On Veterans Day 2017, U.S. Army veteran David Brown was walking around an area of Arlington National Cemetery that was far removed from the holiday crowd of tourists and volunteers. He came across an older man walking alone among the tombstones in Section 60 – where those killed in action in the Global War on Terror are laid to rest.
The man was Secretary of Defense (and retired Marine Corps General) James Mattis.
There were no cameras or news reporters walking with the retired general. He was dressed respectfully in a black tie and jacket, walking through the rows of graves. As Brown put it, “Defense Secretary James Mattis spent his Veterans Day with the recent fallen.”
Brown then watched Mattis as he spoke with others visiting Section 60. Mattis listened to the stories of those visiting their lost loved ones. And overheard an exchange between the general and a Gold Star Father.
“An old man visiting his Marine son’s grave told Mattis that he was his boy’s hero; the Warrior Monk smiled sadly and said that the old man’s son was one of his.”
Brown snapped a selfie with the secretary and posted it to his Facebook page. The comments on the photo were full of stories of personal encounters with Mattis and love for the general and his long history of supporting American troops.
Comments ranged from “General Mattis is a national treasure and we are very lucky that he remains in service to the United States of America,” to “THAT IS F**KING COOL AS SH*T BRO!!!” – a testament to the wide respect the General earned in both his time in the Marine Corps to his service as SECDEF.
Glassdoor, one of the world’s largest job and recruiting sites, recently singled out seven top employers of veterans and their families, and it’s no surprise that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) made the list, along with Booz Allen, Home Depot, Southwest Airlines, and others.
A total of 123,608 veterans — more than 30 percent of the workforce — work at VA, according to the latest federal government data. Glassdoor said veterans choose VA careers for its generous employee benefits, such as tuition assistance and loan repayment. A physician quoted in the article commended VA for its “great mission, incredible benefits (and) good work/life balance.”
Through the Transitioning Military Program, VA also has well-paying careers specifically for veterans with healthcare skills. Veterans of healthcare fields successfully work as health technicians, Intermediate Care Technicians (ICTs), mental health providers, nurses, physicians, and support staff in other healthcare occupations.
(Department of Veterans Affairs)
ICTs, for instance, are former basic medical technicians, combat medic specialists, basic hospital corpsmen or basic health services technicians applying their skills to care for fellow veterans. (Meet ICTs Ryan White, Anthony Juarez, and other VA employees.)
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Other benefits of a VA healthcare career include 36 to 49 days paid time off per year, depending on the leave tier, and the ability to apply military service time to a civil service pension, participate in a 401(k) with up to 5 percent in employer contributions and gain access to a range of exceptional health insurance plans for individuals and families.
Are you transitioning from the military? See if a career with VA is the right choice for you.
EXPLORE how to transition from the military to a VA career.
Airborne soldiers have some particular fears that most other troops don’t have to worry about. Total malfunctions of the parachute like a “cigarette roll” can cause them to hurtle into the earth at terminal velocity while mid-air entanglements can leave them with broken bones or worse.
One of their most unique fears is that of becoming a “towed jumper,” something that happens when their chute fails to separate from their static line and they are literally towed behind the plane like the pet dog from “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”
(Younger readers should not Google that reference. Instead, just imagine the worst possible version of parasailing.)
For Army Ranger Spc. Brian Hanson, the nightmare became a reality during a training jump under the stars of Fort Benning, Georgia. He and the rest of his company were under strict orders to conduct the perfect nighttime jump, to include not losing any gear.
But Hanson’s chute failed to separate and he became a towed jumper.
This left Hanson flying through the night sky as he fervently tried to keep all of his gear as close as possible despite the wind rushing over him while he dangled 1,200 feet above the surface of Benning. Watch the video above to learn how he made peace with these developments as well as the moment when he realized he was truly screwed.
Veterans In Residence program, a partnership of Bunker Labs and WeWork, is a six-month business incubator that is revolutionizing entrepreneurship for veterans — just ask Bryan Jacobs.
Jacobs never intended to join the U.S. Navy.
“When I joined the military, every male in my family had served,” the Tampa-based entrepreneur told We Are The Mighty. “There was a long line of service there. I wasn’t pressured into it, but it wasn’t my first choice. I wanted to be the first male in my family to go to college, but I was young and naive and it didn’t work out that way.”
When Jacobs left the military in 2005 after six years of service, he felt lost.
“When I got out of the military, I went through a lot of changes and became homeless,” he shared, saying much of his identity had been linked to his military career. “I wasn’t ready for anything that the outside world had to offer. In fact, I came out of the military rather quickly. I left Iraq November 5 and was out by November 25. There was no transition or support. It was a different world then.”
Inspired by the legacy of his grandfather, a chef, Jacobs leaned into his entrepreneurial spirit to navigate his newly-minted civilian life. Still homeless, he signed up for culinary school.
“I love to cook so much I took two cookbooks to Iraq that I could read. It took me out of the pain of life and the emotional struggles I was living in,” he shared. “I went to culinary school in 2008. I was couch surfing, sleeping in a garage and had a part-time job as a trainer, where I could take showers. I had made some bad choices and didn’t have a lot of knowledge and didn’t understand the power of knowledge.”
In May of 2014, Jacobs tragically lost his younger brother, who also served, to suicide. It was the wake-up call he needed to reevaluate his life and shift perspectives.
“I felt responsible as a brother in arms, but also as a brother in general,” he shared. “I kept asking myself, ‘Why am I still here?’ and ‘What is the light in the darkness?’”
Through personal growth and introspection, Jacobs launched Vets 2 Success, a nonprofit organization that supports homeless and displaced veterans in finding their passion and purpose through food and brew programs.
Jacobs shared an exercise in which he challenges veterans to think about the specific ingredients in their favorite foods and equates it to ‘bad ingredients’ in life.
“If there are bad ingredients in the recipe, would it still be seen the same? Of course not,” he shared. “So if you have all these bad ingredients in your life, that’s how you are going to be seen. That’s how easy it is to inspire them to see their personal changes. What we’re doing is helping them see the process that needs to be enveloped. And those ingredients don’t come overnight. They don’t come in a quick trip that can be solved tomorrow, but it’s a process to get to the plate. This is how we talk about retraining their minds to look at problems and find solutions.”
As his nonprofit grew, Jacobs continued to seek both personal and professional development, which is how he discovered the Veterans In Residence program. The program, a partnership of Bunker Labs and WeWork, is a peer-facilitated, six-month business incubator that provides military-connected entrepreneurs, including veteran small business owners, a networking community, business skills and a workspace to help launch and grow their business.
Currently operating in 23 major cities, Veterans In Residence helps entrepreneurs take their business ideas to the next level through facilitated accountability and connections.
“We look for the companies we select for these programs to be at a point where they can really leverage their time in the cohort as much as possible and also be a value add for their peers,” Ann Cardona of Bunker Labs, shared.
Jacobs took on the rigorous application process, was accepted and began the cohort in July 2020 for a new arm of his existing nonprofit. The entrepreneur and aspiring innovationist recommends that applicants come with direction, but be open-minded for that plan to shift.
“My plan has completely grown in different aspects and avenues than I ever thought,” Jacobs shared on his experience with the six-month program. “Be okay with good, constant feedback and be prepared to be challenged. That was something that took me by surprise. Of course everyone is in love with their own idea. You have to hear from others that they believe in your idea. It gave me a boost of confidence that other entrepreneurs believed in it. As an entrepreneur you feel crazy already. The program gave me the confidence to say – this is going to work, but it’s not going to be easy and that’s okay.”
The next Veterans In Residence cohort, set to begin in early 2021, will be the most diverse yet. Bunker Labs anonymized the applications in the selection process, ensuring they were blind to names, gender, location and ethnicity.
“There were three of us that looked at all 409 companies that had a legal entity set up to ensure consistency throughout the process,” Cardona said. “The IT team set up a comprehensive application process and rubric for applicants. We wanted to make sure there were no unconscious biases in the selection process. We broke them back up into locations after the initial screening and we did a virtual group interview with the top 20 candidates in each location to get to our final eight. We will have two virtual cohorts that are a conglomerate of entrepreneurs from across the nation where Bunker Labs does not currently have a coworking space agreement (such as with WeWork) already established.
Cardona stated that Bunker Labs aims to have the upcoming cohort be the most impactful yet by ensuring everyone has a legal entity set up prior to the cohort beginning.
For companies that are not at this point yet, Bunker Labs encourages them to join the Bunker Online community, focus on Launch Lab Online, and participate in workshop series that are designed to get prospective cohort applicants ready for the next Veterans In Residence cohort.
“Almost all of the companies are out of the ideation phase and most are already seeing some traction, which is different than past cohorts where we still had a good number that were very much in ideation,” Cardona shared. “We also chose companies that had more defined goals and were able to be vulnerable and honest about where they were in their businesses and what their true needs were. If the cohort members already have a good idea of where they are going and what they need from us, it is much easier for us to connect them with the correct resources and have a bigger impact on their business.”
“The best part of Veterans In Residence was the city leaders,” Jacobs said. “Just having people who cared about you, who are trying to run their own businesses, but they are there to help you. When they said they were going to get things done, they did. It was having that confidence. As an entrepreneur you hear all the time – hey I’m gonna hook you up – but everyone has an agenda. None of these people had a [personal] agenda.”
Nearly two decades removed from war, Jacobs still draws parallels to his time in the military with his current role as a founder and entrepreneur.
“Walking through life as an entrepreneur is like combat – you’re just hoping for success that you come out on the other side,” he said. “Veterans In Residence helped propel my confidence as an entrepreneur. It helped me realize there’s something bigger – it’s not a personal endeavor and I didn’t have that feeling going in, but coming out the other side there is a completely new perspective laid before me.”
Charles R. Walgreen, Sr. was more than an innovator and business owner — he was also a veteran.
The son of Swedish immigrants, Walgreen interrupted his budding pharmacy career to enlist with the Illinois National Guard and fight in the Spanish-American War in Cuba in 1898. His primary assignment was working in a hospital dispensary, which exposed him to yellow fever, complicated by malaria, a combination that was nearly fatal to him.
In time he recovered, returned to civilian life, and spent the following years working in various Chicago drugstores, sometimes for short periods at each. Thus he gained knowledge of the practice of pharmacy and experience with business techniques that distinguished the successful drugstore from the less so. He learned a lot about the art and value of good customer service. Before long he wanted to be his own boss and, in 1901, bought the pharmacy he worked at in Chicago. Walgreens, the company, was born.
In its first few years, Walgreens became known for its “two-minute stunt.” Customers who were in the immediate vicinity of the drugstore would call to order non-prescription items, and Walgreen would slowly repeat the order and delivery address back to the customer, loud enough for an assistant to take down the details. Walgreen would then chat up the customer long enough for the assistant to make the trip to the delivery address. Sometimes, with Walgreen still on the phone, the customer would excuse him or herself from the phone to answer the door, and return in amazement at how quickly the order had arrived. It was a feat of sufficient theatricality that it earned good word-of-mouth advertising.
Eight years after the first Walgreens opened its doors, the second location in Chicago opened.
By 1916, there were nine stores and by the time of the company’s 25th anniversary of service, 92 stores were operating in the Chicago area alone, many featuring soda fountains.
During World War II, more than 2,500 Walgreens employees served in the military, 20 percent of its workforce. Forty-eight did not survive the war.
In 1943, Walgreens supported the war effort by opening a nonprofit, 6,000-square-foot store inside the Pentagon. Elsewhere, stores around the country sold $41 million in war bonds and stamps.
Walgreens continued to grow with the post war boom, and by 1975, hit $1 billion in sales. By 1984 Walgreens opened its 1,000th store.
Over the decades, the community and civic engagement for which Charles Walgreen was known evolved with the company to become a corporate-wide commitment to social responsibility. In addition to supporting numerous philanthropic causes, Walgreens has shown innovations in environmental sustainability, mirrored the diversity of America through its employment and vendor policies, and earned an international reputation as a model employer of people with disabilities.
From its humble early aspirations to make a name in Chicago, to its current aspiration to be America’s most-loved pharmacy-led health, wellbeing and beauty retailer, Walgreens in 2016 boasts a total of over 8,100 stores in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U. S. Virgin Islands.
After 115 years of service to the country, Walgreens is honored to also serve those in the military who have defended our country.
As part of the Express Scripts network of pharmacy providers, Walgreens stands ready to give Tricare members the excellent service for which it is famous. With over 8,000 in-network pharmacies from which to choose, Walgreens is well-positioned to champion every Tricare members’ right to be happy and healthy.
Veterans Day isn’t just a day to pause and reflect on the great sacrifices that troops have made in the name of this great country. It’s also a day of celebration and a moment for troops and veterans to take in the gratitude of the American people.
So, businesses across the country offer some sort of deal to anyone with a military ID, uniform, or veteran apparel, like a campaign cap. Sure, a free order of chicken wings might not be a fair trade for all that veterans have done for us, but it’s greatly appreciated nonetheless.
To help you properly celebrate Tactical Thanksgiving, we’ve put together a little guide here to make sure you don’t miss a spot on your tour of appreciation. Put the following places on your list and get ready for deals — all for the low, low price of just the gas in your car.
This list highlights types of businesses you should check out. For a list of specific spots that have officially announced Veterans Day discounts or freebies ahead of time, look here. Keep in mind, this list isn’t comprehensive and discounts may be subject to availability, but it’s definitely worth a read.
Make sure to adjust your schedule to account for a free breakfast, lunch, dinner, second breakfast, supper, late-afternoon snack…
Restaurants all over the country offer Veterans Day discounts — and that’s amazing. Most places you’ll go to will have little ways of making their meals more patriotic, too, like Red, White, and Blue Pancakes at IHOP or a burger adorned with a little American flag toothpick.
While the more well-known, chain restaurants are often able to take the financial hit of offering free meals, they might be extremely crowded — like, 2-hour-wait-times crowded. Meanwhile, the smaller, locally-owned spots may offer something smaller, like a free side, but you’ll likely get better service and a more personal “thank you.”
If you’re not the type to enjoy small talk during a haircut, at least it’s better than giving yourself a free haircut.
Getting a really good haircut isn’t cheap. And the places that offer a cheap chop typically aren’t all that good. For one day of the year, at least for veterans, this decision is made much easier, as even the good places offer their services for extremely low prices — some even offer free cuts.
What’s nice about getting a free haircut — in contrast to most other things on this list — is that when you let your barber know that you’re a veteran, it actually initiates a conversation. It’s much more personal than a quick thanks and a line item on the receipt.
If you’re in the Chicago area, I highly encourage you to take a visit to the National Veterans Art Museum. Every exhibit in there is made by our brothers- and sister-in-arms.
(National Veterans Art Museum)
Plenty of museums are free for veterans year round. Those that aren’t, however, typically offer free admission on Veterans Day.
If you look through the pamphlet of most any history museum, you’ll likely find that warfare is a central theme. And when you look deeper into most of the paintings in art museums, you’ll see that many of the beautiful pieces, adored by critics and enthusiasts alike, were created by veterans.
What better way to honor a fellow veteran’s work than by spending the day admiring some of it?
They always put on an amazing show for the troops and veterans at Disneyland on Veterans Day.
(Screengrab via 1st Marine Division Band)
Amusement parks and casinos
Many amusement parks close their gates around Labor Day — but some use Veterans Day as their final celebration of the year. This is perfect for veterans with kids or grandkids as it’s a way for the kiddos to enjoy the benefits of their service.
Or, if you’re not excited by cartoon mascots dancing around, know that most casinos on Veterans Day offer free cash credits for veterans. If you play your cards right (literally), you can take that free money walk away. Or just play one or two games and walk out with the remainder. Whatever floats your boat.
Nothing says “thank you for your service” better than a free beer or five.
Your favorite bar
When the day comes to a close, there’s no better way to end a day of celebration than with a nice, hard drink. Head down to your local bar and you can probably get a free drink — either from the bartender or other patriotic patrons.
This one isn’t ever written down as an official thing, but it’s mostly agreed upon that bars will give veterans a free drink or two on Veterans Day.
Bobby Fair had seen his share of danger while serving as a U.S. Marine. The former infantryman who also served on AAV-7A1 amphibious assault vehicles, though, never imagined that his warrior training would come in handy at college.
When a suspected Somali-born jihadist used a car and knife to carry out his attack at Ohio State University, the college’s Buckeye Alert system sent out the warning very quickly. Fair would recall his training kicking in.
“A light bulb clicked in my head and I said, ‘Hey this room needs to be secured right now. We need to get a barricade up. All the students that are not being used in the barricade need to get off to the side of the classroom, completely away from all the windows,’ ” Fair told ABC News.
Fair lead other classmates in barricading the door – which had no lock – with chairs and desks. Once that was done, he ensured that the students in that classroom stuck together.
“You could just see on my fellow students’ faces the tension, the stress and everything while it was going on. It was so confusing. We didn’t have the slightest clue what was going on out there,” Fair told ABC, noting that in this situation, staying put was the best course of action.
“Every situation is going to be different, but in my best opinion the best route to go is to hide, remain out of sight, out of mind,” he told Fox 28 in Columbus. “I hope this actually gets people thinking ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter where you are. Terrorist attacks can happen.’ We are in a very pivotal time in the day and age we live in and you can’t rule out that there is always somebody out there that wants to hurt you. Unfortunately, it is just the world we live in.”
Jake Wood has seen and done a lot in his life, so you know when he calls receiving the Pat Tillman Award for Service “humbling,” it’s a meaningful statement. The co-founder and CEO of Team Rubicon was a United States Marine and scout sniper in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s testified in Congress on veterans’ mental health and briefed the last three Presidents of the United States about the issues returning veterans face.
Now, he’s been recognized by the ESPY awards, the annual presentation from ESPN and ABC honoring athletes for their performance in sports and sports-related activities. While deploying American military veterans to help disaster areas other rescue organizations won’t touch isn’t necessarily a sport, one can argue it’s definitely athletic.
But you don’t have to argue for Jake Wood.
Tillman as a Ranger and as a Cardinal.
The Pat Tillman Award for Service is presented at the ESPYs to honor an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes the Tillman legacy. Previous honorees include 2016’s Sgt. Elizabeth Marks, who overcame hip injuries sustained in Iraq but still became the world’s number one paraswimmer. In 2015, it was awarded to Danielle Green, who joined the military after playing basketball at Notre Dame and lost her arm in Iraq. Green returned to help other veterans struggling to adjust to life after the military.
For Jake Wood, this award hits close to home. Wood was playing on the offensive line at the University of Wisconsin when Pat Tillman was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2004. It was after Tillman died that Wood told his coach he was off to join the Marine Corps, where he spent four years.
He was out for just three months before he saw the devastation in Haiti. It was in Port-Au-Prince that a handful of volunteers formed the first heartbeat of what would be come Team Rubicon. Now, the organization is 80,000 members strong.
Wood in Haiti on Team Rubicon’s first mission.
And Jake Wood, the former o-lineman for the Badgers, is being recognized for forming a group that helps those most in need while giving struggling military veterans a new mission in life.
The analogy is simple. There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. The vast majority of people are sheep — nothing wrong with that. They move about their day carelessly, are loving and compassionate beasts, and only rarely, accidentally hurt each other. The wolves want to devour the sheep. They’ll cause as much harm as they can with little remorse. These are the terrorists, despots, dictators, and other types of villains in this world.
Which brings us to the sheepdog, the guardian of the sheep against the wolves. Their capacity for violence is frowned on by the sheep. Their capacity for love is frowned on by the wolves. The sheepdog is bound by duty in that middle ground. They are the troops, first-responders, and anyone willing to take a stand against the evils of this world.
The quote gained much traction after the release of American Sniper, during which these different types are explained to a young Chris Kyle. While the phrase doesn’t appear in his memoirs, it was used by his friends-and-family-run Twitter account. The actual source of the speech comes from Lt. Col. David Grossman’s book, On Combat. In it, he credits the analogy to an old war veteran.
Many people misattribute the “sheepdog” as a badge of honor that proves they’re better than sheep. Thinking a sheepdog is defined by their capacity for violence while waving a good-guy banner, however, is as counter-productive as it is flat-out wrong. Yeah, a gun-toting sheepdog might make a great t-shirt, but it goes against the rest of Grossman’s book, which largely covers coping strategies for the physiological and psychological effects of violence on people who have had to end enemy lives in the line of duty.
The goal of the sheepdog is to prevent violence and keep the blissful sheep safe. The sheepdog isn’t actively seeking to harm others — that’s the work of a wolf. The sheepdog is defined not by his hatred of wolves, desire for violence, or any similarity that blur the line between wolf and sheepdog. They are not defined by the reasons why they’re not sheep.
It’s the love and compassion for those who cannot defend themselves that truly defines a sheepdog. It’s what makes us different from the wolves.
Moments after Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the U.S. House Majority Whip, was shot in the hip during an attack on a practice for the upcoming Congressional baseball game, an Iraq War vet was treating his wound.
“You never expect a baseball field in America to feel like being back in a combat zone in Iraq, but this morning it did,” Rep. Brad Wenstrup tweeted. The Ohio Republican congressman later told an aide the only difference between the Alexandria shooting and Iraq was being “without his weapon.”
According to a report by WLWT.com, Wenstrup began to treat his wounded colleague after Scalise dragged himself off the field. Wenstrup had seen wounds like that before he had ever entered politics.
According to the official biography on his web site, that is because Rep. Wentrup is also Col. Wenstrup in the U.S. Army Reserve – and he’s has served in the Army Reserve since 1998, after his sister had a battle with leukemia. During a tour in Iraq with the 344th Combat Support Hospital, Wenstrup was a combat surgeon, which he described as “the worst thing that ever happened to me, and the best thing I ever got to do.”
“I remember one Marine we lost on the table, and the anesthesiologist saying, ‘I had breakfast with him this morning.’ Or having to tell a group of Marines their buddy didn’t make it. Those were the tough days,” he told the college’s magazine.
He had good days, too, including helping to treat a four-month old girl who had pneumonia. Eventually, the doctors figured out the girl also needed gluten-free formula, and raised over $400 to help make arrangements for a U.S. company to send the girl’s father the right baby food.
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.
That satisfying “Ping!” of bullets on target is as regular as a metronome when former Green Beret sniper, Aaron Barruga, is running tactical marksmanship drills on his home turf in Santa Clarita, CA. With his company, Guerrilla Approach, Barruga trains civilians, military, and law enforcement in proper and effective tactical firearm deployment.
The man does not miss.
“Oscar Mike” host Ryan Curtis paid a visit to Barruga’s training facility to bone up on his sharpshooting and found himself in good hands, drilling shoulder to shoulder with this veteran entrepreneurial success story. Barruga’s advice?
“I would definitely say that, if they have the opportunity, use that G.I. Bill. Get that piece of paper that says, “I’m smart and employable.” And just grind away, basically. You gotta hustle.”
As the day progresses, the sweat beading on Ryan’s brow is a testament to his hustle, if not his dead shot accuracy. And when he challenges Barruga to an Old West-style duel, our host quickly learns what high noon looks like at the Less-than-OK Corral.
Watch as Barruga makes plinking targets look easy, and Curtis proves his monkey is definitely the drunkest, in the video embedded at the top.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. — Military personnel and their families receive 20% off on November 11. Dine-in only.
Buffalo Wild Wings— Veterans and active-duty service members get a free order of 10 boneless wings and fries on November 11. The offer is available for dine-in or takeout.
California Pizza Kitchen–Veterans and active military get a complimentary meal from a select menu. Dine-in and walk-in takeout only.
Casey’s General Stores — Service members both past and present get a free coffee on November 11 across its over 2,200 locations.
Cattlemens— Active, inactive, and retired military personnel get a complimentary 8 oz. Sirloin Steak dinner on November 11.
CentraArchy Restaurants — Veterans and active-duty military members get an entree from the full menu at any location for half price on November 11. Guests are encouraged to make reservations.
Chili’s — Veterans and active-duty service members get a free meal from a select menu on November 11. Available for in-restaurant only.
Cicis Pizza— Active and retired military get a free adult buffet on November 11. Dine-in only. Coupon required.
Coco’s— On November 11, veterans and active-duty service members get a free slice of pie, along with a “Buy One, Get One” free deal at all locations. The offer is valid for dine-in or take out orders; online and delivery not included.
Country Kitchen — Active and retired military get a free Country Scramble on November 11 at participating locations. Dine-in only.
Cracker Barrel — Veterans get a complimentary slice of Double Chocolate Fudge Coca-Cola Cake when dining at any location on November 11.
Eat’n Park— All former and current military personnel and their families will receive a 10% discount for the entire month of November. Dine-in only.
Einstein Bros. Bagels — Veterans and active-duty military get a free hot or iced medium coffee on November 11.
Famous Dave’s — Military personnel get a free Free Georgia Chopped Pork Sandwich + Side at participating locations on November 11. Valid for Dine-In, To Go, and Online Ordering. Not valid for call in orders.
Farmer Boys— Veterans and active-duty military receive a free Big Cheese cheeseburger on November 11 at participating locations.
Friendly’s— Veterans and active-duty military get a free All-American meal for lunch or dinner, which consists of the All-American Burger, served with a side of fries and a drink on November 11. Dine-in only at participating locations.
Frisch’s Big Boy — Veterans and active-duty military receive a free meal, all day, up to $10 at participating locations on November 11. This tribute is available at Frisch’s dine-in, drive-thru and carryout.
Golden Corral — Golden Corral Restaurants’ Military Appreciation Night free dinner will be available on November 11. Military retirees, veterans, active-duty, National Guard and Reserves are all welcome.
Hamburger Stand — Veterans and active-duty military get a free hamburger, regular fries and a small Pepsi on November 11.
Hopdoddy Burger Bar — On November 11, veterans and active-duty service members get a free Classic Burger (with or without cheese). This offer is redeemable for in-store dining or to-go orders placed by phone.
Houlihan’s— Veterans, active-duty military and military families get $10 off a $30 food purchase at participating locations on November 11. This offer is valid for in-restaurant dining or for carryout. Orders made via houlihans.com or a third-party delivery service are not eligible.
Hy-Vee— Veterans and active military members get a free curbside pickup breakfast November 11 from 6 – 10 a.m.
Kolache Factory — Veterans and active-duty military get a free kolache and a cup of coffee on November 11 from 6 a.m. – 2 p.m.
LaMar’s Donuts— Veterans and active-duty military get a free donut and 12 oz. coffee at participating locations on November 11.
Little Caesars — Veterans and active military get a free HOT-N-READY Lunch Combo at participating stores on November 11, from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Logan’s Roadhouse — On November 11 between 3 and 6 pm, veterans and military personnel receive a free meal from a special menu.
Lucille’s Smokehouse BBQ — Active-duty personnel and veterans get a free Lucille’s Original Pulled Pork Sandwich on November 11.
Luna Grill— Veterans and active-duty service members get a “Buy One, Get One Free” deal from November 11 through 13, valid for dine-in or to-go orders. (Not valid online or delivery.)
McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants— Veterans, National Guard, Gold Star parents and Gold Star Spouses can enjoy a half priced entrée from a special menu on November 8. Reservations are strongly recommended.
Menchie’s— Veterans who visit stores on November 11 get their first 6 oz of froyo free.
Mission BBQ — Veterans and active-duty military get a free sandwich on November 11.
O’Charley’s– Active-duty military and veterans can enjoy a free meal on November 11. Dine-in only.
Pilot Flying J— Veterans get a free breakfast combo at participating locations November 9 through 15 through a special offer in the app.
Red Lobster— Veterans, active-duty military and reservists get a free appetizer or dessert from a select menu on November 11. Dine-in only.
Red Robin – Veterans and active-duty military who are Red Robin Royalty members can redeem a free Tavern Double Burger with Steak Fries any time between November 12 and 30 for dine-in or to-go. The offer will be automatically uploaded to your dashboard.
Sagebrush Steakhouse— Veterans and active-duty military receive a free meal on November 11. Dine-in only.
Shari’s — On November 11, veterans and active-duty service members get a free slice of pie, along with a “Buy One, Get One” free deal at all locations. The offer is valid for dine-in or take out orders; online and delivery not included.
Shoney’s — Veterans and active-duty service members get a free All You Care To Eat, Freshly Prepared Breakfast Bar on November 11 until 11 am. Dine-in only.
Starbucks— Veterans, military service members and military spouses get a free tall (12-oz) hot brewed coffeeat participating stores on November 11.
Tap House Grill— Veterans and active-duty military get a free meal on November 11. Dine-in only.
Wienerschnitzel — Veterans and active-duty military receive a free Chili Dog, small fries and a small drink at participating locations on November 11.
Yard House — Veterans and active duty military receive a complimentary appetizer on November 11.
2019 Veterans Day Restaurant Discounts:
151 Coffee — Military personnel are invited to bring your family for free drinks on November 11.
Ahipoki — Veterans and active-duty military receive 50% off any bowl at all locations across Arizona and California on November 11.
Another Broken Egg Cafe — Veterans and active-duty service members can enjoy a free Patriot French Toast Combo and coffee on November 11.
Applebee’s — Veterans and active-duty military receive a free meal from a special menu on November 11.
Army & Air Force Exchange Service — The Exchange will feature one-day only specials on November 11, including a free coffee for all shoppers at Express and participating Exchange restaurant locations. And MILITARY STAR cardholders will earn double points November 11 andadditional discounts with their card.
Aroma Joe’s Coffee — Veterans and active-duty military get up to a 24oz drink for free on November 11.
Aspen Creek Grill— Veterans and active-duty military get a complimentary meal from a special menu from 11 a.m. to close on November 11.
Biggby Coffee — Veterans and active-duty service members get a free brewed coffee up to 24 oz. on November 11.
Bombshells Restaurant and Bar— Veterans and active-duty military get free meals and soft drinks and a 20% discount for accompanying family members on November 11.
Bonanza Steakhouses— Veterans and active military get buffet specials at select locations on November 11.
Bruegger’s Bagels — Active-duty military members, veterans, reservists and military spouses get a free bagel with cream cheese on November 11.
Buffalo Wings & Rings — Veterans and active-duty military receive a free “Pick 2” Lunch Combo on November 11 between 11 am and 3 pm.
Burntwood Tavern— Veterans and active military get a free lunch or dinner on November 11.
Calhoun’s— Veterans and active-duty military get a free meal on November 11.
Cantina Laredo— Veterans and active-duty military get a complimentary meal up to $20 at participating locations on November 11.
Carrabba’s — This Veterans Day weekend, veterans and active-duty military receive a free calamari and 10% off on all future visits.
Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse— Veterans and active-duty military get a free entree from a special menu from 11:30 am to 3:00 pm. on November 11.
Chicken Salad Chick — On November 11, veterans and active-duty military will receive a free Chick Special and Regular Drink.
Chipotle— Active-duty military, reserves, national guard, military spouses and retired military get a buy-one-get-one (BOGO) deal on November 11.
Chop House — On November 11, active-duty and retired service members get 50% off any dine-in lunch or dinner entree.
City Barbecue— Veterans and active-duty military get a free sandwich, two sides, and a regular beverage on November 11.
Claim Jumper— On November 11, veterans and active-duty military get a free entree up to $15 from a special menu.
Coffee Beanery— Veterans and active-duty military get a free tall cup of fresh brewed coffee all day on November 11.
Connors Steak & Seafood — On November 11, active-duty and retired service members get 50% off any dine-in lunch or dinner entree.
Cotton Patch Cafe — Veterans and active-duty military get a free chicken fried steak or chicken fried chicken on November 11.
Country Cookin — Active, reserve, retired, and honorably discharged members of the military receive a free salad bar or $5 off any entree on November 11 when showing a valid military ID and filling out the service card.
Crooked Pint Ale House — Veterans and active-duty military get a free menu item on November 11 at participating locations.
Cumberland Farms — Veterans, active-duty, reserve, National Guard or honorably discharged military personnel get a free coffee on November 11.
Denny’s— Veterans and military personnel get a free Build Your Own Grand Slam on November 11, from 5 a.m. to noon.
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit — Veterans and active-duty military get a free Classic Sandwich and choice of side on November 11.
Dunkin’ Donuts— On November 11, veterans and active-duty military receive a free donut at participating locations.
Fatz Cafe— Veterans and active military get a free World Famous Calabash Chicken basket on November 11. And from November 1 through 30, veterans and active military members will receive 20% off their entrée.
Huddle House— Active-duty, retired, and veteran military members get a free order of Sweet Cakes November 8 through 11.
Hurricane Grill and Wings— Veterans and active military get a free entrée from a special menu on November 11. Plus, participating guests will also receive a card for 10% off future visits through December 31.
IHOP— Veterans and active-duty military get a free red, white, and blueberry pancake combo on November 11 at participating locations.
IKEA — Veterans get a free meal November 9 through 11.
Insomnia Cookies — Veterans and active-duty military personnel get a free traditional cookie all week, November 11 through 17.
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant— On November 10 and 11, veterans and active-duty service members get a complimentary burger or sandwich along with a non-alcoholic beverage.
J. Christopher’s –Veterans get a free meal at participating locations on November 11.
Jimboy’s Tacos — Veterans get a free meal on November 11 at participating locations. Meals have a $10 max value.
Joe’s Crab Shack — Veterans receive 20% off at participating locations on November 11.
Juice It Up — Veterans and active military receive a free 20oz Classic Smoothie on November 11 at participating locations.
K&W Cafeterias— Veterans and active-duty get a free meal on November 11 from 11 am until closing.
Kwik Fill — Veterans receive a free coffee on November 11.
LongHorn Steakhouse — Veterans get 10% off your entire meal and a free appetizer or dessert on November 11.
Lucky Girl Brewing — Veterans and active-duty military receive a free pulled pork or brisket sandwich with a side at Lucky Girl Brewing or a free flat bread pizza at B52 Winery on November 9, 10, and 11.
Lucky Strike Entertainment — Active, inactive and retired military personnel get complimentary 1 hour of bowling, as well as a burger and beer for $10 on November 11.
Macaroni Grill— Veterans and active military receive a free Mom’s Ricotta Meatballs + Spaghetti on November 11.
MacKenzie River — Veterans and active-duty military receive 25% off for their entire table on November 11.
Main Event — On November 11, veterans and active-duty military receive 30 minutes of game play that can be used on more than 100 interactive video games and a free entrée from a special menu.
Manhattan Bagel Company — All active, former and retired military personnel get a free bagel and cream cheese at participating locations on November 11.
Ninety Nine Restaurant and Pub— On November 11 from 11 am to 4 pm, veterans and active military get a free lunch from a select menu with purchase of an entree.
Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom— Active-duty service members and veterans get a free Specialty or up to 3 topping individual pizza with purchase, November 8 through 11 at participating locations. Not valid at OC Logan or OC Manhattan.
Old Country Buffet— On November 11, veterans get a free buffet plus a non-bottled beverage at participating restaurants.
On the Border— On November 11, active and retired service members receive a free meal from a select menu at participating locations.
Orange Leaf— Retired and active-duty military receive free froyo at participating locations on November 11.
Otter’s Chicken — Active, Guard/Reserve, retirees and former service members get a free meal at participating locations on November 11.
Paisano’s Pizza — Veterans and active-duty military get a free Large 1-Topping Pizza on November 11.
Pala Casino — Veterans and active-duty military get a free buffet on November 11.
Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille — Veterans and active-duty military get a complimentary 3-course pork chop dinner on November 10 from 4 to 9 p.m. Each veteran must be accompanied by at least one guest who purchases an entree or Sunday Supper Special.
Ponderosa— Veterans and active military get buffet specials at select locations on November 11.
Price Chopper Supermarkets — Veterans, active-duty, reserve and national guard military get a free 12oz. Coffee & Donut on November 11.
Primanti Bros. — Active or retired military can enjoy a free Primanti Bros. Almost Famous sandwich November 10 and 11.
Quaker Steak & Lube — Veterans, active-duty and Reservist service members get free or discounted meals at participating locations on November 11.
RA Sushi — Veterans, active and retired military can enjoy a complimentary shareable on November 11, available all day.
Rock and Brews— Veterans and active military personnel receive a complimentary pulled pork sandwich or salad on November 11.
Rodizio Grill — Veterans eat free November 11 through 14 with the purchase of at least one Adult Full Rodizio meal at participating locations.
Roy Rogers — Present a military ID or proof of service to receive 10% off your entire purchase on November 11.
Rubio’s Coastal Grill — Get a buy one entree get one free deal on November 11 with coupon and military ID.
Ruby Tuesday— Former and active-duty service members get a free Burger or Sandwich served with fries or tots on November 11.
Ryan’s— On November 11, veterans get a free buffet plus a non-bottled beverage at participating restaurants.
Sauce Pizza & Wine — On November 11, all locations will honor veterans with 25% off their bill.
Scooter’s Coffee — Veterans and current military personnel get a free drink of any size on November 11.
Shane’s Rib Shack— Active-duty military and veterans get a free sandwich, regular side, and 20-oz. beverage November 11 through 13 at participating locations.
Sheetz— On November 11, veterans and active-duty military personnel get a free 6 inch turkey sub and a regular size fountain drink. Sheetz locations offering car washes will also provide a free car wash to veterans and active-duty military.
Sizzler— Veterans get a free complete lunch from a special menu on November 11 at participating locations until 4 pm.
Smashburger — Veterans and active-duty military get a free double burger on November 11 with any purchase.
Smokey Bones — Veterans and active-duty military get a free dessert from a select menu on November 11.
Smoothie King — On November 11, veterans and active-duty military get a free 20 oz. smoothie.
Snarf’s Sandwiches — Active-duty military and veterans receive a free 7 inch non-specialty sandwich on November 11.
Sonny’s BBQ — Veterans and active-duty military get a free Pulled or Sliced Pork Big Deal combo on November 11.
Spaghetti Warehouse— From November 9 through 11, buy one entrée and get the second entrée free. Coupon required.
sweetFrog— Veterans and active military personnel get a free 12-oz yogurt on November 11.
Taco Mac— On November 11, active military members and veterans get a free 6-pack of wings with purchase a drink.
TCBY — Veterans and active military personnel get their first 6 oz. of frozen yogurt for free on November 11 with valid proof of service at participating locations.
Texas de Brazil— Veterans receive 50% off dinner November 11 through 13 during dinner hours.
Texas Roadhouse— Veterans and active-duty military get a free lunch on November 11 from 11 am to 4 pm.