Coming from a retired Army Noncommissioned Officer who wore a green beret and a drill sergeant hat, it may seem weird, but I don’t look forward to Veterans Day. However, there was a time that I got excited about this holiday.
Growing up in small town USA certain holidays were big deals, it meant we’d have a parade. Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day brought the community together and honored our nation and its heroes. Not growing up in a military family, my parents made sure we attended these events. I believe it was a large part of my desire to be a soldier from a young age. I would see the old American Legion veterans marching in their uniforms and standing proud through speeches made by local leaders. I’m certain these old veteran’s dedication had an impact on many youth, not just me.
Nov. 11 was a special day for me when I didn’t understand the cost of freedom and service. I was too young to realize that we were honoring these veterans because they chose to put themselves through hardship on our behalf. It was more than a cool factor and an aura of professionalism.
Now, I don’t have the same sentiment toward Veterans Day. It’s one of those days that makes me feel uncomfortable. Memorial Day, the official day to remember our fallen, is another one.
While well-meaning Americans reach out to shake my hand and say thank you for my service, I feel uncomfortable. I’m not sure what they’re thanking me for. Additionally, I don’t feel a need to be thanked for my service. It was my choice to serve and I wouldn’t have changed that for the world. Aside from being a father, serving this great nation is the biggest honor I’ve ever had.
Yes, this may get uncomfortable. With this discomfort we can grow. I wonder what people are thanking me for. For following my dreams? Again, it’s what I always wanted to do. I got to live out my dreams. For signing up when they didn’t? It’s okay, I made my choices and they made theirs, no animosity. The military isn’t for everybody. For making it home when others didn’t? We don’t get to pick and choose who survives. I’m lucky to have served with the most outstanding people on earth who sacrificed their lives so that we may live ours. Are they thanking me because they feel societal pressure to acknowledge my service? I always assume positive intent, but I’m a realist that knows the world isn’t all roses and rainbows.
The reality is I think of my service every day of the year. Sometimes with a smile and other days with tears for brothers who are no longer with us. I’m proud to have served and not a day will go by that changes that feeling.
I appreciate the recognition of my service on this special day and I’ll answer like I normally do when I’m thanked. “No need to thank me. It was my privilege to serve and if I had a choice, I’d do it all over again.” However, like a lot of veterans, this day will give me mixed emotions.
Several Naval Academy alumni have asked the alumni association to rescind an award planned for former U.S. Sen. James Webb because of his decades-old essay questioning the decision to admit women into military service academies.
Webb, who also served as Secretary of the Navy, wrote the 7,000-word essay “Women Can’t Fight” for Washingtonian Magazine in 1979.
“There is a place for women in our military, but not in combat. And their presence at institutions dedicated to the preparation of men for combat command is poisoning that preparation,” Webb wrote.
He called the dormitory Bancroft Hall “a horny woman’s dream” and quoted former male alumni arguing that attending the academy is “scarring many women in ways they may not comprehend for years.”
The essay has been described by several alumni as a “manifesto” that potentially empowered male midshipmen to harass their female counterparts.
Retired Navy Cmdr. Laureen Miklos, a 1981 graduate, wrote in an email that the decision by the Naval Academy Alumni Association to give its Distinguished Graduate Award to Webb was “a hit to the gut.” She taught at the academy from 1998 to 2001 and described Webb’s essay as a “living document” still referenced by mids.
Miklos wrote the Annapolis-based association, arguing Webb’s essay validated those who thought women didn’t belong at the academy. She recalled an upperclassmen ordering a female classmate during her time at the academy to stand at attention at meals and shout “I am not a horny woman, Sir.”
Webb plans to be be present Friday when the association holds its Distinguished Graduate Award Ceremony. The award is given to alumni who have “personal character which epitomizes the traits we expect in our officer corps” and have made “significant contributions” as officers or leaders in industry or government.
Webb, who graduated from the academy in 1968, served as a rifle platoon and company commander during the Vietnam War. He earned the Navy Cross for “extraordinary heroism” and two Purple Hearts for injuries that ended his active-duty career.
Webb released a statement to The Capital on March 27, 2017, saying he wrote a “strongly argumentative magazine article” during the intense national debate of women serving in combat.
“Clearly, if I had been a more mature individual, there are things that I would not have said in that magazine article,” he wrote in the statement. “To the extent that this article subjected women at the academy or the armed forces to undue hardship, I remain profoundly sorry.”
But Webb, who ran a brief campaign for the presidency as a Democrat in 2016, said he doesn’t regret debating the “long-term process of properly assimilating women” into the military. He said he is “deeply proud” of the contributions he made as Secretary of the Navy and a senator from Virginia. He cited the Navy-wide study he commission as secretary, which he said “opened up more positions to women than any secretary in history.”
Retired Adm. Robert Natter, chairman of the Board of Trustees for the association, said in a statement that Webb’s most recent comments “reflect how his views have evolved since that article 38 years ago.” Natter said Webb was selected by an independent selection chaired by retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a classmate of Webb’s and a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“His many years of service are a matter of very public record, and on that entire record he was selected as a Distinguished Graduate,” Natter wrote.
Retired Capt. Jack Reape, a 1984 graduate, said an upperclassmen handed him a copy of the essay as a plebe. Reape said he and his classmates didn’t “support the women at the academy” during his time but that has since apologized to several of his female classmates.
Reape said he doesn’t see the point of taking the award from Webb because he “couldn’t name anyone else on that list.” He also said the award doesn’t have a big impact.
“He wouldn’t have been on my list of people,” Reape said. “We were in the Navy, we’re used to things not going to our way and pressing on. It’s the way it goes.”
Kelly Henry, a 1984 graduate, also wrote the association with criticism of the award. Henry said Webb’s essay was highly-circulated while she was in Annapolis and it caused “harm” to many of her classmates.
“The women will tell you that article was like throwing gasoline on the fire,” she said.
Henry said she was one of the “lucky” ones during her time at the academy and was in a company that welcomed the female mids. She said she was surprised to see Webb honored with the award, since 2016 marked the 40th year of women attending the Naval Academy.
She attended the academy’s celebration in the fall.
“At that celebration I felt we were embraced in the community,” Henry said. “We are no longer seen as something that tainted it, but now to see this? It completely takes away that feeling.”
Other 2017 Distinguished Graduates
—Retired Adm. Harry D. Train II ’49 — Train served as NATO supreme allied commander Atlantic and was also commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet from 1978 to 1982. He retired in 1982 and became involved in civic affairs in Hampton Roads, Virginia.
— Milledge A. “Mitch” Hart ’56 — Hart is the founder/co-founder of seven companies. After serving as a Marine in Oklahoma and Okinawa, he worked with alumnus Ross Perot to found Electronic Data Systems, a information technology equipment and services company. He later co-founded Home Depot, which became the second-largest retailer in the country.
—Retired Vice Adm. Cutler Dawson ’70 — Dawson is president and CEO of the Navy Federal Credit Union and was in the Navy for about 35 years. Under Dawson, the Enterprise Battle Group conducted strikes for Operation Desert Fox in the Arabian Gulf and Operation Allied for in the Adriatic Sea. He retired from the military in 2004 and became president of the Vienna, Virginia-based credit union.
—Retired Adm. Eric T. Olson ’73 — Olson is the former commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the first Navy SEAL to reach three- and four-star rank and the first naval officer to lead Special Operations Command. He retired in 2011 after serving for 38 years. After retiring, he founded ETO Group, an independent national security consulting firm.
If you want something done right, you do it yourself.That’s a mantra we’ve all heard before but is it really conventional?Some may say yes, but the reality is that you can’t do everything yourself. At some point, in some fashion, you’re going to need more done than you have hours to complete and you will need to outsource some aspects of your business. However, the presence of this necessity doesn’t make the process any easier.Especially when your business is your passion. It’s hard to give up control until trust is gained.
Eric Mitchell along with his wife Lucie, who both spent several years working for successful startups in the Silicon Valley, and both being acquired multiple times, decided to pursue a new venture together in 2014. Eric wanted to give back to the community he loves,and with love of country and belief that service never ends, Eric asked Lucie to put her dreams as an aspiring educator on hold temporarily as they launched a company with longtime friend Matt Hannaford — and LifeFlip Media was born.
“We understand that everything is mission critical for our clients and we treat them exactly as that — a mission,” says Eric Mitchell, CEO of LifeFlip Media.
Built on the mission of demonstrating to the American public the value of the Warrior Class, Eric Mitchell created LifeFlip Media as a way to give back to his community.What is the Warrior Class?It’s the class of patriots that are the backbone of this country and the very ones who make this country as great as it is.It’s members of the military, their spouses and family.It’s the first responders of our communities and all of those who support them in all that they do.
This group has often been misrepresented and stereotyped within the media, leaving many outside of the community with false pretenses of aggression, mental instability, and lack of education.LifeFlip Media set itself on a course to change that narrative.Matt Hannaford, President of LifeFlip and one of the few “civilians” on the team, agrees.“I look for us to continue to be loud as the voice of the Warrior Class. We’ve created a great team and it’s time for us to build upon it. We want to take the image of the American soldier and make it great again.”
“Over the past year, I have witnessed LifeFlip Media breach the national media market for veterans. Eric and his team have managed to get more air time for veteran-owned companies than I have seen in my professional career. It is about time that the warrior class has a voice in mainstream media,” said Samantha Brown, former COO of Irreverent Warriors.
Care about what you do
One of the most difficult and important aspects of a partnership is the ability to create and sustain an unobstructed flow of ideas and communication.Being able to understand where your clients are coming from can give you a better idea of where they are heading, which can provide powerful insight.LifeFlip has been able to streamline its process by having a small team of people who possess values that reflect the ones instilled in them from the military as well as working with clients whose values align with their own.
“Being a veteran can be great for PR but it also comes with a lot of misunderstanding and challenges. Having a team that understands this because they come from the same community and also have experience in the PR world gives them the ability to successfully pitch myself and other veterans. This helps secure the vital exposure that allows us to not only survive but to also grow,” says Eli Crane, CEO of Bottle Breacher and former Navy SEAL.
Leanness and Efficiency
“We have a smaller team, but we care more,” says Mitchell.In only a few short years, LifeFlip Media has been able to belly up to the table and feast on their market share with the big names in the PR space using a small but mighty team with a diverse skill set.As a Marine veteran, LFM’s Director of Digital Media, Aaron Childress, understands the power of a small cohesive unit: “We have hit on a set of skills that no other firm can touch. From top to bottom, we offer every digital media line item needed for a brand to succeed and we do all of this with a smaller team, lower overhead, and quicker turnaround than anyone can offer. It’s a lighting strike of favor and good fortune and the top leadership at LifeFlip Media has capitalized on it at the correct time.”
5 Values of LifeFlip Media
Eric Mitchell put emphasis on core values as he explains, “We hold values yet don’t look at them as ours.We look at them as belonging to our community.”LifeFlip Media has made great strides during its short time in existence and has leaped its way past other players who have been in the game for far longer.They are undoubtedly different from your run-of-the-mill PR firm but what sets them apart from their counterparts is that LifeFlip possesses values that they truly live each day.
LifeFlip Media believes in serving their clients first so the client can serve their customers in return. Everyone at LifeFlip Media strives to have their client success speak for the team.
The team believes that no client is the same and neither should the approach be as they build and execute on strategies. In addition, when a wrench is thrown into plans, the team is agile and has the ability to adapt and overcome.
Possessing a team with a diverse skill set allows LifeFlip Media to deliver to their clients the reliability and execution speed that veterans and those associated with the military expect. With the team’s ability to work as a unit and communicate while assaulting forward on strategy execution, the LifeFlip Media team’s discipline is key.
At LifeFlip Media, the team’s diverse backgrounds and experience allows for innovation and thinking outside of the box. LifeFlip’s team understands how PR integrates with other aspects of a business and needs to work in partnership with marketing and sales rather than as a separate division completely.
With a team made up of Marines who live by the Semper Fi warrior ethos as well as other team members who understand that loyalty is at LifeFlip Media’s core translates directly into business success.
When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in southeast Texas, Aug. 25, it flooded thousands of homes and displaced more than 30,000 people. In response to the devastation, thousands of people from across the country rushed to Texas to help, taking time away from their homes and work to help others out.
Among those who headed to Texas was Marine Corps Cpl. Eric Gore, a dark-haired, easygoing and friendly chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense specialist at Headquarters Battalion, Marine Forces Reserve in New Orleans.
“I just wanted to help my fellow countrymen out,” Gore said. “Helping our neighbors in Texas was something I was able to do, so I went.”
Gore, his unit’s CBRN training noncommissioned officer, was sitting at home going through social media when he first saw the effects of Hurricane Harvey. At that moment he decided he had to take leave and join the relief efforts.
“I knew I had the capacity to do something, but instead I was just sitting at work going through my day-to-day tasks,” he said. “There’s no sense in standing-by when people need assistance, especially when you’re perfectly able to help them.”
Gore left New Orleans Sept. 1, taking an additional four days of leave after the Labor Day weekend to extend his time in Texas.
He first drove with another Marine to Beaumont, Texas, where they linked up with members of the Cajun Navy, an informal group of private boat owners who helped in the relief efforts following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
With the Cajun Navy, Gore used his experience in the Marines to first help them set up an operations center in the back office of a dance studio. He then communicated with members of the Cajun Navy through phone calls and mobile apps to direct vehicles to distress calls and organize supply convoys to flooded neighborhoods.
“Emergency management is at the heart of my job,” Gore said. “CBRN is the 9/11 of the Marine Corps. Everyone just thinks we run the gas chambers, but we’re also trained to respond to hazmat incidents and things of that nature.”
Besides organizing and directing assets in the makeshift command center, Gore also participated in many of the supply convoys, personally delivering supplies to people affected by Hurricane Harvey whenever an extra hand was needed.
“I did as much as I could,” he said. “But, in reality, I was a small part of the relief efforts. Without the help of all the individuals involved donating their time and money to relief efforts, none of my work would have been possible.”
Gore said he planned to take leave again to help in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, which made landfall there Sept. 20 and left the majority of Puerto Ricans without power. He organized a private flight to the island with a cargo of 12 donated generators, as well as additional relief supplies. However, he had to cancel his plans due to Hurricane Nate, which made landfall in New Orleans.
He said he is still communicating with members of the Cajun Navy though social media, instant messaging and phone apps, hoping to head to Puerto Rico in the near future.
Mick never forgot his best friend from Vietnam – a dog named Hobo.
Kim “Mick” Michalowski still talks about his K-9 partner from 49 years ago, but only had one photo to remember his buddy. That is, until last week, when he reconnected on Facebook with an Air Force friend who sent him photos of Hobo he had kept all these years.
“When I got these photos, it was one of the best days for me,” Michalowski said. “I’m not going to say it was the best day of my life because I have three children, a beautiful wife and grandchildren. But it just uplifted my spirits so much.
Kim “Mick” Michalowski and Hobo in Vietnam.
“You can ask my wife. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t talk about Hobo in the 46 years we’ve been married. Probably not a day goes by I don’t tell someone about Hobo.”
Pictured above are Kim Michalowski and his wife Yolanda at the dog memorial he helped build in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin.
Michalowski joined the Air Force in 1970.
“We had no way of knowing what would happen or what we would get into. I still remember that last moment, getting on the plane. I was looking back at my dad, thinking I would never see him again. It’s one of the few times I saw my dad cry.”
Jumped at the chance to be a K-9 handler
Michalowski was a security policeman originally stationed at Phu Cat Air Base. He moved to Cam Rhan Bay Air Base, where he jumped at the chance to become a K-9 handler.
Hobo, on the other hand, wasn’t thrilled with his new partner.
“It took three and a half days for him to let me come into his kennel. He would jump at the gate, growling and snarling and stuff and would not let me in. I was finally able to get him muzzled and get him out. It took two more days to be able to get him to work with me.
“I still have scars on both my arms where he bit me, one on my left arm and another on my right wrist. One was from playing around and the other was me learning to be more careful.”
They became inseparable after that, patrolling the perimeter of Cam Rhan Bay Air Base.
“We literally spent 11 to 12 hours a day together patrolling. When we got off, it was another four hours taking care of him, checking for ticks, feeding him and making sure he had plenty of water. My shift would end at 0600, but I wouldn’t get back to my bunk until 10 o’clock.
Ted Kozikowski and his K-9 partner, Congo, in Vietnam.
Read his mail to Hobo
“I used to read my letters to my dog. Just having that ability to have someone to reach down and grab around the neck put me at ease. During the day I’d go back to the kennel to play with him.”
Michalowski had some close calls with incoming rounds, but Hobo always made him feel better.
“I always felt safer with Hobo. He was going to do his job and detect something before I would.”
Then it was time to go stateside.
“Up until my dad died, that was the worst day of my life. That dog was special to me. I took him out to the yard to work him around the obstacle course. I just hugged him real tight around the neck. I told him I loved him and was going to miss him.”
Michalowski separated from the Air Force as a sergeant in 1974, then joined the Army Reserve in 1977, retiring as a command sergeant major.
But he never forgot Hobo.
About five years ago, he helped raise money for a K-9 memorial in Menomonee Falls. There, he talked about his partner from so many decades ago. And then he was scrolling through a K-9 Facebook page and saw a familiar face.
That was Ted Kozikowski. “It blew me away,” Kozikowski said. “I remembered him right away. Veterans, we always want to go back to that stability in our life, whether we liked the military or not. It was an anchor of self-discipline and a camaraderie I’ve never experienced in the civilian world.”
Family sent dog biscuits from the states
In Vietnam, they were known as the “Skis” – easier that way when there are two Polish troops in the unit. “I was Ski and Michalowski was Ski 2,” Kozikowski says.
Like his buddy, Ski 2, he had an abiding love for his K-9 partner, Congo.
“That dog was a member of my family. My parents and my brother and sisters loved him too,” Kozikowski said. “My care packages from home went from cookies to dog biscuits. There was not a thing that dog didn’t know about me and my personal life. He knew me better than my family.”
The two have talked back and forth on Facebook, and Ted was happy to share photos of Hobo with his buddy.
“I’m glad to do that. Those dogs meant everything to us,” he said.
Michalowski shares the sentiment. “What do they call that term for dogs in heaven? The rainbow bridge? Hobo, he’ll be waiting for me.”
Editor’s Note: An earlier story posted at WATM on this subject claimed that only seven women had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. After readers notified us that our list was incomplete, we decided to post a new story with the additional information about women who received the Distinguished Flying Cross. A heartfelt thanks to all our readers for keeping us honest and accurate!
Women make up a smaller percentage of the military than men, but they have proven themselves throughout history to be brave, competent, and heroic. Take these sheroes for example:
1. Col. Andra V.P. Kniep
When then Capt. Andra Kniep took off for a mission in her A-10 over Afghanistan on March 5, 2002, she had no idea she was about to accomplish a most unlikely feat — receiving two Distinguished Flying Crosses in two days.
On that first day, Kniep coordinated and led deadly night attacks against Taliban vehicles and positions, destroying numerous enemies. Once the nearly eight hour mission was completed, she then led her element to a “remote, unfamiliar, classified location” for recovery, according to her Distinguished Flying Cross citation.
The next day Kniep once again led her element against the enemy, this time taking control of the Operation Anaconda airspace. Kniep successfully coordinated attack elements using multiple platforms totaling fourteen aircraft. Due to her exceptional ability all elements in the congested airspace were able to complete their missions and support coalition ground forces. For her actions on March 6 she was awarded a second Distinguished Flying Cross.
2. Lt. Col. Kim Campbell
On April 7, 2003, then-Capt. Kim Campbell, piloting an A-10, was part of a two plane sortie flying close air support over Baghdad. When a call came over the radio of troops in contact, Campbell and her wingman responded. After numerous gun and rocket runs supporting the troops on the ground, Campbell’s aircraft took heavy fire.
As she fought with her stricken aircraft, it hurtled towards Baghdad and she faced the possibility of ejecting into hostile territory. Luckily, the A-10 has triple redundancy in its controls, and though both the hydraulic systems were inoperable, the manual reversion system was still functioning. Using this system “of cranks and cables,” Campbell said she was able to “fly the aircraft under mechanical control.”
On the same day of Capt. Campbell’s heroics, Capt. Tricia Paulsen-Howe and the rest of the crew of a KC-135 aircraft flew their unarmed tanker into harm’s way. According to the Air Force, Paulsen-Howe and crew entered hostile airspace to assist in the combat search and rescue mission of a downed F-15 north of Baghdad. They provided critical refueling assets during the operation. For their bravery the entire crew were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
4. Col. Tracy Onufer
Col. Onufer had been an officer aboard Air Force Special Operations aircraft including the AC-130H and AC-130U flying combat missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. She is currently serving as the Vice Commander of the 352nd Special Operations Wing and according to her Air Force biography is the recipient of a Distinguished Flying Cross for her actions overseas.
5. Capt. Lindsay Gordon
Capt. Lindsay Gordon was serving as an AH-64 Apache pilot with the 101st Airborne Division when she and Chief Warrant Officer David Woodward were called upon to support an exfiltration of a Ranger element in contact.
When 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment helicopters extracting the Rangers came under heavy fire, Gordon maneuvered her Apache into harm’s way to draw fire. Gordon and Woodward’s action were credited with saving numerous lives and aircraft. For their actions they were both awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
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.
Jimmie Lee Jackson was a 26-year-old Army veteran, civil rights activist, and deacon at his Marion, Alabama, church. In February, 1965, Jackson took part in a peaceful nighttime demonstration to protest for his right to vote. As the congregation left the church to march to the local jail just a half block away, a wall of local policer officers and state troopers was waiting for them. As soon as they arrived, someone turned off the streetlights.
In the aftermath of the melee that followed, Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot in the stomach by a state trooper. He died eight days later. His death was the catalyst for Martin Luther King to lead the march from Selma to Montgomery, and set in motion a chain of events, one that includes the infamous “Bloody Sunday” incident on the Edmund Pettis Bridge, that would change American culture forever.
By 1964, Jackson had become an ordained deacon of the St. James Baptist Church of Marion. At this point in his life, he had already joined the Army and saw service in Vietnam. After a short stint in Indiana, he returned to his hometown of Marion where he watched as his 80-year-old grandfather was turned away while trying to register to vote. He eventually joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to help fight for his civil rights.
Three years later, he died in that fight.
On the night of Feb. 18, 1965, there were 500 or so people filing out of Marion’s Zion United Methodist Church to make their way to the local jail where a civil rights activist was being held by local police. The SCLC was a nonviolent group, and the demonstrators planned to sing freedom songs as they marched to the jailhouse. They never made it that far. The wall of police officers — state, county, and local — began to tear into the crowd as soon as the lights went out.
They weren’t alone. Angry onlookers joined the crowd, attacking anyone in their path, including other onlookers, journalists, and even patrons of a nearby cafe. It was Mack’s Café just off the city square where state troopers started tearing the place apart, hitting customers and marchers. Lee’s grandfather, Cager, was clubbed, as was his mother, Viola. When Jimmie tried to help his mother to her feet, he was shot in the stomach by Alabama State Trooper James Fowler.
Lee languished in the hospital for eight days, eventually succumbing to his wound. Fowler was not initially charged with any crime, nor was he questioned about Lee. What happened next changed the country forever.
The SCLC decided they would march from Selma, Ala. to the capital at Montgomery to protest the death of Lee and the inequality of life in Alabama, to display their desire to vote, and to demonstrate the need for a Voting Rights Act to pass in Congress. In three attempts over 18 days, protestors attempted to march the 54-mile walk from Selma to Montgomery. The first attempt became infamous after it was attacked by police after crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
One of the organizers became famous for a photo of her beaten body lying wounded on the bridge.
The second and third marches were joined by other activist groups and sympathizers from all over the United States who were horrified by the violence inflicted by the state troopers. Led by Dr. Martin Luther King, the second group of marchers turned around before fully crossing the bridge, so as not to violate a court order. The 2,500 people assembled said a prayer before turning back.
The third time, the procession was led by Dr. King with the First Amendment blessing of a federal judge. President Lyndon Johnson federalized the Alabama National Guard and ordered the soldiers to protect the marchers. They did and the procession made it all the way to the a camp site outside of Montgomery, adding more and more marchers along the way.
By the time they reached the state capitol building, the march was 25,000 strong. By August, 1965, President Johnson was signing the Voting Rights Act into law. Fowler, the trooper who shot Jimmie Lee Jackson, was finally convicted of manslaughter for the shooting in 2011.
Retired Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills went out on a foot patrol on April 10, 2012. It was his third tour in Afghanistan. He woke up on his 25th birthday to find that he’d stepped on on improvised explosive device, or IED, and that he’d suddenly become a quadruple amputee.
David Vobora was an NFL athlete who’d been dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant” after being the last draft pick of the season in 2008. While playing for the Seattle Seahawks, Vobora blew out his shoulder. It would ultimately force him to retire from the NFL at just 25 years old.
In the intervening years, Mills and Vobora forged an unlikely friendship.
“I had 25 good years with my arms and legs, and now I got the rest of my life to still keep living and pushing forward,” Mills said during an interview on “The Ellen Degeneres Show” yesterday.
“Something was missing,” Vobora, who is now a personal trainer, said. He noted that his work with professional athletes and wealthy clients was failing to fill a void in his life.
When Vobora met Mills, “I just knew I had to work with him.”
Mills talks about his predicament with lots of humor. When thanked for his heroism, Mills somewhat shrugs and replies, “I didn’t do more than anyone else. I just had a bad day at work, you know; a case of the Mondays.”
His wife, with whom he is expecting their second child, is equally humorous. “I’m in it for the handicapped parking,” Mills quotes her as having said shortly after his leg had to be amputated.
At face value, it seems like no two professions could be further apart. The sniper lives in the world of slow and steady (if they move at all). Conversely, the NASCAR driver’s world is fast-paced and requires quick-thinking to react to new situations within fractions of a second. But life behind the wheel, just as behind the trigger, requires nerves of steel.
“Anyone can shoot a rifle, that’s probably the easiest part of the job,” says Mike Glover, a former U.S. Army Special Forces sniper. “But the mindset, the physical capabilities, the craft… those are all important elements to being a Special Forces sniper.”
(We Are The Mighty)
Kurt Busch is no slouch himself. He won the famous high-speed, high-stakes Daytona 500 in 2017.
“To be a NASCAR driver means you’re one of the elite drivers in the world,” Says Busch. “It’s a special privilege each week to go out there and race the best of the best.”
Now, Busch is working with one of the U.S. Army’s best: a former Green Beret.
Glover recently took NASCAR’s Kurt Busch to the shooting range to teach him how to shoot a sniper’s rifle using a spotter. Busch, who drives the #41 Monster Energy Ford, quickly took to Glover’s instructions.
Busch hit his target with his second shot — only one correction required.
He credited the preparation Glover provided him, as well as having the proper fundamentals explained to him. The teamwork, of course, was key. It turns out they have a lot more in common than they thought.
(We Are The Mighty)
“When you’re zoned in to your element, that’s when everything slows down,” Busch says. “That’s when you’re able to digest what’s around you.” Glover agrees.
“That internalization, that zen approach, is how we [Special Forces] release the monster within.”
Watch Kurt Busch take Mike Glover for a ride in his world, doing donuts in a parking lot, at the end of the video below.
Conrad Heyer crossed the Delaware with George Washington. He was also the earliest-born person, one of only a handful of Revolutionary War veterans, to be photographed. But there is one important historical inaccuracy in the legend of Conrad Heyer that may not add up.
Heyer was born an American in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (now the State of Maine) around 1749. He sat for this photo in 1852, at age 103. In that time, he saw the young republic finish the British off during the American Revolution and fight them, again, to a draw in the War of 1812. He saw President Jefferson purchase Louisiana and watched President Polk and the U.S. Army defeat Santa Anna in the Mexican-American War of 1847.
In his 107 years of life, he saw 15 Presidents of the United States, 31 colonies and territories become U.S. states, and barely missed the start of the Civil War.
Although this is not the earliest photo of an American, Heyer was the earliest-born American to be photographed (and this is actually a daguerrotype — an early kind of photography).
In the telling of Conrad Heyer’s Revolutionary War tale, however, people have been adding one detail for decades that just might not be true: that Conrad Heyer crossed the Delaware with General Washington in 1776.
Washington’s daring plan to attack Hessian mercenaries in Trenton on Christmas, 1776, was audacious and dangerous. Any troop who fell into the icy river would likely die — and two of the three flat boats set to make the crossing didn’t even make it. Somehow, Heyer was counted among those in Washington’s boat, according to the Maine Historical Society.
The Journal of the American Revolution did some digging into Heyer’s story. They went back to the sworn testimony Heyer gave years after the Revolution when applying for a veteran’s pension.
In 1818, Congress allotted funds to give pensions to veterans of the Continental Army who were struggling financially. Applicants had to prove their service either by enlistment documents or sworn testimony of those they served with. Don N. Hagist went back to the National Archives for the Journal of the American Revolution and found Heyer’s original sworn testimony, along with the support of his officers.
Heyer did serve in the Continental Army, but his testimony states he served for a year, starting in the middle of December, 1775. But Heyer says he was discharged in December 1777. This could allow for Heyer to have served at the Battle of Trenton. The records of Heyer’s unit, the 25th Continental Regiment, indicate that the unit served in Canada and was disbanded in New Jersey in 1776.
It looks like the year 1777 was a mistake made by the person who wrote Heyer’s pension deposition, as mentions of Heyer and his unit disappear into history a year earlier.
If he was discharged in Fishkill, New York, as records show, then there is little chance he could have been at the Delaware River crossing in time to join Washington by Christmas, even if he did re-enlist.
But by the time he died, his obituary claimed he’d served three years in the Revolution. Heyer, in reaffirming his pension claim in 1855, swore that he served those three years and was also at the Battle of Saratoga, being present to see General John Burgoyne surrender to Horatio Gates and was later part of Washington’s “bodyguard.”
This is where Heyer could be correct — there is no complete list of members of General Washington’s guard corps. The guard was hand-picked from members of Washington’s field army.
But never once did Heyer ever swear that he was with Washington at the Delaware Crossing.
Veterans Day is quickly approaching and, honestly, it’s one of the greatest times to be a veteran. You can drive around town with your military or VA ID and treat yourself to all the free pancakes, haircuts, and oil changes you could possibly desire!
It’s amazing that so many companies are willing to take a financial dip for the sake of showing support to our nation’s veterans — though they probably recoup their losses by bringing in family members who otherwise wouldn’t have dined there that day, but hey, who are we to complain?
Potential PR gains aside, it’s fantastic to see veterans come out in droves and proudly let the world know that they served their community and their country — but despite all the patriotic goodness going around, there’s always that one guy who has to ruin it for the rest of us.
Veterans of America, here are a few helpful hints to keep in the back of your mind when you’re out there getting some free buffalo wings this holiday.
Remember the spirit of the holiday: civilians honoring veterans
The civilian-military divide is very real. With each passing year, the number of civilians with troops or veterans in their circle of friends or family decreases. Veterans Day gives these civilians, who know to honor veterans, a name and a face towards which to express that gratitude.
So, when a civilian comes forth and wants to thank you for your service, be polite, be courteous, and be professional. If you leave a fantastic impression on a civilian, they’ll go forward assuming that everyone in the military is as pleasant as you were. If you’re a dick to them, well, that impression will stick, too.
Veterans Day is a day to celebrate everything that veterans have given this country. Enjoy it with a burger that has an American Flag toothpick in it — because America.
(Photo by Jorge Franganillo)
Think of yourself as an ambassador to the veteran community. You’re going out there to face a population that, in many cases, has only heard of us in pop culture or on the news. Take the time and share some of your lighter stories about your time in the service. Who knows? Maybe you’ll convince someone that military life isn’t all that bad — you just did half of the recruiter’s job for them.
Just because your career consisted of just doing pointless details for Uncle Sam doesn’t mean you didn’t serve. That just means you were junior enlisted.
(Photo via US Army WTF Moments)
Don’t exaggerate your time in service
We all served as a cog in this grand machine we call the military. There’s no shame in having played any role. If you were a flight-line mechanic in the Air Force, own it — and let people know that you worked your ass off to be the best damn flight-line mechanic around.
There’s no need to pretend you were some badass when, clearly, you weren’t, The military discount applies equally to the Army private who fixed NVGs and the Green Beret who went on a classified amount of missions for Uncle Sam, so keep your cool.
This rule of thumb is important for two reasons. One, exaggerating your role belittles the other troops and veterans who honorably served their country in those seemingly small, but essential roles. Two, it takes away from the level of badassery that actual special operations maintained.
Just be you. If you raised your right hand to support and defend this country, you’ve earned respect.
It may seem awkward at first, but it really does mean a lot to tell another veteran that you’re thankful for their service.
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Michael Adams)
Don’t go too far with inter-branch rivalries
While we’re in the service, we can be a bit harsh on our brothers- and sisters-in-arms about what they do and which branch they serve under. It’s in good fun between us and, usually, there’s no bad blood.
But not every veteran will take your “Marines are crayon-eating idiots” joke as lightly as you’d hope. As bitter as the rivalry between the 101st and 82nd Airborne is, it’s fine to put aside such differences over a beer. And shouting “POG!” at every support guy you see just doesn’t make sense when you two are the only ones who’ll understand what a “POG” is, anyway.
Enjoy the day with other veterans, especially if they served in a different era than you. You just might learn a thing or two from them.
I honestly don’t get why these dumbasses waste so much money on impersonating veterans just to save 10% on a meal — but hey, that’s just me.
Don’t go patrolling for stolen valor turds.
We get it. There are douchebags out there that try to pretend to be veterans on Veterans Day just to get a free burger and some undeserved attention. F*ck ’em. It’s totally understandable to chew one of these assclowns out for reaping benefits for which they never sacrificed.
With that being said, don’t actively go out searching for these losers because, nine times out of ten, they’re actually veterans.
Use your best judgement when it comes to spotting other veterans. If you see an older guy that’s sitting quietly, eating with his family while wearing a Vietnam War cap, do not go around screaming at them, accusing them of stealing valor. They’re more than likely a veteran. If you see a twenty-something year-old prick wearing a modern uniform all jacked up? Well, feel free to press them about their service a little. Remember, though, that some veterans suffer from traumatic brain injuries, so the answers to very specific questions may be a bit fuzzy.
Or you could call ahead or look up online where all the discounts and freebies are. It’ll be all over the internet this time of year.
(US. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nicole Sikorski)
Don’t argue with retail clerks at places that don’t offer veteran discounts
Most places will give a veterans discount on Veterans Day — and that’s amazing. This doesn’t mean, however, that every place is required to offer one. Please — I’m begging from the bottom of my heart, here — do not get into a shouting match at some poor, minimum-wage-earning civilian who had absolutely no say on corporate policy.
Unless you’re talking to a real decision-maker, all you’re doing is making that retail worker think that all veterans are pricks. They’ll grow to resent veterans and it’ll put yet another wedge in the civilian-military divide. Just pay full price like everyone else that day, or politely say “thanks anyways” and move on to a competitor that does offer one.
In 1963, the youngest B-52 was less than a year old. The ABC network soap opera “General Hospital” started airing. The nuclear attack submarine USS Thresher (SSN 593) sank in an accident.
One other thing happened: a young man from Emporia, Virginia, by the name of Frederick Grant enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
“I had stopped going to school. I was looking for excitement and the Marine Corps recruiter really impressed me. He told me I would be able to trust the Marines beside me, and he was right. I also joined to see the world,” Grant said during a Marine Corps interview. “When I first came in, I was a normal infantry guy and then I became a communicator.”
Grant would end up spending 38 years in the Marine Corps, eventually becoming first a warrant officer, then a commissioned officer. He retired on Sept. 1, 2001 as a lieutenant colonel. His service included at least one tour in Vietnam.
“It was a small-unit war full of patrolling. Most of the time, I was in pretty safe areas,” he said. “I’m reluctant to talk too much on it because there were so many that had it so much worse than I did. It was just very hard to describe.”
After retiring from the Marine Corps, Grant got a job running the Tactical Exercise Control Group, which handled the simulations for III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa. He did so for 16 years, until his retirement in January.
“I never thought of it as a job. I never consider myself going to work,” he said. “Obviously there are dangerous times; there are exciting times; there are fun times, and I just feel very fortunate. The environment was great; it still is.”
He added that life as a civilian contractor was different than life as a Marine.
“I don’t have to do a Physical Fitness Test anymore although I’m always willing to work out with the Marines,” he said. “There isn’t much difference, and that’s because I choose it to be so. I could take the easy way out, but I don’t want to take that path.”
And after 54 years of service, what does Lt. Col. Grant intend to do?
“I’m going to relax. I mean, it has been 50 some years, so I’m going to golf or something. I’m a big runner, so I’ll run in the Southern California sunshine,” he said. “I guess the primary goal will be to reciprocate to my family all the support they’ve shown me throughout the years.”