Achieving Maximum Potential and Exceeding my Dream
My Veteran Story
United States Army 1994-1997
Growing up in a junk yard and playing near toxic waste dump sites can give you perspective on how you may want to change your life one day. Early on as a kid I didn’t really grasp my surroundings, my family lived in an apartment in my grandparent’s home in my grandfather’s junk yard. If this term Junk Yard doesn’t resonate look up the American Sit Com called Sanford and Son. Our play area was mixed amongst the piles of metal and scrap adjoined by neighboring factory sites where they spilled their waste. This most unhealthy and risky area was where “playing soldier” lead me to seek that dream. My grandfather’s oldest son, my uncle Armand was a veteran and when he came to visit it bolstered my passion for something more than this tiny town I was living in. As a skinny and young man of 17 I petitioned my parents for their signature to allow me to join to serve starting out in my State’s National Guard as a Military Police Officer.
This part of my story is not that exciting but it leads the way to why I say I wanted to achieve maximum potential. The Rhode Island Army National Guard quickly didn’t meet any of my expectations. Each drill we “played soldier” relearned how to march, cleaned weapons and inventoried gear. With some luck maybe we marched in a parade but for the most part I saw no path to really doing much with my life. Unfortunately, I had signed a 6-year enlistment with the guard and getting out of that contract to go into the “regular” Army was, (as I was told) not possible. Lucky for me, my uncle Armand who was still serving and now at the Pentagon said my opportunity was not lost if I was willing to try hard and risk a bit and write everyone possible to petition those in power to allow me to serve my country at a higher level. Writing which was never my strong suit became my mission. After much effort I received letters from my Senator and State’s Adjutant General my request would be granted so that I may move forward with a true career. Those letters I have saved to this day marked the start of a journey most would never see.
With no slots open for Military Police for me the Army decided I needed to reclassify in order to find me a position so I elected to take the route of quartermaster (supply or logistics if you will). Once assigned after school I found myself oddly enough being sent to Ft. Sill Oklahoma to a Military Police Unit. When I arrived my unit assumed I was there to fill the role of an MP having this on my records and assigned me to a patrol. After some time, they determined maybe I was not in the right slot and assigned me to the Installation Detention Facility to work, after some time they determined maybe I was actually the supply clerk they were seeking and moved me to the Arms Room to be an armorer until they moved me to the supply room. This whirlwind of assignments proved to me and to my superiors that I could literally do anything they through at me. I exceed and thrived and one after what seemed like a short time I was surprised with two unique and separate offers Delta Force came to Fort Sill and reviewed records at the same time the White House Communications Agency did, both sent me recruitment letters. I answered one letter and kept the other for my records hoping I made the right move. In 1987 I was flown to Washington DC to join the White House Communications Agency, a group that selected only the top ½ of 1 percent of the best of all service members.
The White House Communications Agency (WHCA) serves the President, Vice President and others as directed providing secure communications and other unique support in a Joint Service setting where the best of the best come together to travel globally with the President and those directed. As a young soldier my eyes were open to the world and the many opportunities this position afforded me. My senior NCO’s pushed me to learn and grow and to take classes and schools far outside my normal scope. I was afforded the opportunities to take courses from the Marines, Air Force, Army and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Through my superiors I was given every chance to learn, grow and go beyond my “pay grade”. Managing and purchasing assets in the hundreds of millions of dollars, developing programs and being assigned critical roles someone of my rank would never experience I grew and grew quickly as a person, leader and solider. While assigned to WHCA I won many unique awards including the prestigious Presidential Service Badge, Soldier of the quarter and year for my unit and made Commandants list for my service schools. Almost all of my achievements I can equate to my superiors who pushed me for success. One leader Warren Morris stood out and remains today a mentor, as a leader he never let me settle, he moved us all that we under his wing to aspire to be more. Some of us embraced that, others did not. Accepting his every teaching moment I learned to be a man, a soldier, a leader.
After an amazing 6 year turn at WHCA I was asked to go to another special unit to take care of the President at that time called President Contingency Programs, an ultra-select, joint service group of experts who handle programs related to continuity of government and Presidential protection for the President in his role as Commander in Chief. While I can’t disclose the details of the job I was given unreal responsibility for my rank and a level of trust only few could ever gain to plan for the gravest of events that would call for our nation to continuity issues. Again with great leadership I learned to take opportunities to move outside my normal circles, accept training I would normally not be afforded and to succeed from my efforts. I was promoted fast and reaped many benefits from the hard work I was putting in at every level. This chapter of the story has a twisted tragic ending as chronic back issues built over many years finally caused me enough damage that my skyrocketing military career would come to an abrupt end. After several attempts from doctors from Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital tried to help my back we all came to the realization that my back would never be good enough for me to make it any additional length of time. Caught between reenlistment, service schools and promotions I was almost forced to get out with a back condition that to this day plagues me.
One would think with all this success that I would simply roll into a job as a civilian contractor and that everyone would want me. However, with a bad back and an untimely government hiring freeze in place my options were fairly limited. In my new home town of Winchester, Virginia I found myself desperate for employment. Seeking anything, I interviewed for a slot at a newly built juvenile detention center. The Superintendent said I was basically his last hire as he was not keen on military guys because he didn’t want the center to have the feel any type camp. I took being picked basically last as an opportunity to exceed. Within a short time, I was promoted to supervisor, given several accommodations for life saving actions and assistance to others and recognized as an employee of the quarter on several occasions. My shift was built into a team and we together became recognized as a group for several of our actions at the center. Moss not growing beneath my feet I wanted more, I was burning inside to do more. Working one day behind the jail walls on 9-11 I stood in amazement as our country was attacked by terrorists. This was the exact training and reason for my last role at the White House and here I was now in a role that didn’t contribute to helping. In November of that year EPS was born.
Over Thanksgiving dinner after several phone and email conversations a former military colleague of mine and I decided to launch our own venture. Executive Protection Systems (EPS) and All Hazards Emergency Preparedness Company. Using both our combined skill sets we would eventually build this firm into the single most powerful and thought of company for protecting people and facilities for our federal government. EPS would rise to make the INC Magazines list of INC 500 firms at a rank of 172nd fastest growing firm in the country, We made the Virginia Fantastic 50 as the 5th fastest growing in the state, we made the INC500/5000 two additional years. I personally was named Entrepreneur of the Year by our regional chamber of commerce, recognized by Vetrepreneur Magazine as leader in Veteran owned businesses and was nominated or won other regional awards for business achievements. Our company which grew and changed to meet all challenges was sought after globally as a firm recognized for its experts in emergency preparedness. We were the leaders in product results for each unique challenge companies and the government faced. EPS opened a unique Safety Store concept serving Law Enforcement, Private Sector Safety and home safety with medical, OSHA and “cop shop” items. During this fast growth high energy business burst I was nominated to the board of many local and regional groups to include Chairman of the Board of the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber of Commerce, The Governor of Virginia’s safety council, City National Bank Regional Board of Advisors, Shenandoah University Bryd School of Business Board of Directors, Winchester City Fire and Rescue Foundation Board, Winchester City Police Foundation Board and the Winchester Medical Center Business Advisory Board. I chaired several foundation fundraising events, sat on panels for public safety and spoke at several regional universities on business topics; All of this with NO college degree.
After an incredible run we sold the business and my wife and I opened a consulting firm called Distinctions which helped other business grow and move their companies forward past challenges they faced. My role was almost as a CEO to go where from my seat at Distinctions I moved from firm to firm filling temp CEO roles or that of business manager to fill gaps in management. Over those several years of Distinctions we assisted many businesses achieve their dreams. My wife took a dream job and now resides in Key West, Florida as the CEO of the Key West Association of Realtors. I stayed behind and took a role with a government contractor as the Procurement Manager. Staying active in the community and taking on fun challenging roles continues to motivate me, in my “spare” time I am currently running a campaign for a County Sheriff race, helping several small businesses with their growth plans and spending time with my first grandchild.
Looking back, no matter what the circumstance, I learned that you either step up and achieve your maximum potential and live to try to exceed your dreams or you simply exist. My kids grew up watching their parents dream big, work hard and achieve a great deal. I didn’t limit myself because I had no formal degree, I worked above my pay grade and excelled because I had great leaders that pushed me to always be more and that is the lesson I would pass on to any person or vet. Don’t limit yourself to anything. This photo collage tells a lot….. Thank you for allowing me to share my story !