009,” says Fred. “Since I got out, I've gotten into green agriculture. I studied and got a master's in education and a bachelor’s in science of web design. I never really found my path. I was a high school biology teacher, middle school history teacher, high school rec wrestling coach, volleyball coach, bouncing around trying to find something.”

    He’s also got a clear-eyed take about the kind of military experience his generation of combat veterans has faced. “My son is 21 and he was born right before 9/11 and he's known nothing but war his entire life,” observes Lewis. “The system is not set up to handle this much conflict, and it's overwhelmed. The care we get is a quick fix, you know, ‘take these pills, and you'll feel better.’ It's not based on long term recovery, integration into the civilian sector, and utilizing all of your assets to find that next purpose. There's nothing that links us up that well, because it seems like we've been in war forever. When COVID hit, that just got worse because now we can't get access to the care we had before. You have to go and make special appointments and everything just got worse.”

    Fred decided that he wanted to take his fate into his own hands. “Gold mining is one of those things where we can control our own destiny,” he says. “As long as we have the financial support and the investment to make it happen, we can go at it no matter what is happening in this crazy ass world. I emptied every ounce I had from my savings. I turned everything I could into a liquid asset. I ended up reaching out to some of my combat teammates to help make it happen. Everything was all on us. We've gotten no help from anybody outside of the veteran community on this entire project. It's pretty fantastic to look back and see how much we've pulled off with our resources.”

    No one connected with “Gold Rush” will spill the inside dope about what actually happens this season, but Fred did have to travel to someplace with a phone signal for us to have our conversation this week, so I’m hopeful that his crew is making it work out there. We’ll have to tune it to find out.

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