When Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Padgy Soltis experienced her first separation from her son, Michael, in 2016, he was only 8 months old. Working away from him for two months at such a young age was incredibly difficult for the new mom. In her downtime, she poured her emotions into writing a poem about the separation, a reminder for herself and her young son that they would soon be reunited.
The poem has now become a children’s picture book that was released in April during Month of the Military Child. “I Will Come Back” reassures military kids and their caregivers that separations – whether they be for deployments, work trips, or evenings with a babysitter – are temporary, and that the bond of love families share cannot be broken by distance.
After that first trip, Soltis also completed a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan while her son was small.
“The hardest part was feeling like I was missing out on such an important time in his life,” Soltis said of that deployment. “My son turned 3 when I was deployed and it hurt more than I thought to be away on his birthday.”
Coming home again was also difficult, as her son readjusted and they rebuilt their connection. Soltis credits technology like FaceTime and USO recordings of her reading bedtime stories with keeping their bond strong through the separations.
“Knowing that my husband was taking care of our son,” she says, also made it easier.
In their dual military family, both parents have deployed at different times.
“Children are a lot stronger and resilient than we think,” Soltis said. “Being a dual military family has been tough, but my son hasn’t missed a beat.”
“I Will Come Back,” available for sale now, is a bilingual picture book told through rhythmic language and beautifully illustrated. Each page showcases the bond between child and parent through simple connections like jumping in puddles or bedtime pillow fights.
“I wanted to incorporate things that would resonate not only with my child but also with children around the world,” Soltis said.
Telling the story in both English and Spanish was also important to her.
“I was raised bilingually and it is important to me to pass down the language of my family to my children,” she said. “Books have been such a great resource on our bilingual journey and we simply need more of them out in the world.”
Most of all, Soltis hopes “I Will Come Back” serves as a reminder for kids, and their parents, that their bonds can withstand time apart.
“I hope my book helps families (especially children) cope with periods of separation: whether it is a couple of hours, a week, or months,” Soltis said. “Families will benefit by reading this book to children before their departure and during their time away.”
“I Will Come Back” by Padgy Soltis is now available for purchase on Amazon.
Military parents: we’re one great big, loving, dysfunctional family. We may have a lot of differences, but we also have a lot in common. Find out the answers we received when we asked a group of military parents to complete the statement “you know you’re a military parent when…”
1. You stalk the mailman.
You can especially relate to this when your military member is a recruit or trainee. There are no phone calls, text messages, emails coming through. If you’re waiting to hear from them, all you can do is wait until the mailman comes rolling down the street and stops at your mailbox with your fingers crossed.
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)
2. Whenever you hear the National Anthem your heart fills with pride.
You’re at a stadium sports arena for a game or concert, and you hear the national anthem. You stand a little taller, sing a little louder and you see that veteran in the audience still standing at attention all these years later and a tear trickles down your face, and can’t help but feel an enormous sense of pride.
U.S. Air Force photo by Sean M. Worrell)
3. You can bring any conversation back to the fact your child is in the military.
Parents are the best at this, aren’t we? You often sit and listen to your friends talking about their kids at college or high school, you wait for the perfect moment to tell them all about your child in the military. “Did I tell you Johnny is getting ready to deploy right now?”
4. You wear RED on Fridays
Remember Everyone Deployed means you wear red on Fridays to let all those serving overseas on deployment know they’re not forgotten; that a nation they’re fighting for is praying for them, is thinking of them constantly, and is proud of them.
5. Your new favorite vacation destination is the Permanent Duty Station of your military member.
A non-military parent may schedule their vacations to a sunny beach destination, or maybe even an amusement park. Not military parents! Our vacations are now to wherever our child is stationed, whether it’s in the desert, the cold, overseas, or wherever else our military member is living at that time. “Woo hoo, it’s time to go to 29 Palms!”
6. You now understand and use military time and the phonetic alphabet.
You tell your co-worker you’ll be getting off work at 1630. They look at you with a confused expression on their face and you say, “Oh, I mean 4:30 p.m. I’m sorry, I’m so used to using military time with my son/daughter in the military now.” (As an aside, this a great way to start that conversation about your child in the military – see #3 above.)
7. You have a military t-shirt for every day of the week, along with pins and hats.
You can’t get enough of military swag! Whether it represents the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard or Marines, you have t-shirts, hats, socks, earrings, necklaces, pins, stickers for your car. You name it, military parents have something for every occasion, and they wear or display it loud and proud.
8. You see the proud parent of a “insert college university name here” and you laugh.
You can’t help but giggle. Their child might have went to a top college or university, but your child is a part of the finest fighting military in the world. Go USA!
(U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Chris Willis)
9. You’ve become an expert at mailing out care packages where the items inside aren’t as much as the postage to send it.
You do this especially when your military member is deployed overseas. Baking cookies, brownies, sending wipes, toiletries, etc., are all great ways to stay connected with your loved one, and often gives them something that they truly need. A lot of the time, the cost of sending the package outweighs the monetary value of what’s inside!
10. You know that things can and will change.
If there’s one thing a military family, including military parents, has to be, it’s flexible. Your loved one’s plans can change at the drop of a hat, so you have to learn to go with the flow and be supportive.
There were over 250 comments from parents around the country when I asked for feedback. I could only choose 10. Which of these was your favorite? Share your comments below – we would love to read them!
Your life as a military spouse is what you make it. There, I said it — it’s your responsibility to make yourself happy in this military life. Before you stop reading this article or leave me a nasty comment, give me a chance to explain.
I am a military spouse of twelve years and have been with my husband for fifteen years. I’ve moved eight times – from coast to coast and even to Alaska for a time. My first move with my husband was in 2006. I was only 21 years old. I left my family and all I knew, and two days after we arrived at our new duty station, my husband got underway on a boat for weeks.
I was alone, I didn’t have a job, friends, or even cable or internet!
It. Was. Horrible.
I remember feeling waves of depression and not wanting to get off the couch as I watched Grey’s Anatomy on DVD for the millionth time. I was isolating myself and never felt more alone in my life. Did you know that loneliness can literally hurt your brain?
One study found that loneliness was a risk factor of dementia later in life.
After a few days of living in this funk, I took a good hard look at myself. I saw my stained sweat pants, unwashed dishes, and wondered what I was doing. We had just PCS’d to one of the most beautiful beach towns in Florida, and here I was wasting away, getting paler by the minute. I got off that couch and set out to build a life.
I knew that I could stay in that space forever, but I was losing the opportunity of a lifetime in the process. This military life is beautiful – but it’s up to you to embrace it.
Fast forward to 2020 and I couldn’t imagine having any other life. MilSpouse life is my jam! I look forward to every PCS and see it as an adventure just waiting for me to dive into. Each new state is a new home filled with new foods to taste, cities to explore, and above all — friendships that await. Once you get off that couch and commit to building a life as a military spouse, the absolute best part of military life is waiting for you. Your future MilSpouse bestie is out there!
As military spouses, we are so lucky. We get to surround ourselves with people that we immediately have a connection with. A community that gets every annoying, frustrating and beautiful part of military life. You don’t have to say a word and these military spouse brothers and sisters see you and completely get it. There’s no fumbling about the weather or times of awkward silences – you are instantly in a circle that’s welcoming you with open arms.
So, what are you waiting for?
Here are my top seven reasons why you need to get up off your couch, change out of those sweat pants, and find your MilSpouse bestie:
1. They know the best hair stylist or barber
This information has been handed down like the holy grail to them and they are just waiting to share that beautiful treasure with you.
2. Got a nightmare PCS story to share? Pull up a chair.
Your future BFF wants to hear all about it and compare notes with theirs.
3. They’ve already scoped out all of the medical doctors, dentists, and specialists
Making decisions on your healthcare is exhausting and nerve-racking. They’ll be there to help you with the feedback you need to make your choices more securely.
4. Deployment sucks
They’ll let you cry on their couch, vent out your anger or hibernate alone for a few days. At the exact time you need them to, they’ll drag you on some adventure that’ll make those deployment days fly by. Your MilSpouse bestie will save you – I know, mine saved me.
5. Your holidays will be merry and bright
The military spouse community will fill your holidays with so much joy and laughter that you’ll be okay FaceTiming your family when you can’t go home. Friendsgiving all day every day.
6. They’ll carry you through the hard times
Whether it’s deployment, missing your family, or an unspeakable tragedy, they’ll carry you through loss that feels unbearable. I’ve held my friends through the broken space of experiencing a miscarriage, and when I went through my own years later, their strength kept me from drowning in grief. They’ve got you.
7. Mission first? No problem
The needs of the service will always come first. The needs of the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force will always come above your birthday, anniversary, or planned dates. Know it, embrace it, and have a plan B.
Your spouse is working late and missing the delicious dinner you made? No problem, call your bestie to come over and eat with you. Date canceled because of a last-minute training exercise? Totally okay because now you can go see that RomCom with your friends instead. I absolutely treasure my time with MilSpouse besties – because at this point, they are spread all over the country.
I have friends that I can call anytime, anywhere, and know that they’ll be there. It’s a beautiful life and one I choose to make wherever we are. Even with all of the hard pages of my MilSpouse story, thanks to my besties, I would go back and do it all over again.
The term “military brats” is familiar, unifying and isolating all at once. Military brats have a subculture all their own. Although they didn’t choose their upbringing, they’re often proud of their family’s military roots. The effects of military lifestyle during childhood are profound. Psychologists have established that parental absence and military spouse stress during deployments lead to increased levels of anxiety in military children.
Interestingly, psychologists have yet to study exactly what happens to military brats when they grow up. Military brats simply aren’t tracked once they outgrow the title. Based on anecdotal evidence and studies on child development, however, here’s what we’ve discovered.
Resilience and adaptability
The stats don’t lie. Military families move, on average, 10 times as frequently as civilian families. This equates to once every two to three years. It usually takes a few months to settle into a new home. It takes even longer to make solid friendships and get used to a new school. Military brats learn through experience to adapt to change and acclimate quickly in new environments.
Discipline and hard work
Military parents are often labeled as “strict,” but it’s only because they tend to expect their kids to follow the rules. They also learn by example; military families go where the military needs them to go at a moment’s notice, without question. Military life isn’t for the faint of heart, but watching your parents make a commitment like that and follow through makes a lasting impression.
The military has, historically, been somewhat ahead of the curve in terms of racial equality. Troops work together to serve a joint mission, and they become brothers and sisters regardless of ethnicity or race. This culture applies to families living in military housing, too. Military brats are military brats; they grow up playing with whomever is available, and their families all have something in common. As a result, they are likely to be stronger proponents of diversity later in life.
Good at teamwork
One of the pros of having a parent who’s periodically deployed is that children learn to be active participants in their household. For months at a time, military spouses function as solo parents. To keep the gears moving, kids are required to do their part to help. They’re often expected to pick up the slack around the house, assisting with younger siblings, doing daily chores and taking more responsibility than an average kid would. When they grow up, they’re unlikely to become a slacker in group projects. They’re used to pulling their own weight, and it will show when they hit college or get their first job.
The not so good
For the most part, the positives outweigh the negatives. The downsides to military life are very real, however, and what a military brat turns out like depends greatly on their individual experiences. Some adapt well to military life, while others struggle with behavioral problems.
The most frequently reported negative effect of growing up as a military brat is anxiety. Deployments are hard on military spouses, and they’re often equally hard for children. As kids mature and become aware of the risks their parent’s deployment brings, they can become fearful and worried. The stress of frequent schools can also trigger anxiety. For some, this results in behavioral problems in school and slipping grades.
Interestingly, the emotional impact of deployment can be mitigated, at least in part, by the parent still at home. If the acting caregiver is calm, positive and present, kids are more likely to make it through each deployment in a healthy mental state.
Though seemingly counterintuitive, military brats have the potential to become hyper-independent. Because they can’t rely on many constants in their life, they may lose trust in others to provide stability and comfort. Again, this depends greatly on individual experience.
An adjustment to civilian life
Most military brats carry their military brat status for life. Somewhere between the ages of 18-24, however, they age out of their dependent status. They face a similar adjustment period as military members do when they retire. They’ve likely lived with military support for all of their lives, and learning the ins and outs of the civilian world can leave them feeling shell-shocked.
The bottom line
The ups and downs of military life have a profound effect on the children who grow up with it. And those children grow up to become adults. There are thousands of former military brats out there, and it’s critical that we further explore how military life affects them long term.
What is clear is that the length of deployments and the conditions at home are strongly correlated with the child’s mental state. Because of the physical and emotional disruptions of military life, the fundamental tenets of parenting that we all try to follow become even more important. The stability, presence and support of military spouses can reduce the effect of deployment on their kids. With that in mind, it’s crucial that military spouses have a support system of their own. For more mental health resources, Veterans Families United has several helpful connections.
While many children dislike being the middle child, Bryce Caldwell saw it as the best of both worlds.
He loved the attention of being younger and once he was thrust into the role of big brother, it sort of became his calling.
Right from when the Caldwell family’s third son was brought home from the hospital, Bryce adored and protected him.
“Bryce was always hovering over him, kissing him, hugging him,” said Maj. Jeremy Caldwell, his father. “He was just so proud to be an older brother.”
Almost a year ago on Dec. 14, 2017, Bryce, a 6-year-old boy who not only loved his brothers but also football, died from a brain tumor called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG.
A photo of the Caldwell family. Bryce Caldwell, lower left, had his wish come true when he visited the Denver Broncos headquarters in 2017.
Earlier that summer, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Bryce visited Denver Broncos players and had the chance to play on a real football field with his brothers.
Although his life was short-lived, Bryce’s smile and personality often drew people to him.
“He would have this incredible light about him,” Jeremy said in a phone interview. “He was so warm and caring even at such a young age.”
Shortly after their son’s death, Jeremy’s wife, Suzy, found information on a 14-week hiking and fundraising challenge sponsored by the nonprofit organization.
Bryce Caldwell, left, takes a photograph with Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller during his wish trip to the Broncos headquarters in 2017.
(MakeAWish Foundation photo)
The culminating event was a 26.3-mile strenuous hike through the Talladega National Forest that is completed in one day.
With help from their friends, Will and Kate Searcy, the Caldwells were able to raise more than ,000 for the challenge — enough to grant five wishes from children with life-threatening illnesses.
For their efforts, the Caldwells were awarded the Lori Schultz-Betancourt Indomitable Spirit Award last at the nonprofit’s annual conference in Phoenix.
The Caldwells were left speechless when they found out they were considered for the award among the other nominees.
“We never expected when we went on this journey to get an award,” Jeremy said.
They also never expected to raise so much.
Dealing with the frustration and grief of losing a child, the Caldwells thought the challenge would help channel those emotions into something positive.
“It was a good way to focus all of that energy,” said Jeremy, who is currently a student at the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base. He has also deployed to Iraq twice to fly UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
From left to right, Maj. Jeremy Caldwell, his wife, Suzy, and their friends Kate and Will Searcy participate in a hiking challenge to raise more than ,000 for a non-profit foundation in memory of their son, who received a wish trip to visit the Denver Broncos headquarters in 2017.
Their initial goal was to raise ,500, the minimum pledge needed for one person to take part in the challenge.
But the outpouring of support they received from the local community and the military community across the world was much more.
“All I can say is that we are blessed we had so many good people behind us, lifting us up at such a difficult time in our lives,” Jeremy said.
After seeing their son’s joy during his wish trip to the Denver Broncos headquarters in June 2017, Jeremy and Suzy just wanted other families to have the same opportunity.
The trip provided some welcome relief from all the weight put on their shoulders at a time when they constantly worried about medications, doctor appointments and MRI scans.
Maj. Jeremy Caldwell, right, accepts the Lori Schultz-Betancourt Indomitable Spirit Award in October at the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s annual conference in Phoenix.
(MakeAWish Foundation photo)
“You can just focus on your family and enjoy the moment and the happiness that you see in your kid’s face,” he said. “That’s the incredible, almost healing, factor of these wish trips and that was an inspirational part of why we kept pushing to raise the amount of money that we did.”
The Caldwells have also raised nearly ,000 for another nonprofit that supports research to cure pediatric brain cancer like DIPG.
There are even plans to tackle the hiking challenge for a second time.
“I don’t know if we’ll get to the 40-something thousand dollars again, but maybe we’ll just focus on getting to one wish,” Jeremy said. “That’s the initial goal and we’ll see where it goes.”
There’s been so much written lately about the heroes on the front lines. The selfless men and women bravely going to their jobs to serve their country and their communities. The ones who are knowingly going to work with patients or customers who could infect them. Yes, we rightfully applaud the truck drivers hauling supplies to replenish depleted stores. We extol the cook at our favorite restaurant who keeps making meals and the employees whose tips have been practically eliminated but still run our orders out to our cars. We watch with sheer amazement and horror as our doctors, nurses and medical staff go into the line of fire lacking basic, necessary protective equipment. We honor you all. We salute you all. We love and respect and are grateful For You All.
But this letter isn’t about that. Nope.
This letter is to you — the spouses of the mission essentials.
You are the ones left behind each morning. The ones left to deal with homeschool and meals and kids unable to play with their friends or understand their math homework that they didn’t quite grasp in a packet.
You are the ones left to carry the emotional burdens of children who are frustrated at a Zoom classroom and don’t understand why they can’t have a sleepover or go see grandma or even play at the park. You are the ones who field countless requests for snacks, a thousand utterings of, “I need help,” and even more declarations of, “I can’t do this.”
You put your own work on hold, your own health, your own sanity to muster one more ounce of patience, one more hug, one more deep breath, all while balancing that other nasty, invisible weight: the burden of your own anxiety. Anxious about the world. Anxious about your spouse. Anxious about their health and your health and your parents’ health and your kids’ health and their screen time and your elderly neighbor’s health and the teachers’ health and your job and your neighbor’s job and the economy and your kids’ education, and given your one hour of free time a week, why you suddenly identify with a character on Tiger King.
Here’s the thing: It’s all too much. And it’s going to feel like you’re failing.
Failing by definition means, “a weakness, especially in character; a shortcoming.” But if we’ve seen anything in this time of pandemic, we’ve seen your strength. Your resolve. Your gracious heart. We’ve seen you stay home and help flatten the curve. We’ve seen you take on additional responsibilities so your mission essential spouse could keep being mission essential. We’ve seen you offer encouragement to your friends on FaceTime when you have none to give yourself. We’ve seen you reassure your exhausted partner that everything will be okay, all the while knowing you will lie awake in the dark in the middle of the night, the echoes of your own fears so deafening you can’t fall back asleep.
We see you. You’re going to be okay. Reframe your measure of success to include a bar that allows for just getting by. Find time for gratitude. Make space for prayer or meditation or simply a silence that isn’t broken by fear or anxiety. We are all in this together and your best is good enough. As my seven year old reminded me yesterday, this is his first global pandemic. Ours too, bud. Ours too.
“Our job as parents isn’t to provide certainty in a time of uncertainty. Our job is to help kids tolerate the uncertainty,” explains Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute.
Kids aren’t stupid. Nor are they obtuse. They hear you discussing the increasingly dire COVID-19 news, they see headlines on your social media feed, and they understand that to a large extent, the stuff they once enjoyed doing is no longer in play. Playing epidemiologist isn’t going to work. Kids don’t need specific answers, they need broader certitude that they are loved and will be taken care of — certitude that makes the ambiguity of the moment manageable.
“We want to teach them how to tolerate not knowing. You should let them explain how they’re feeling and why, and you can help them validate those feeling by saying things like, ‘I have similar worries. Let’s brainstorm ideas on how we can make things better.’ Instead of just giving answers, you want to have a conversation and compare notes,” says Bubrick.
Getting kids, regardless of age, involved in problem-solving makes them feel empowered and like they’re part of the solution. But as Bubrick points out, if you ask vague questions, you’ll get vague answers, including the dreaded “I’m fine” (the quintessential conversational dead end). Bubrick’s advice is to lead with curiosity and ask open-ended yet specific questions:
What did you learn about today?
What is something interesting or funny you heard about today?
What was the most fun thing you did today?
What are you most looking forward to tomorrow?
What was the toughest part of your day today?
What was something you didn’t like about your day?
What got in the way today of you having a fun day?
What can we do together to make it better?
I read something interesting today and wanted to know if you had a reaction to it?
As with most things in life, timing is everything.
“Bedtime is not the right time. Kids are starting to wind down for the day. Anxious kids have more worries at night. Don’t lead them down the path of more worry. And don’t talk to them about this when they first wake up. Find a time, a neutral time, when there hasn’t been a big argument. Look for a calm moment,” says Bubrick.
He suggests having laid-back discussions either during dinner, or while taking a family walk. And he relies on a simple yet clever approach that gets people to open up.
“With my kids, I suggest a game: Like a rose. It’s an icebreaker and it’s our thing. You start and model the game. There are three components to the rose. The petal: ‘Tell me something you liked about today.’ The thorn: ‘Tell me something you didn’t like.’ The bud: ‘Tell me something you’re looking forward to in the future.’ You have to model it to get a response.”
If your children aren’t able to articulate how they’re feeling, use a feelings chart and work your way from there. Some 5-year-olds can explain, with total clarity, what upended their emotions and why. Some teens, meanwhile, can barely manage a two-word response and won’t dig deeper without gentle prodding. You want to have children be as specific as possible about what exactly they’re feeling.
“If you can name it, you can tame it,” says Bubrick.
His final note is just as applicable to kids as to their adult minders. Don’t spin out. Don’t catastrophize. And remind kids that no, their friends aren’t having secret sleepovers or hitting the playground. We’re all stuck at home together.
“We want to help kids stay in the moment. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the unknown. All we know is what’s happening to us right now. We have each other. We’re connected to our friends. Let’s focus on that. We’ll deal with tomorrow, tomorrow,” he says.
A while ago, the Department of Defense issued a statement saying that in order to ensure our military remains at its strongest, any troop that’s been listed as non-deployable for 12 months or more will be removed from service.
On one hand, it’s reasonable to assume that the primary mission of troops is to deploy and engage the enemies of the United States. If a troop isn’t physically up to the task, then it’s time to let them go. And the policy isn’t coming down like an iron fist; there are a number of exceptions in play, including some for those on temporary non-deployable status for reasons like pregnancy or injury.
Now that the policy is in place, however, we’re starting to see how it’s affecting the overall combat readiness of troops. On paper, everything seems fine, but many unintended consequences are now hampering the troops.
If not, many troops will try to fight their way into a Warrior Transition Unit.
Many wounded troops will be unceremoniously given the boot
The exception for wounded troops we mentioned above is only applicable to troops who received injuries in combat. The policy is geared specifically toward sidelining troops who have endured prolonged injuries that have gotten worse over time or were sustained during training. It remains to be seen whether the policy protects troops who were injured outside of combat while deployed.
Since this directive is coming from the Pentagon level and any appeals will be made at the military service-level, expect troops who’ve served their country for years face an extremely uphill battle just to try and stay in. The debatable “positive” side of this is troops who’ve served long enough may be eligible for an early medical retirement.
If the appeals process were to be set at a much lower level, say, the installation level, then troops could present medical documentation in person, giving them a better chance to appeal.
At least the lines at sick call will be shorter…
(U.S. Air Force photo)
More troops will skip medical exams
Put yourself in the perspective of a lower enlisted. As it currently stands, you are seen as either weak or a discredit to your unit if you go to sick call. If your injury or sickness happens to fall anywhere near a unit run/ruck march, it’ll look like malingering. You’ve had bad experiences with the medics/corpsmen at sick call and you weren’t given the proper treatment. Now, to top it all off, if you go to sick call and get some bad news, there’s a chance your career is over.
The intention of the policy is to keep only the able-bodied troops who’re capable of withstand the hardships of a deployment — and that’s understandable — but the only way the Pentagon can keep tabs on who is and who isn’t eligible is through medical records. Troops who know something is wrong with their body will simply avoid sick call or medical if they want to stay in.
In order for this policy to be effective, there has to be better rehabilitation options available to troops. That 12-month deadline can remain in place, but only if the troop has proven that the previous fifty-one weeks weren’t getting them closer to the action.
The VA isn’t as much of a mess as it used to be and hopefully they don’t get complacent.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Sara Francis)
The VA will be even more backlogged
As with any change in policy, it’ll hit hardest at first and then taper off after a while. Currently, there are around 126,000 troops (six percent of all troops currently active, reserves, or guard duty) who face separation under this policy. It will hit the ranks pretty hard at first and then affect only a couple thousand or so per year after the initial impact.
All of these troops leaving the service simultaneously for medical reasons will immediately go to the already-overworked Department of Veteran’s Affairs, who currently serve 9 million veterans across their 1,243 health care facilities. If evenly dispersed, every VA center stands to receive 100 new applicants — but the system works by geographical location, so expect activity at metropolitan centers to surge. This is bad news for a department that currently has a backlog of 326,000 still-pending disability claims to deal with.
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs has gotten better recently, bringing that backlog down from 800,000 in just six years. The only thing they can do is prepare themselves for a massive surge of new appointments — good luck.
Someone’s gotta take care of things back stateside. That’s not a figure of speech or anything. We seriously need people back here to do the mission while others are deployed.
(Department of Defense photo by David Bedard)
Rear Detachment units will be inoperable
Not every single troop joins and then deploys when a unit heads overseas. Those responsible for staying behind and taking care of the home station are called the Rear Detachment, or Rear-D. These units are skeleton crews that take care of stateside logistics and handle any new and incoming troops that may arrive to the unit. While an entire battalion-sized unit is gone, maybe two platoon’s worth of troops will hold down the fort. Before this new policy, this is where you’d send the medically non-deployable troops, pregnant troops, and any new arrivals.
Under the new policy, a huge chunk of Rear-D troops are facing separation. Before the policy, it would have been easy to find a handful of troops and an E-7 with a bad back to take charge and keep the gears turning.
One of two things will now need to happen instead. Either a deploying unit will need to keep certain troops back home to handle Rear-D (and these troops would’ve otherwise deployed, thus taking able-bodied soldiers out of the fight and negating the intended effect of the policy) or stateside units will need to play a larger role for deployed counterparts, taking away from their current training mission.
But, as with all things, the policy will probably only be in effect for a few years before we realize the mistake and start letting anyone who wants in to join. I’m calling it now.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Philip Speck)
The total number of troops affected will be far greater if the military keeps its path
An estimated 126,000 troops are currently on the chopping block. While we may never cut that many in a given year, there will be many more that are removed in the coming years.
The Army is planning on implementing a new PT test, one that features three events capable of causing injury if done incorrectly. A massive overhaul of Basic Training and Boot Camp is expected, making the experience far more intense, which will result in more injuries. An increased military presence overseas will result in more intense pre-deployment training, which is already resulting in more injuries with each passing year. Combine all of these factors with a civilian population that’s becoming less and less eligible to enlist, and the military is going to be shrinking way too fast.
This isn’t a problem that can be easily fixed. This is the fundamental problem with the Deploy or Get Out policy. The military is going to shrink beyond its already record-low personnel numbers.
Three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Capt. Colin Kelly, Jr. was set to fly over Taiwan in his B-17 Flying Fortress in one of the first American counter attacks of World War II. Kelly was stationed on Luzon, in the Philippines and survived the massive Japanese attack on that island nation as well. Kelly died after attacking a Japanese heavy cruiser, one of the first casualties of the Pacific War and the first graduate of the United States Military Academy to die in combat.
He was also one of the first heroes of the Army Air Corps in World War II – and President Roosevelt would not forget him.
Instead of Taiwan, the 26-year-old pilot dropped a bomb load on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Ashigara as it supported the landing invasion forces on Luzon. He was immediately swarmed by Japanese Zeros. The B-17 pilot never had a chance. Before he could bail out, the plane exploded with Kelly inside. He stayed at the controls so his crew could bail out.
This painting of Colin Kelly, Jr. hangs in the Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
“Out of ammunition, I flew alongside the B-17 and saw the pilot trying to save the burning aircraft after allowing his crew to escape,” a Japanese pilot who was over Luzon that day remembered. “I have tremendous respect for him.” Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross
Americans responded to the news of Colin Kelly’s death by setting up a fund for his son’s education, once he reached college age. But one person in particular wanted to make sure the son of America’s first World War II hero had the chance to do whatever he wanted in life.
That person was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
When watching a movie like Saving Private Ryan for the first time, I scoffed at the idea that someone so high up in the government would be able to watch a situation like World War II from the ivory tower of the White House and have such a granular effect on the individuals affected by the war. And maybe President Roosevelt didn’t have time for everyone, but for Colin Kelly III, Capt. Kelly’s son, he sure did.
Roosevelt penned a letter to the future, specifically, to the future President of the United States in 1956. That would be the year Colin Kelly III would start looking for a university and Roosevelt want to ensure he did everything he could for the boy.
I am writing this letter as an act of faith in the destiny of our country. I desire to make a request which I make in full confidence that we shall achieve a glorious victory in the war we now are waging to preserve our democratic way of life.
My request is that you consider the merits of a young American youth of goodly heritage—Colin P. Kelly, III—for appointment as a Cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point. I make this appeal in behalf of this youth as a token of the Nation’s appreciation of the heroic services of his father, who met death in line of duty at the very outset of the struggle which was thrust upon us by the perfidy of a professed friend.
In the conviction that the service and example of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., will be long remembered, I ask for this consideration in behalf of Colin P. Kelly, III.
1956 just so happened to be Ike’s re-election year.
“Most people in my parents’ generation or a bit older or younger seem readily to remember being deeply touched by what President Roosevelt did for the infant son of the young pilot killed in the Pacific,” Colin Kelly III later wrote for theNew York Times. “It was one of the first actions of F.D.R. as the wartime President, a special White House ceremony in which he personally signed the papers appointing me to the Academy.”
In 1956, that future President was President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike received FDR’s letter, read it, and honored the request of his Presidential predecessor – but Colin Kelly III didn’t accept the appointment, he decided to earn his place at West Point, competing with the other potential plebes and graduating in the class of 1963.
The younger Kelly spent his time in the Army as a tank commander in West Germany. After his time in the service was up, he left and went to divinity school, only to return to the U.S. Army as a chaplain, saying
“The Lord called me when I was 14, but I believed I was called to complete my West Point opportunity first.”
Like father, like son. West Point graduates and U.S. Army Captains Colin P. Kelly.
Kelly was too young to remember his heroic father, but his memory lived on through the people that knew him best: neighbors, relatives, and close friends. Over the years, Colin Kelly got to know his father through their eyes while making his own way through life, still following in his father’s footsteps.
As COVID restrictions begin to lift and businesses implement new safety protocols, more and more service members are putting in leave or planning their next family vacations—goodness knows we could all use one after lockdown. Though many hotels are offering lower rates in order to entice tourists to return, there are still popular vacation destinations where lodging is at a premium. Luckily, there are some hidden gems to be found in these areas…as long as you have your military ID. Even if you’re not planning to travel soon, keep these locations in mind for your post-COVID vacations. Since international travel restrictions are still in place, this list will focus on accommodations in the United States. Overseas locations like Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, South Korea will not be included.
Hawaii doesn’t have to be expensive (Hale Koa—AFRC)
1. Hale Koa Hotel—Honolulu, HI
Situated in the heart of Waikiki, Hale Koa offers service members an affordable and high class aloha experience. Owned by the DoD, Hale Koa is part of a chain of Joint Service Facility resorts called Armed Forces Recreation Centers. Room rates range from 3 to 1 per night depending on the dates of your stay and your rank (try to find resort rates like that in Waikiki). In order to book a stay, guests must provide proof of eligibility like a CAC or DD Form 2. For a full list of eligibility, see the Hale Koa website. Reservations are accepted up to 365 days before your desired trip. Hale Koa notes that September to mid-December offers the most room availability.
Coronado offers two different locations (Navy Gateway)
2. NAB Coronado/NAS North Island Navy Gateway—Coronado, CA
Coronado in San Diego is a premiere resort city known for the grand Victorian Hotel del Coronado, world-class beaches, and hosting two Navy bases. Both bases offer service members lodging operated by the DoD Lodging Program under Navy Gateway Inns Suites. While the Navy Gateway at NAS North Island offers guests more luxurious accommodations, its location on the north end of the peninsula means that it is further from the shops and restaurants that visitors come to Coronado for. On the other hand, the Navy Gateway at NAB Coronado is just south of the heart of the city. In fact, the lodging is only 1.5 miles from “The Del” and the picturesque Coronado Yacht Club. Both locations offer easy and exclusive beach access. However, if you plan to take your four-legged friend(s) to Coronado’s famous white-sand dog beach, note that only the NAB Coronado location is pet friendly. Pricing and availability vary, but a standard room can usually be had for around 0/night.
A stay in the Magic Kingdom doesn’t have to break the bank (Shades of Green)
3. Shades of Green—Lake Buena Vista, FL
Like Hale Koa, Shades of Green is a Joint Service Facility resort under the AFRC program. Located on the grounds of Walt Disney World in between two PGA championship golf courses, the resort offers nearly 600 rooms and suites reserved exclusively for service members, families, and sponsored guests. A full list of eligibility is listed on their website. Accommodations range in price from a standard room at 9/night for E-1 through E-6, up to 9/night for their top-tier Palm and Magnolia Suites regardless of rank. Compared to Disney’s on-site resorts, Shades of Green is comparable to their Deluxe Resorts like the Polynesian Resort. Though resort guests cannot park for free at the Disney parks, Shades of Green does offer a complimentary bus service to and from the parks. That said, the resort does not provide transportation to or from the Orlando International Airport and on-site parking comes at the cost of /night.
(City of Cape May)
4. Coast Guard Guest Lodging—Cape May, NJ
Most people don’t know that Cape May, NJ hosts basic training for the U.S. Coast Guard. The city claims to be America’s original seaside resort. The pristine beaches, diverse dining options, and rich history make it a great choice for an east coast vacation on the water. While the city has plenty of hotels, bed breakfast inns, and guest houses, the Coast Guard Guest Lodging offers eligible service members lodging options in the form of six fully furnished two bedroom units. Each unit has a living room, kitchen, and full bathroom along with essential housing items. If you and your family are planning an extended stay in Cape May and/or want to visit the surrounding area, these Coast Guard accommodations might be for you. Reservations during the peak season of May 15-September 15 will cost you /night while the non-peak season of September 16-May 14 runs at /night. Two pet friendly units are available and will require a non-refundable pet fee of 0.
The club is located just a few blocks from the Empire State Building (SSMA Club)
5. Soldiers’, Sailors’, Marines’, Coast Guard & Airmen’s Club—New York, NY
Located on Lexington Avenue in the heart of Manhattan, the SSMA Club has been housing service members in the Big Apple since 1919. It is the only private organization in the New York area that provides accommodations at subsidized rates and club-type facilities to service members, veterans, retirees, and their families. The club rents by the bed rather than by the room; there are 21 rooms with two beds, six rooms with three beds, one room with four beds, and one room with six beds. Daily rates range from – per night depending on eligibility. There is also a single VIP Room that goes for 0/night for single-occupancy and 0/night for double-occupancy. Lavatories are communal and separated by gender. The club does not offer food service, but it does have kitchen facilities for guests to use. Common areas include the canteen, library, and two lounges.
Whether you’re looking to vacation at the beach, in a city, or at the happiest place on Earth, keep military-exclusive lodging options like these in mind. The eligibility and nightly rates for use of these facilities vary, so be sure to check their websites. Even if you’re not planning a trip to one of the locations listed, check to see if your vacation destination has a military-exclusive establishment. Service members and their families sacrifice so much for this country; accommodations like these offer a little bit in return.
Kailua business owner Kate Reimann won the Female Founder Veteran Small Business Award at the virtual Women Veterans Summit presented by the Virginia Department of Veterans Services on Friday, June 19. She takes home the grand prize, a $15,000 grant for her business, Rogue Wave.
A military spouse and mom of two, Reimann is the founder and CEO of Rogue Wave, making compostable beach toys using plastic made from plants, not petroleum. The idea struck while she and her family lived in Alexandria, Virginia, and became fully formed after they moved to Kailua, Hawaii, where she registered her business and began 3D printing prototypes. Her husband, a colonel in the US Air Force, is stationed at Hickam AFB.
Reimann’s five-minute pitch was viewed and voted on by over 150 virtual attendees and judges nation-wide. The pitch competition was part of a two-month endeavor, which began with a 60 second video submission in April. Over 100 female veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs submitted, and Reimann was chosen as one of 12 semi-finalists. Those semi-finalists had 2 weeks to secure the top 3 finalist position based on popular votes.
Reimann moved from the bottom three to the top three within the two-week voting period for a shot at the grand prize ,000 grant, sponsored by StreetShares Foundation and the Sam Adams Boston Brewing Company. Reimann gave her pitch at 5 am Hawaii time (11 am EST) in her living room, lit by lamplight, before the sun came up.
“It was such an honor to make it to the final three and truly humbling to know that people really believe in the Rogue Wave mission. I’m humbled and so, so excited for the future of this business,” Reimann said.
The pitch centered on the destructive nature of conventional oil-based plastics and the need to re-envision our materials economy. Reimann intends to use the funds to promote the compostable beach toys and raise awareness on plant-based alternatives.
“The other two founders have really strong – and really important – businesses. But I think the results show that people are ready for alternatives and recognize the urgency of our situation – we need an alternative materials economy now.”
Rogue Wave has started manufacturing and is taking pre-orders.
Rogue Wave makes certified compostable beach toys using plastic made from plants, not petroleum. Founder, Kate Reimann, military spouse and mom of two, was inspired to make better products using better materials after a day at the beach with her family – and she’s not stopping at the beach.
Hey, I get it: When you’re preparing for deployment, the last thing you want is a honey-do list from your spouse. You have your own gear to take care of, paperwork to complete, and stuff to pack. Your spouse, on the other hand, will be at home during the months that you’re away. Can’t some of their to-do list wait until you’re gone? After all, they’ll have the whole deployment to take care of it. What’s the rush, right?
Here’s the deal: Just as you must prepare your gear and put your things in order to prepare for your deployment, your spouse has to get the house and the family ready for their own “mission.” It’s pretty much guaranteed that as soon as you walk out the door, something’s going to go wrong: the car will break down, appliances will leak, or the dog will get sick. If you don’t help your spouse prepare for those emergencies, then they won’t be fully equipped to handle their mission. You wouldn’t send troops off to train without first arranging logistics and ammo. In the same way, you have to take care of some logistical details at home before you deploy and leave your spouse as the only adult responsible for the entire household. There are several things you can review with your spouse to make everyone’s deployment go more smoothly.
Don’t skip these mission-essential pre-deployment tasks with your spouse.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Gina Randall)
There’s a reason your CO keeps hounding you to complete your Power of Attorney, Will, and other documents — they’re actually really important! Without a Power of Attorney, your spouse will basically be treated like a second-class citizen on base. They won’t be able to renew or replace an ID card if they lose it while you’re away. They can’t change the lease, buy or sell a vehicle, or handle any banking problems that might arise. If you have children, it’s important that your spouse completes a Family Care Plan so that someone is designated to take care of the kids if your spouse ends up in the hospital from a car accident. Take the time to discuss this paperwork with your spouse so they won’t struggle during unexpected deployment situations.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. April Davis)
2. Comm check
You may not know exactly what communication options you’ll have during deployment, but discuss your expectations with your spouse so you can both get on the same page. How will you handle the time difference? Will you try to call when early in the morning or in the evening? How often will you try to call, message, or video? What’s the protocol if one of you misses a call or doesn’t answer in time? Finally, make sure your spouse knows how to send a Red Cross message. If there’s a family emergency, the Red Cross can contact you even when you don’t have internet access. If your spouse knows how to get to the Red Cross website, it will take the weight off their shoulders during a major emergency.
(U.S. Army National Guard photo by 1st Lt. Leanna Litsch)
3. Discuss car maintenance
Have you ever returned from deployment only to discover that your car has a dead battery and flat tires? Save yourselves the cost and trouble with some simple preventative maintenance. If you’re typically the one responsible for vehicle maintenance, remind your spouse when to do an oil change and how often to get the tires rotated. If your vehicle will sit unused during the deployment, ask your spouse to start the engine and let it idle at least once a week. This will prevent the battery from dying. If they occasionally drive it around the block and park it in a different position, that’ll help prevent flat tires.
4. Review home maintenance
If you’re renting or living on base, just make sure your spouse knows how to contact maintenance or the landlord. If you own your home, things get more complicated. Walk through the house together and discuss areas of regular or seasonal maintenance. Air filters should get changed monthly. Gutters should be cleaned in Fall. Discuss outdoor chores, like lawn maintenance and snow removal. Your spouse should know the location of the breaker box and water shut-off valves, in case the dreaded “Deployment Curse” visits your house.
5. Adjust the household budget
You and your spouse both need to understand how the deployment will affect your family’s income, and then adjust accordingly. If you are making more money during deployment, how will you save or spend the extra? Will it go toward paying down debts? Or will you save up for a post-deployment vacation? Sometimes, deployments reduce the household budget. You might have to pay for food and Internet at your deployed location. Your spouse may decrease their work hours or register for a class. They may have additional costs for childcare or lawn maintenance. It’s better to discuss these changes and your intended budget before deployment so you aren’t both accusing each other of mismanaging money!
6. Write down your passwords
You wouldn’t send your team on a mission without clear instructions and the best equipment, right? Then don’t expect your spouse to manage the bills and your account memberships without passwords! Log into any banking or bill payment website you use, and write down your login name and password. Do the same for your gaming accounts, renewable memberships, etc. It’s likely that something will need to be suspended, renewed, or canceled during your deployment. Writing down the passwords will make it possible for your spouse to do that for you.
Having these pre-deployment conversations now may not be easy or fun, but it’s definitely important to help your spouse feel squared away before deployment. This will reduce deployment stress for both of you, help your deployment communication go smoothly, and get you both prepared for your respective, upcoming missions.
We all have that friend who marches to the beat of their own drum. The one who challenges the stereotypes of how the world has always been or, even scarier, doesn’t care. These are the friends who don’t follow normal routines, who see life not just as doing work but as a chance to build something bigger than themselves. They are seemingly fearless.
For me, that friend is James Brobyn.
As a “Mustang,” a prior enlisted Marine, who worked his way to the Naval Academy and then into leading Marines in combat as an infantry officer, James has always taken risks. Even after he took off the uniform, he continued to pursue challenges that seemed too risky to consider, even for the most battle hardened. He helped the Travis Manion Foundation grow from a small family-led nonprofit into a nationally recognized powerhouse. He’s started businesses, closed businesses and started them again. James’ battles can be scary both to your health and to your finances but I’ve learned that my friend is not fearless. Instead, he finds his strength in a single word that defines who he is at his core: INTEGRITY.
In ancient Rome, the Legionnaires, not unlike Marines today, would conduct inspections before battle. Paramount in this ritual was their breastplate, the armour that protects soldiers from enemy arrows or swords. Legionnaires would spend countless hours polishing their breastplates and tightening straps. Not a single crack or chip was permitted. When a soldier passed inspection, he would pound his fist into the metal and yell, “Integritas,” (Integrity) for all others to hear. This was not only an affirmation that the armour was sound but also that the heart and soul it protected was of whole, pure character — ready to take on any challenge in battle.
James has called me into his battles both figuratively and literally many times over the last two decades. We served together in the Marines and deployed together to Iraq. He’s been my boss twice. He fired me once only to hire me back 10 years later. Another story for another time but I am grateful for everything he has taught me. Above all else, James is not afraid of hard work. In between these battles, James would disappear for a few months and then reappear with a phone call. Even to this day, he still starts each conversation with my callsign from Iraq, “White 1.”
Not long ago, James called me again. “White 1, I got something for you.” He paused. “I’ve started a cannabis company and I want you to come see what we’ve built.” Of course, I was intrigued but also weary. Cannabis is an industry tied with all kinds of risk. It’s legal in some states, not in others. It’s celebrated by some of my friends (especially veterans) and hated by others, including my own family. There is a stigma that cannabis is the Wild West, a gold rush of former drug dealers and shady investors trying to get rich in the grey area. It’s a world of multiple tribes jockeying for power. Honestly, it felt a little like James was asking me to go back to Iraq. I stuttered, “Is this legal?”
My friend could only laugh, “Yes, we’ve built our business with integrity from the ground up.” Two days later, I was on a plane to a cannabis farm in Michigan. What I saw changed my entire view of both James and the industry.
The American Fiber Company (AmFI) is a multistate cannabis brand that delivers pharmaceutical grade products directly to consumers and wholesalers. It is also the result of a three year journey that took James and his team from Colombia to Canada to the United States. AmFi operates three dispensaries in Michigan; they’re the first company approved to import FDA certified 100% organic CBD oil into the United States and they’ve partnered with world class research facilities to ensure their products maintain the highest safety standards. My first question to James: “How the hell did you build all this?”
James reminded me, “We did the hard work. We built the framework. We run it the right way with Integrity.”
I recently chatted with James to understand more about his journey from combat to cannabis.
James: White 1.
WATM:Blue 1. (James’s callsign from 2006). Boom. All right. Comms are up. So here’s my thought and you tell me what you feel comfortable with. I would really like to focus on your journey from combat to the cannabis industry as well as some of the crazy things that happened along the way.
James: Ok. So before I answer that, what is your goal with the article?
I think to myself, “Dammit. How did he turn that one on me so fast?”
WATM:Good question. I like to highlight influencers in our space that are at the top of their game. It’s a series of interview questions so people can get to know others that are making moves in our world. So are you making moves?
James: (He laughs). Yeah, ok, I think that makes sense. So I guess from my standpoint, I’m most excited about how the journey got me to this point right now. Honestly, every skill from the Academy to leading Marines in combat to the Travis Manion Foundation are all being used to build something.
All those core values that we learned and were beat into us. Do hard work with integrity, do it the right way. That’s what’s really neat about it. When you put those principles to work every day and you teach people to abide by them, you build your own tribe and it works. People want to be a part of something. And that’s what’s kind of cool about this. That’s what’s really been the neatest part about the cannabis industry. It’s a rich kind of this weird, you know, fraternity that lets in all types of people, which is great.
WATM:When was the first time you got introduced to cannabis?
James: My God, I was a teenager. I grew up in Philly in the 80s and 90s. At 15, 16, 17, it was part of the culture. Honestly, it wasn’t about weed. I was just trying to fit in with the local friends. Normal teenage stuff. And I wanted to keep up with my older brothers but I made bad choices and eventually my dad kicked me out of the house.
WATM:Kicked you out?
James: Yep, at 19, but honestly he should have done it earlier. In hindsight, I just wanted to find my tribe and the outcome was partying. I had it in sports, but, you know, as soon as you start getting older and you leave high school you lose the camaraderie. A lot of people do. So I made bad decisions. We’ll leave it at that.
WATM:What about the decision to join the Marine Corps?
James: When I was at boot camp, I was like, what the hell did I do? I thought that, like, every day. But I think most people do. When I got my aircrew wings, it was scary to be Lance Corporal, but I had two pilots in my squadron that I flew with consistently. They told me about a program for helping enlisted Marines get into the Naval Academy. They changed my life.
WATM:Why do you think they focused on you?
James: In so many ways, they took an interest in me and my long term well-being. Not short term, not as some piece of equipment, but in me as a person. Once word got around that there was traction on my application, honestly, I had half the squadron helping me out. I even had Staff NCOs that were taking me on ridiculous runs to train me to get ready to go to the Naval Academy. I mean, I think they just saw I gave a shit. I showed up every day.
WATM: Is there anything about your time at the Academy that stands out? Any major lessons learned that you still use today?
James: You learn how to win there. I believe it. It comes down to two things. First is the honor code. I think you see it with Captain Crozier (USNA ’92) and the recent situation on the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Your integrity is what you have. If you give it away, then you have no foundation. Nothing to build from. It’s a house of cards. Secondly, the Academy teaches you that you can do more than any other person out there. Without a doubt. I mean, you know, the amount of stuff you can get done in 24 hours there is ridiculous. I keep those lessons with me daily.
James with the Marines of 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in Iraq, 2006
Photo Courtesy of James Brobyn
WATM: You graduated in 2004, and we deployed to Iraq together not long after. What is there about leading Marines that stands out?
James: I loved my dudes. 2006 and 2007 were hard times to be in Iraq. We were given a mission to provide security for 30,000 people and not much more resources than what we had. That pretty much looks like a small business to me. It was the best entrepreneurship training that I’ve had. Honestly, combat is the closest thing to running a business in the cannabis industry. that I have found. You have to be nimble, understand uncertainty, take a look at risks and act. But at the end of the day, your plan never survives first contact. All you can do is surround yourself with good people.
WATM: How do you make the leap from combat to cannabis?
James: At first, I was just following cannabis related to veterans. There are a lot of positive benefits outside just the medical aspects. First off, dudes drink less, eat better and lose weight. There are multiple levels of benefit but I hadn’t thought about the business side of things until I met Dan Tobon, a former Army Sniper and Iraq veteran. We became fast friends. Dan had just started working on a project in Colombia where his family is from called NuSierra Holdings.
Colombia had approved export of cannabis products and it was anticipated at that time Canada and Australia would be able to import them, even THC products. So it was a big rush to get out of Colombia and go out to the commoditized cannabis world. Then we met John Leja, founder of PharmaCannis, who understood the retail side of the business and was trying to establish a packing facility in Toronto. I met John and Dan at a bar in Philly and they asked me, ‘Will you help us out?‘ I didn’t know much about cannabis but I knew we had supply and distribution so I said, ‘Sure. Let’s figure this out.’ I was on a plane to Toronto the next day.
WATM:There are so many stereotypes associated with cannabis, do you have a hard time getting over the stigmas or comparisons to a gold rush?
James: I learned alot from John and Dan about how to stop thinking of cannabis as a shiny object of gold that’s going to make everyone rich but as a commodity that’s going to be turned into an amazing consumer product. If you reframe cannabis that way, you can start thinking about designing a strategy where you can gain footholds into different parts of the supply chain that are completely compliant, legal, and then allow us to really take a good market share of the industry.
James and the Author in a American Fiber Company grow facility
Photo Courtesy of James Brobyn
WATM:Was this venture your training for the American Fiber Company and setting up a cannabis business in the U.S.?
James: 100%. In 2018, it felt like every state was its own country when it came to cannabis. Some were recreational, others were medicinal only and others, it was flat out illegal. We had a plan for how to set up a multi-state operation but it’s hard to work because every jurisdiction has its own rules. And you literally have to go into jurisdictions. You have to work with the locals. You can’t just pop in your model and make it work. You have to build from the ground up and it all came back to finding the right people. People with integrity. American Fiber established our first operations in Southwest Michigan.
WATM:You’ve mentioned integrity a lot. What does integrity really mean to you?
James: It’s not about just telling the truth. It’s about following through. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do. Doing it the right way. Even if it’s hard — especially if it’s hard. That’s the key here because that’s how you normalize the industry. We work with the state and federal regulators to do the hard work that people don’t want to do.
WATM: Like becoming the first company in the U.S. to legally import full spectrum CBD oil?
James: That’s just one example. We never set out to be the first company in the world to import full-spectrum CBD oil out of Colombia into the US, but we figured out how to get it compliant with Customs and Border Protection. But we’ve also taken on other challenges that are just as hard. We’ve built a research partnership in Delaware with Fraunhofer Center for Molecular Biology so that we can figure out how to start collecting real data on health benefits so that we can go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, get approved by the FDA on certain products and continue to provide safe quality, cannabis products to our consumers. And that’s why it’s a long game.
The American Fiber Company Team in Michigan
Photo Courtesy of James Brobyn
WATM: Is the long game paying off?
James: I think so. Take the current COVID-19 restrictions for example. Every state that had medicinal and recreational policies deemed cannabis business essential. I mean, yeah. Our team in South Michigan is out there every day serving patients curbside, delivery, and hopefully drive-through soon. We’re moving into a post-prohibition world right now and now it’s pretty exciting.
WATM: Where do you see American Fiber in that world. Maybe 5 years from now?
James: Oh, my God. That’s like 50 decades in this industry. Well, let me tell you what the ultimate goal is, and it’s how we’ve always tried to build a company. I always felt that we built a company that we could take public. Ultimately, I want American Fiber to be synonymous with all the values that make our people and country ready to face whatever challenge comes ahead. Hard work, commitment and integrity.