Tempe, Arizona boasts a unique housing complex for mixed income families. Called “Valor on 8th,” its 50 units were specially designed as a place for U.S. military veterans and their families to live in affordable housing in one of America’s fastest-growing urban areas.
One alumnus of Valor on 8th is Ro Gonzalez. A Marine Corps veteran, he appreciated what the city did for veterans. He spent a lot of time working for a veteran-oriented non-profit before striking out on his own. Gonzalez founded the Valors Veterans Community AZ in 2018, and has since helped 6,000 Arizona veterans.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Arizona, it hit veterans and their families in the Phoenix area hard and Gonzalez had trouble meeting the needs of his community. When he applied for an Evan Williams COVID-19 Veteran Relief Grant, Valor on 8th was ready to help.
“Our motto is connecting veterans with veterans and resources,” Gonzalez told We Are The Mighty. “That’s what we do, we connect veterans with other veterans through a lot of social events, but we also help with education, employment, homelessness and veteran transition all over Arizona.”
Gonzalez is an old-school Marine who served during the Cold War, from 1987 to 1991. His priority, in his own words, is taking care of his veteran brothers and sisters. And because he and Valors Veterans Community AZ is mostly self-funded through his day job and his morning paper route, he’s limited in what he can do.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have help at all. The people of Valor on 8th just volunteer their time and effort.
“Nobody is on payroll,” Gonzalez says. “All our funds come from in-kind donations, my credit card, wherever we can get dollars from. A hundred percent of it goes right back to the veterans.”
Through his hard work and the work of his volunteers, he’s been able to expand his operation, starting a new chapter in Tucson and looking to hire a veterans benefits navigator. His local focus and small donations make it possible for Valors Veterans Community AZ to be more responsive to the needs of veterans in Arizona.
“We’re more grassroots, more local, one-on-one, more personable,” he says. “It isn’t just about clicks and donations, our thing is to get our veterans involved in the community. If we help them out, they don’t have to pay us back monetarily. We prefer for you to come out and volunteer with us so you can see the impact volunteering in the community has.”
With the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the hardest-hit areas of Arizona was the veteran community in the Navajo Nation. Gonzalez and his organizations used the Evan Williams’ COVID-19 Veteran Relief Grant to come to their aid.
“They were hit hard by COVID, because they have such a large elderly population,” he says. “We hooked them up with gallons of sanitizers, along with other PPE, diapers, laundry soap, food, water, you name it. Altogether, we donated more than $10,000 worth of items.”
Veteran service organizations like Valor on 8th are supported by these grants through the American-Made Heroes Foundation Fund, established by Evan Williams in 2020. As an American-made and owned company, it’s important for Evan Williams Bourbon to give back to those who serve.
Ro Gonzalez and Valors Veterans Community AZ wants every veteran and every veteran family member to reach out when they need help. Gonzalez acknowledges his own problems as a veteran (he suffered a traumatic brain injury during service), but says that he does what he has to do to take care of it, just like any other problem.
“The number one thing is, if you’re struggling, there’s no shame in asking for help,” he says. “Every once in a while, no matter what you’re going through, you just need a little guidance. We’re happy to help.”
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.
We Are The Mighty is on the ground in Philadelphia with USAA at the Army-Navy Game. Down in “Military Alley,” some of the game’s alums and VIPs stopped by WATM to talk football, catch us up on their work, and – of course – give their predictions for who will win one of the oldest rivalries in college football.
1. Rob Riggle, Marine Corps Veteran / Actor
Army and Navy are coming into today’s game with winning records. And since both teams bested the Air Force Academy Falcons this season, the winner will go home with the coveted Commander-In-Chief Trophy and wins a trip to the White House.
2. Roger Staubach, Navy Veteran and 1963 Heisman Trophy Winner
Navy currently has 15 trophy wins, compared to Army’s six. The last time the Black Knights took the prize back to West Point, they met then-President Bill Clinton on their trip to the White House.
That was 1996.
3. Vice Adm. Walter Carter, 62nd Naval Academy Superintendent,
Army is coming off an upset win in last year’s game and no matter who wins today, both teams are bowl game-bound.
Navy could host the University of Virginia Cavaliers in the Military Bowl, while it looks like Army could meet San Diego State in the Armed Forces Bowl. Both games would be in January.
4. Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, 59th West Point Superintendent
The 118th Army-Navy Game features a number of heavy-hitting players to watch, including both quarterbacks: Army’s Ahmad Bradshaw and Navy’s Malcolm Perry. Both players are sure to have a decisive impact on the outcome of today’s game.
5. Rick Neuheisel, CBS Sports College Football Analyst
Going into today’s game, Navy looks to stop Army from extending last year’s win to a two game streak. The all time series has Navy with 60 wins and Army with 50. The teams also tied seven separate times.
A tie is an unlikely outcome of today’s game.
6. Lt. Gen. Michael Linnington (Ret.), CEO, Wounded Warrior Project
Even though the tough talk is fierce and the rivalry doubly so, the two teams take part in a number of joint traditions, both before and after the game. The two schools’ glee clubs join together to sing the National Anthem before the game and will sing each other’s alma mater after the game.
7. Vince “Invincible” Papale, NFL Legend Travis Manion Foundation Supporter
Both teams will join to sing each other’s alma mater, but the big question is who will sing first. The winner of the game will serenade the losing team’s fans in the stands with their alma mater. Then they jointly turn to the winning team’s fans to sing the winner’s alma mater.
The goal is to “sing second.”
8. Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Pete Dawkins
The Army-Navy game’s importance in NCAA athletics has declined over the years, but its importance to the nation and to those who serve has definitely not. Army hasn’t been the AP National Champion since 1945 and Navy’s only championship was won in 1926.
9. Boo Corrigan Director of Athletics, West Point
The game continues to exemplify the often-misunderstood rivalries between the branches of the Armed Forces of the United States: taking the smack talk to the very brink of good taste while remaining polite – and always remembering that in the end, they’re all on the same team.
10. Andrew Brennan, Army Veteran Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation Founder
In 2006, Afghanistan saw one of their most violent years of war. TIME Magazine’s photo of the year wasn’t a celebrity, it was United States troops after battle. Veteran soldier Matt Nauss was there.
Nauss was adopted after his birth parents lost parental rights due to drugs and abuse. He grew up on a farm, one of five other children. The military was his way of moving forward in life and affording college. “My brother and I, we both joined the Army at the same time. He’s my twin,” he explained. “I was in AIT [Advanced Individual Training] when 9/11 happened.”
That changed everything. “I ended up in Iraq when I was 19 years old,” Nauss said with a laugh. He did get to see the world, though, like he hoped. After being a recruiter a few years, he was assigned to Special Operations Command in Tampa. “Once I was assigned to Special Ops, that was it. I was there for my whole career.” He had the opportunity to travel to 30 different countries.
In 2006, he was deployed to Afghanistan. Nauss had no idea what was waiting for him there or that it would follow him for the rest of his life. Jake Tapper wrote a book about the Outposts in Afghanistan and the hell the troops endured. Made into a major motion picture, The Outpost shows you one of the most horrific battles. But long before Outpost Keating and that film’s events viewers see reenacted, Nauss lived through the initial attacks that started it all.
Two weeks into his Afghanistan deployment, it was on. “We had nothing, sleeping on the ground in sleeping bags. The bugs were destroying us,” he said. “After those initial weeks of quiet and nothing happening we got attacked by almost 360 degrees. 15 RPG’s within 30 seconds and that was just the initial attack. It was about five and a half hours of small arms fire. Two of my soldiers got injured and had to be airlifted out. After that day, we got attacked every single day. It never stopped.”
The TIME picture seen around the world happened after another battle the first month his boots were on the ground. One of the injured soldiers laying in the gator was their platoon’s only medic. Nauss can be seen holding the IV fluids up and caring for those who were injured. “You see that picture? That happened half a dozen times…some stories – they don’t make it to print,” he shared.
The United States Armed Forces suffered seven straight years of high casualties and deaths after that battle. In Afghanistan alone, we’ve lost 2,000 service members since 2006. The cost of war is high and those who survive without physical injury aren’t left unscathed.
In December of 2013, Nauss decided to leave the Army. “They were going to send me out in the middle of nowhere with a team. I couldn’t do it anymore…I was suffering from PTSD, it took me three or four years to get that from the VA. Regardless of that, I was suffering from it the entire time,” Nauss said.
When he got out of the Army as a Staff Sergeant, his transition wasn’t good. “I don’t think I made the right choices and I don’t think they prepare you,” Nauss said. He shared that he went on over 50 job interviews with no success, eventually losing a home and facing harsh challenges. There was a bright spot in all of this toughness, though. Jay Peak.
Jay Peak is a mountain located five miles from the Canadian border in Vermont known for challenging ski and snowboarding runs on one of the highest peaks while offering its visitors the magic of a small town. For a veteran like Nauss processing through his PTSD, it brings healing. “It was a release for me. The peace and quiet with the ability to focus on the outdoors while snowboarding, it was great therapy for me. It detaches you from everything,” he explained.
Through some networking, Nauss was eventually able to find employment. His efforts grew that company’s revenue to 14 million. A few years later, he was ready to start his own business. An IT in the Army, he knew his way around technology.
“I started Modern Business Consulting which has transformed into Dolomites Consulting Group,” he said. The company offers business strategy, web design and so much more. Now located in the heart of Downtown Tampa, Florida, it boasts 3500 square feet of cowork or executive office space. He and his veteran business partner didn’t stop there, though. They have another office opening in Jacksonville and later on in 2021, Seattle.
Nauss hopes to bring his opportunities and success to other veterans, offering internships to those transitioning. “I wanted to create DCG for these kids getting out who have skills and jobs that don’t necessarily transition to the civilian sector. They are going to be at a serious disadvantage. They need something to fall back on,” he explained. “DCG is by veterans, for veterans and ran by veterans…you’re in an environment where you can be comfortable, we are all prior military…I actively look for veterans to work with.”
His focus other than his business and close relationships is paying it forward. “I ask companies all the time what they are doing to give back…You are taking from the community, they see that. I am a strong believer in giving back,” Nauss shared. Part of his give back? Bringing the he peace found at Jay Peak to other veterans.
“Why not share this experience with everyone? I went from thinking about just buying a place to alright, let’s make this a project,” he said. Nauss is actively scouting property in the Jay Peak area to develop into a retreat and program for veterans suffering from PTSD.
Although he is forever impacted by his experiences at war, Nauss wouldn’t change anything and tries not to hold onto his past experiences. These days, he’s looking forward to the future and hoping to help other veterans on their path of doing it too.
To learn more about Dolomites Consulting Group, click here.
Christopher G. Baradat would have just as well had the Air Force mail him his medal.
It’s been more than four years since the Afghanistan battle in which the former Air Force staff sergeant was credited with saving the lives of more than 150 allies, both American and Afghan. And three years since Baradat, who served with the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Fort Bragg, received the Silver Star for those heroics.
And to this day, the former airman believes he was only doing his job when he braved enemy fire to communicate with vital air support amid a frantic battle with insurgents in the Sono Valley, a treacherous area known as a sanctuary for insurgents in Afghanistan’s Kunar province.
“I don’t feel that I was doing anything above and beyond and heroic,” Baradat said shortly before being honored yet again in a historic ceremony in Florida. “I was doing the job that I was supposed to do.”
On April 20, Baradat and retired Master Sgt. Keary Miller, a former pararescueman, were each presented with the Air Force Cross in a ceremony at Hurlburt Field, home of Air Force Special Operations Command.
It was the first time in history the Air Force had awarded two Air Force Cross medals — the highest honor for valor an airman can receive outside the Medal of Honor.
Baradat and Miller previously received Silver Stars for their respective heroics. But after a Department of Defense-wide review of valor awards from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were among eight airmen who were selected to receive an upgraded medal.
The ceremony to honor them was hosted by the 24th Special Operations Wing and began with a flyover from the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, the Thunderbirds; included remarks from the highest-ranking Air Force officer, Gen. David L. Goldfein; and ended with memorial pushups for special operations airmen who have died in battle.
Baradat’s heroics are related to a battle in which he directed 13 500-pound bombs and more than 1,100 rounds of ammunition during three hours of intense fighting amid a mission to rescue allies trapped in a valley under Taliban control.
Miller, who served with the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, is credited with dashing through deep snow and heavy fire multiple times to care for critically wounded U.S. troops during a 17-hour battle against al-Qaida fighters in Afghanistan on March 4, 2002.
Baradat, who left the Air Force last year and now lives in California, said he was not seeking medals during the fight on April 6, 2013.
“I was just concentrating on doing my job,” he said. “It was a very busy, hectic situation.”
According to accounts of the battle, Baradat put his life on the line even as members of the Special Forces team and Afghan commandos he was attached to shouted for him to take cover.
The former combat controller, who provided an important link between ground forces and overhead aircraft, stood in an open Afghan courtyard as bullets hit the ground around him and zeroed in on the roughly 100 enemy fighters bearing down on his teammates with sniper fire, machine gun fire, and rocket-propelled grenades.
Baradat orchestrated supporting fire from AC-130 and A-10 aircraft, synchronizing the attacks and coordinating flight paths overhead amid heavy enemy fire on the ground.
“It was very steep, rocky terrain,” he said. “There was some difficulty in identifying where stuff was happening.”
Baradat said his Special Tactics training prepared him for the battle. But at the same time, he credited the soldiers from the Fort Bragg-based 3rd Special Forces Group whom he fought alongside.
“I was just one piece of the puzzle,” he said. “I’m proud of how my team worked together that day and that I was able to do my job the way that I was trained to.”
Baradat and Miller are the eighth and ninth airmen to receive the Air Force Cross since Sept. 11, 2001.
All nine airmen have been part of the Special Tactics community. And five have come from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, which is the most decorated Air Force squadron in modern history.
On April 20, Baradat said he wished his old unit well.
“I hope that those guys are doing great,” he said. “I hope they all stay safe as they continue to do the work and continue the legacy of Air Force Special Tactics.”
Baradat spent roughly eight years in the Air Force, deploying three times to Afghanistan and once as part of a crisis response force in the Middle East.
In April 2013 he was part of a quick reaction force called to rescue 66 Afghan allies pinned down by fighters in the Sono Valley.
According to an account of the battle, Baradat and eight Special Forces soldiers went ahead of their convoy of armed vehicles, which were slowed by narrow and restrictive terrain.
About half a mile from the allies they were sent to rescue, the troops came under attack and sprinted the length of several football fields to reach safety in a small mud compound.
There, Baradat began to communicate with overhead aircraft to try to repel the attack.
Then, as they moved closer to their trapped allies and the intensity of the enemy fire increased, Baradat left his concealed position to better coordinate a counterattack.
Ignoring the warnings of his teammates, and with the help of six A-10s and two AC-130s, he cleared the way for members of the team to reach their allies and leave the valley, continuing to direct a counterattack as the convoy left.
Baradat is credited with destroying 50 enemies and 13 enemy fighting positions.
Speaking on April 20, Goldfein said Baradat and Miller represent “the finest traits America can ask of its warriors.”
“When lives are on the line, you move carefully and deliberately into harm’s way with the protection of others on the mind,” he said. “You do what others cannot or will not do. And you do it because it must be done. And because there is no one better.”
In the hearts of patriots all across this great country of ours, Old Glory isn’t just a piece of red, white, and blue cloth — it’s a symbol. A symbol of freedom, democracy, and the American way of life. No one knows this better than the military community, who go to war with the flag on their shoulders. Even after service, you’d be hard-pressed to find a veteran who doesn’t have a flag displayed in their home in one way or another.
Today, Old Glory is touching the lives of thousands as it makes its away across the country, carried by veterans, troops, and patriots alike on a trek from Boston, Massachusetts, to sunny San Diego, California. Over ten thousands pairs of hands will have carried the flag as it moves across twenty-four states and over 4,300 miles. Along the way, The Stars and Stripes are bringing attention to many of the issues that the veteran community faces.
This is Team RWB’s Old Glory Relay.
The best way to get everyone’s attention? By making a large event that runs from September 11th to November 11th.
Every participant in the Old Glory Relay is running to support their own cause, but all of these causes are important to the veteran community. Chief among these issues are the disastrously high suicide rate within our community, the struggles of isolation, sedentary lifestyles, finding meaningful post-service employment, and combating the stigma surrounding veterans seeking help for mental issues.
There’s no simple solution to any of these problems. There’s no magic wand to wave and make them disappear. It takes a serious conversation within the community. And this conversation can only happen when we all come together and make our voices heard in a singular, booming voice — and that’s exactly what the 10,000 men and women carrying the flag across the country are doing.
If you miss your time in the airborne, don’t worry: They have skydiving events as well.
Recently, We Are The Mighty chatted with Tom Voss, an Army veteran and member of Team Red, White Blue (or Team RWB) who will be carrying the flag across the finish-line on Veterans Day, November 11, 2018. Voss is no stranger to participating in events to raise awareness for veteran issues. A couple years back, he and another Iraq War veteran walked across the country to put that much-needed spotlight on important issues.
“It’s always important to pay homage and pay our respects to all
the men and women that came before us.” said Tom. “Look at the American Flag — that’s what it represents. It represents the men and women who
have sacrificed everything, the families that have sacrificed everything
so that we are able to live the lives that we do today.”
Team RWB’s mission is to enrich the lives of America’s veterans. They do this by connecting veterans to their community through physical and social activity. Outside of massive events, like the Old Glory Relay, local Team RWB chapters assist local communities in smaller ways, like placing flags at the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery, building housing areas with Habitat for Humanity in Los Angeles, putting on Range Days in Grand Rapids, Michigan, all to bring veterans together within their communities.
The veterans who participate in these events get a sense of camaraderie that they’ve been missing since their departure from active-duty life — but the door is always open to civilians, too.
The Old Glory Relay is like a perfect encapsulation of everything great about Team RWB. Veterans, active duty troops, and civilian patriots are banding together for a great cause. In addition to bringing attention to many of the issues that the veteran community faces, they’re also helping bridge the ever-expanding civilian-military divide.
“I think what it comes down to is, veterans are open and willing to share their stories. But you have to ask. Coming from a place of non-judgement and not just saying, ‘thank you for your service,’ but really asking, ‘what happened during your time in Iraq or Afghanistan? Because I weren’t there. I don’t know. All I know is what I saw on the news.’ Coming from a genuine place like that from the civilian standpoint is really important.”
If you’re in the area, be sure to catch Tom Voss and the rest of Team Red, White, Blue as they cross the finish line in San Diego, California on November 11th.
For years, there was one benefit the Air Force had over all branches of the military, the one thing you could only get by crossing into the blue: an associate’s degree from the Community College of the Air Force, a two-year, accredited degree program that integrates all your military training with the addition of just a few general courses. You couldn’t get it with the Army or Navy.
Now, members of any branch can start a similar program to earn a degree from Syracuse University – for free.
In an age of skyrocketing tuition that has Presidential candidates debating if colleges and universities have gone too far, Syracuse University is opening its doors to more and more people, especially America’s active duty troops, reservists, National Guard members, and veterans.
With part-time learners like U.S. military members in mind, the school has created a way for the entire armed forces to go Orange. Syracuse University has aligned the part-time tuition rates it charges active duty members enrolled in online classes to match the Department of Defense Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) reimbursement. This means no matter where they’re stationed, if they want a degree from a top-tier four-year university, they can have it without ever touching GI Bill benefits.
The move is part of Syracuse University’s and Chancellor Kent Syverud’s dedication to the U.S. military, its veterans, and their families. Since Syverud took his post in 2014, his administration has taken enormous steps to further serve veteran students and their families. The number of military-connected students at the university has skyrocketed more than 500 percent in five years. The school even employs veteran admissions advisors who help military members transition from the service to student life, assisting with GI Bill and other Veterans Affairs processes. Syracuse even has a number of special programs dedicated to veteran student successes – including veteran-only offices, study areas, advisors, immersion programs, and even legal clinics.
Syracuse has a long history of supporting American veterans. While the school recently established the interdisciplinary Institute for Veterans and Military Families, an on-campus non-profit that works to advance veterans’ post-military lives nationwide (not just at Syracuse), the school’s commitment to vets dates back to the end of World War II, when the school guaranteed admission for all veterans. Its university college for part-time students was initially created for veterans who couldn’t study full-time. Since then, the school has specially trained thousands of the Pentagon’s officers, photojournalists, and other disciplines in the military. Syracuse even allowed Marines deployed to the 1991 Gulf War to continue their studies independently.
Their work continues, with partnerships to train entrepreneurial military spouses backed by Google, conducting studies to tackle veteran unemployment and homelessness, and even testifying before the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, no one is more dedicated to the post-military success of American veterans. If you’re looking for a powerful, positive community of veterans to join when leaving the military, look no further.
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.
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.
All Americans welcome the return of remains from the Korean War.
The July 27, 2018, honorable carry ceremony at Osan Air Base, South Korea, transferred 55 boxes of remains covered by the United Nations flag. Now the work of identification begins.
These remains are presumed to be American, but many other nations fought in the Korean War, and it’s possible the remains may come from one of those nations.
The 1950-1953 Korean War was incredibly violent, with 36,940 Americans killed and another 92,134 wounded. Some 7,699 American service members are listed as unaccounted-for from the conflict.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Lance Alan Schroeder)
The remains will be examined at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, and experts there will be responsible for identifying the remains. The agency is relatively new — coming into existence in 2015 after the merger of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office.
Many of the fallen service members died in North Korea and were buried by their comrades where they fell. Other U.S. service members were captured and placed in prisoner-of-war camps, where many succumbed to starvation, exposure and torture. Outside those camps are graves of Americans.
The DPAA Laboratory at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, is the first U.S. stop for the recently returned remains. The lab is the largest and most diverse skeletal identification laboratory in the world and is staffed by more than 30 anthropologists, archaeologists and forensic odonatologists, United Nations Command release.
Those experts will sort and examine the remains. In the past, North Korea turned over commingled remains.
The lab experts are painstaking in their examination. The age of the remains — at least 65 years old — will complicate the process. The North Koreans collected the remains, and U.S. investigators will have to do the examination without the forensic information they normally would have, such as the approximate place of the burial and the conditions around it.
Examination of dental charts and mitochondrial DNA will be key technologies used to identifying the remains, and the process may take years to complete, DoD officials said.
Featured image: United Nations Command returned 55 cases of remains from North Korea to Osan Air Base, South Korea, July 27, 2018.
Many troops enlist with hopes of finding something bigger than themselves. After their contract is up, it’s not uncommon for the battle-hardened grunt to feel lost in a world now unfamiliar. All the while, they’re told that there’s nothing out there for them but flipping burgers or greeting customers at some supermarket.
Then, there’s the world of law enforcement. The police force is, and always will be, trying to scoop up as many of these former-military badasses as possible. In terms of transitions, going from the armed forces into law enforcement isn’t that much of a stretch: you’ll face similar hours, do similar tasks, and be surrounded by similar camaraderie all in attempts to promote greater good.
With the utmost respect to law enforcement officers, however, many infantrymen aren’t interested in waiting at the local doughnut shop until it’s time to write parking tickets and toss the same village drunk into the lockup — again. They want something bigger, something badass, something that rewards their ability to kick in doors. This is where the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team comes in.
For many, the only real change between the infantry and SWAT is the uniform. Here’s why:
You’ll even do the exact same training. Being an infantryman just gets you ready for the same ol’ ride.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Patrick Harrower)
The job description is nearly identical
Heavy ballistic armor? Check. Assigned weapon? Check. Breaking down doors to catch bad guys? Oh, yeah — check.
The SWAT team’s objective is to keep the peace at a level higher than is expected of the average cop. While every police officer should be trained and ready to fight at a moment’s notice should the situation arise, the SWAT team provides that extra oomph needed in intense situations, like bank robberies, hostage negotiations, and high-level drug cartel activities.
Instead of infiltrating a compound in Kandahar to catch an HVT bomb maker, SWAT officers are infiltrate compounds back home to catch drug kingpins.
Did I mention that you’ll spend a lot of time training at the range?
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Patrick Harrower)
The requirements are basically the same
Potential applicants must be physically fit, hard working, excellent shots, mentally and emotionally strong, decisive under stress, and able to communicate under hazardous conditions.
The help-wanted ad reads almost exactly like a description of a post-deployment infantryman.
The only thing holding an infantryman back from immediately joining the SWAT team is that, typically, membership requires three years of prior experience in law enforcement. I can’t speak for every police department, but that requirement can be lessened for exceptionally badass applicants.
You really will be training… a lot. Which shouldn’t be too far off from infantry life.
(Photo by Sgt. Juana M. Nesbitt)
The structure almost mirrors the military
Between SWAT teams and military life, the chain of command is identical and the organizational structure is the same.
Being selected for SWAT isn’t easy. Potential recruits go through a grueling process and only the best of the best can make it through to the end. But if you do, you’re basically in the military again.
You’ve still got a battle buddy (you’ll call them “partner” instead), you still work in four-man teams (squads) and there’ll be, on average, 15 teams per district. Since high-stakes situations aren’t happening every day, you’re going to be training and continually honing your skills with your team.
Officers got each other’s back, literally and figuratively.
(Photo by Sgt. John Crosby)
The brotherhood is just as tight
If there’s one thing that damn-near every veteran misses about the military, it’s the camaraderie. Knowing that the people to your left and right would die for you without a second thought is hard to come by at some desk job.
SWAT is not a place to go if you’re looking to make a name for yourself at the expense of others. Real SWAT teams live as a unit, work as a team, and train until everyone becomes as close as family.
This level of trust in another human can only be formed in groups like the military and SWAT.
Military service is very common among law enforcement officers — especially in SWAT. You’ll fit right in.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Patrick Harrower)
The good you do is in your community
As a SWAT officer, you’re not deploying for 12 months at a time and leaving your family behind. You’re still going to come home and sleep in your own bed most nights.
Now, don’t get that twisted: There will be bad nights. There will be moments that go horribly wrong. There will be missions that require you to be gone for extended periods of time. SWAT officers, like infantrymen, are over-worked and under-appreciated.
But doing the difficult thing to promote the greater good is exactly what you’re signing up for — again.
Alani Bankhead is an Air Force veteran and current reservist. She has served tours around the world, including Iraq. She’s also a former counterintelligence special agent.
Bankhead always knew she wanted to be in the military and attended college on an Air Force scholarship. She started her career as a personnelist, the equivalent of a human resources manager in a civilian company. She didn’t stay in that world for too long.
Encouraged by supervisors, Bankhead applied for and soon transferred to be a Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI). The job turned out to be much more than she had originally expected. And she loved it!
In her 12-year active duty career, Bankhead served in duty stations around the world and did a six month tour with special operations in Iraq. Her job: running informants for counterintelligence to help find high-level terrorists. She’s not your typical counterintelligence special agent.
Bankhead remembers when she was first dropped into Iraq, saying “I was this young little Hispanic girl.”
Standing at just 5-foot 3-inches, she was quite different from her colleagues. OSI is a male dominated field operating agency. Bankhead says she originally questioned her own ability on that first deployment.
That insecurity stems from childhood.
Bankhead’s father is a former army officer for whom education was the path out of poverty. And while the family was middle class, she says she grew up feeling as if they were really poor. She recalls that there was always a sense in the house that they didn’t have money. She internalized that.
Her parents couldn’t afford college. Her Air Force scholarship helped with that. Still, she struggled with finances. That came from her childhood perception of being poor. It created a conflict between having expensive nice things and sacrificing, between spending and saving.
Spending won. She lived beyond her means. She moved into an apartment she couldn’t afford. And she got behind on her rent.
The inevitable eviction notice was her wake up call. That was the beginning of her personal financial journey. Bankhead refers to it as her, “financial fitness journey.”
She decided that she would never go into debt again. This gave her the ability to reframe her insecurity. It changed everything in her life.
Today, Bankhead is a special agent working internet crimes against children.
“I always hated bullies; anybody that uses their strength or their power to pick on someone that’s weaker,” said Bankhead.
Her job is to protect the most vulnerable: children. She has moved from hunting terrorists to chasing human traffickers and white-collar criminals. She is driven to get justice for the victims of those crimes and appreciates the opportunity to help them heal.
“The pay is awful, but it is the job I was destined to do. The joy I get from that is just incredible,” Bankhead remarks. And it’s all possible because of proper planning.
She has a robust retirement portfolio thanks to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) and explains that it’s “a really great tool!”
Today Bankhead is a smart well-diversified investor. Because of her planning, she is able to contribute to the world in a personally meaningful way. The result is that she can do a job that is really important and that she truly loves without worrying about putting a roof over her head.
Her financial fitness journey is the result of her courage to explore who she was and what her true beliefs were. She achieved a great sense of peace as a result. She made career and personal moves with confidence. And she feels really good about that.
Bankhead says that “having financial security gives you options to seize opportunities at the right time.” When you do, you can align yourself to do what you were always meant to do.
All of the things she thought were weaknesses were actually her strengths.
This is what Bankhead would say if she could go back and talk to her 21-year-old self.
A House Appropriations subcommittee on May 15, 2019, approved a fiscal 2020 defense funding bill that would cover the cost of a 3.1% military pay raise.
The bill, introduced May 14, 2019, by the House Appropriations Committee, would provide $690.2 billion for the Defense Department — $8 billion below President Donald Trump’s budget request, but $15.8 billion above the fiscal 2019 DoD budget. The $690.2 billion includes $68.1 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations funds, or OCO.
Under the legislation, active-duty end-strength would be trimmed: The proposal supports 1,337,500 troops, 600 fewer than are currently serving and 2,000 fewer than the administration’s request. It also would cut the reserve component by 16,900, the amount requested by the Pentagon.
On other personnel issues, the bill would provide .7 million to upgrade child care facilities on installations and direct the services to come up with “innovative ideas” to solve the shortage of quality child care services.
It also would provide 0 million for medical research programs directed by Congress and furnish 7 million for sexual-assault prevention and response, an increase of million above the administration’s request.
Soldiers load onto a Chinook helicopter to head out and execute missions across the Combined Joint Operations Area- Afghanistan.
(US Army photo)
“The subcommittee has sought throughout this legislative process to keep in mind the morale and quality of life of all our service members and their families. I believe we have taken tangible steps in this bill to refocus much-deserved attention on their issues of concern,” said Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Indiana, who chairs the subcommittee.
Several programs would be bolstered if the legislation passes as written — unlikely, given that it is one of four bills that ultimately guide future defense spending. However, large sections of it are expected to be included in the final measure, usually an amalgam that includes similar legislation from the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Senate and House Armed Services Committees also weigh in with legislation that directs policy issues.
Programs that may see increases next year include the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The proposed House bill would fund 90 F-35s, or a dozen more than the Pentagon’s request. It also would fund 73 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters; 14 V-22 Osprey aircraft and 16 C-130J aircraft, four more of each than the services asked for; and nine P-8A Poseidons, three more than requested.
The bill would fund 11 ships, including three DDG-51 guided missile destroyers, two SSN-774 attack submarines, one FFG frigate, a Ford-class aircraft carrier, two fleet oilers and two towing, salvage and rescue ships.
It also would pay for cannon and weapon stations for 86 Strykers and upgrade 165 M1A2 Abrams tanks.
US Army M1A2 Abrams tank.
“The bill ensures that our service members are trained and equipped to do their jobs safely and effectively and that they are prepared for future military needs,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey, D-New York, said in a statement May 15, 2019.
The proposed bill places a number of restrictions on the defense budget, including limiting how the executive branch and the Defense Department can move money in accounts. It limits the amount to id=”listicle-2637320945″.5 billion, down from .5 billion.
The change is a direct response to the Trump administration’s efforts to transfer money to fund a fence or wall along the southern border.
The bill also places an emphasis on environmental cleanup of military bases and former military sites, providing id=”listicle-2637320945″.26 billion — 8 million more than requested — for restoration, removal of unsafe property and debris, and hazardous waste disposal.
This includes million to study and assess the extent of contamination from chemicals used in firefighting foam and stain-resistant materials called perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.