My name is Chris Reader. I was not born into a military family but did have a strong father who believed that if you were going to do something you do it right the first time; when you gave your word you followed through; and when it came time to work you worked until the job was done. He also had very strong family values. I can remember him saying countless times “you could be so poor that you don’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, but if you come home and your kids come running to you and your wife greats you with a kiss, you’re the richest man in the world”. This was the example I was raised with for the first 14 years of my life. Now don’t get me wrong my Uncle John was and still is a huge influence in my life to this day. As a matter of fact I am actually sitting in his living room right now as I write this out. But for the most part my father was the biggest impact on my life up until that time.
On January 1, 1999 my father passed away due to lung cancer. For the next 4 years without that main guiding force, no matter how hard my uncle, grandfather or friend of the family tried, I was the exact opposite of what my father had raised. I rebelled, had no respect and was a general asshole to be around. During this time I was introduced to the thought of joining the military. I was also going through what I now realize was depression. I thought that with my family splintered, and grades in school far below average, that the military was my only course of having a successful career/life. So after trying and trying for 2 years to get in (I was denied twice due to the fact that I only have one kidney), on the third time applying for the forces I was accepted into the military as a artilleryman on Feb 3 2003. I would later remuster in basic to armored crewman where I would later spend the rest of my career.
I went through basic, battle school and then August of 2004 I was posted to CFB Petawawa with the Royal Canadian Dragoons. Less than 6 months later I was on a plane to Afghanistan for my first tour. This tour would later define how I would look at leadership for the rest of my career, and into my professional life as a businessman. On this tour I watched my leaders not only stick up for the men and women that they looked after under their command, but also how they would mentor them. I only ever found this type of true leadership 2 more times throughout the rest of my military career. I watched them go to bat for us time and time again, and even heard rumors that they were being warned that if they did not start to fall in line and do things a certain way, that they would be kicked off tour. Throughout this tour though, my troop Warrant, and sergeant always lead by example, went the extra mile to make sure we understood why we were operating the way we were and mentoring us throughout the whole tour. This would be the last time I would experience this until I was posted to C Squadron at CFB Gagetown under MWO Hebert’s command. In 2008 I was sent back to Afghanistan as a replacement for a good friend of mine Darryl Caswell. We had lived a few doors down from each other in the barracks and growing up in the same home town of Bowmanville Ontario, we had the same circle of friends. At this time in my career I started to notice a huge divide in the leadership from my first tour to my second. It seemed like everything was based on winning hearts and minds, and getting that next tick in the box to be promoted instead of what our primary goal should have been, to win the fight. Shortly after coming home from my second tour I was posted to C Squadron at CFB Gagetown.
A few months after being posted to Gagetown I was introduced to the world of welding and fabrication by a family friend, completely by fluke. I was asked if I could come by and help out at his shop for a long weekend. It is important to mention that at this time I had zero interest in welding and even less interest in fabrication. However after walking in the door of his shop I quickly realized the possibilities having these skills would provide. That weekend we spent a lot of time bending, rolling and welding tube to build parts for stock cars. I quickly realized how I could take these skills and use them for myself in building an off road truck.
Two short months later I bought my first welder. I would then spend the next 4 months practicing; educating myself on the best tools for the type of “hobby” I wanted to do as well as the best parts trails and race events that would take place all of North America. I was falling in love with off-road racing, fabrication, and even just general repair work. Anything that had to do with welding or fabricating I needed to be involved in it. Even while I was at “work” I was thinking, planning and ordering parts, books and material so that I could continue to further my addiction to this new skill set I was eager to master.
It needs to be stated that at this time I was starting to have severe night terrors, which after months and months of sleepless nights, I started to drink more and more to try and knock me out. The thought of seeking help for this did not cross my mind, which in turn started to affect my daily work life. However, as soon as I was in the shop, it did not matter what I was doing whether it was welding, working through a problem or just pushing a broom, it always calmed me down and always left me feeling happy… for a time.
One day after another long and painful day at work, I came home and once again went to the bottle. My girlfriend at the time started to pick a fight on how much I was drinking and in an outburst screamed “If you hate the army so much why don’t you just leave”. (It needs to be mentioned that being in garrison pissed me off on a daily bases. I wanted to be in the field training 24/7 but we all know why that’s not possible. ) It had never occurred to me to leave the military up until then, and like a thousand lightbulbs turning on I ran to my laptop and started to write out my battle plan for getting out of the army. 7 months after submitting my release papers I was walking off base for the last time. Ten years to the day after signing my acceptance letter, my military career had come to an end. This would soon become the down ward spiral for my depression and PTSD.
After moving back to my home town of Bowmanville Ontario, and bouncing from job to job I finally made the call to move to Alberta for work. This decision was driven home even harder when the day I was laid off from my last welding job I found out that my girlfriend and I were going to be having a baby. So shortly after I had let that all sink in, I once again sat down with my laptop and did what came naturally, I came up with a battle plan and executed the mission.
Two weeks later I was in Alberta. Three days after moving there, I had a job with Cascade Carriers and my career as a welder was underway. During the next two years I would suffer from night terror after night terror; and in true Chris fashion, I tried to hide it from my family and friends. In 2015 while on a family walk in Calgary, my body and mind had had enough. At that time I lived in the Forest Lawn neighborhood, and anyone who knows Calgary knows that it is a pretty rough area. It also has a ton of sights, smells and sounds that all reminded me of Afghanistan, and while walking with the family it all came to a head. I started to get anxious, aggravated, and then I started to try and get my girlfriend and son to start running so we could get to cover. After that I blacked out, I woke up a few hours later in my bath tub covered in puke from my stomach rolling for so long. My girlfriend came in handed me my cell phone and told me two things I will never forget. First, I needed to call Josh (a childhood friend of mine that I still talk to this day) and tell him what happened so you can get some help. The second was something I did not see coming at all. She said “Chris I don’t know what the fuck happened but just remember that without your son and I you are nothing”. It was at this point that I realized I was alone in my troubles. And once again found myself making a plan which involved going to the OSI Clinic here in Calgary, working out again and finally surrounding myself with people that support me.
Roughly six months after my episode I did the hardest thing I have had to do. I broke up with my son’s mother. I knew that if I stayed with her it would only be a matter of time before I put myself in a box. Weeks and months went by and even though I missed my son (and still do, they now live in New Brunswick), life was getting easier every day. Yes I still had my ups and downs and I was still on meds but life was getting better.
A few months later I met my now wife Sarah. From the first time I met her she has pushed me physically and mentally, always for the better, always to grow and achieve higher goals. She did not just talk about it either; she helped me achieve every victory I have had thus far. When I was in school I told her how I had to put myself back onto a routine, work out in the mornings before breakfast, then eat, then go to school. Whenever she could she would always help me out whether it was studying for an exam, or getting through a funk she was there. She was also the voice of reason when I was wrapping up my third year at S.A.I.T and I was starting to worry about looking for work. She was the one who said, “You are always talking about owning your own business, now is the perfect time” so on April 17,2017 That’s exactly what I did.
Since then I have struggled, grown and been tested daily, and I love it. My biggest challenge has been bring the military side of my mind and the civilian side together. I understood how to lead men in the army, I knew what good and great leadership looked like and I also know what terrible leadership looks like and how it can cripple the guys that work with you.
I quickly started to realize that I needed to come up with a business plan if I wanted any type of support from a bank. After weeks of false starts, I was listening to a Launch Code podcast with Evan Haffer (CEO for Black Rifle Coffee) and that’s when I heard it – “repurpose your battle plan”. Instead of seek and destroy the enemy, find and assist the customer. After hearing that, things started to fall into place. I started reading more and more; books by Rick Hiller, Joko Willinik, anything where it was a military leader who retired and is now excelling in business, I am searching for their books.
It has been a pretty good 2 years since I have started my business however something was still missing. There was more that I needed to do but couldn’t do on my own, and about a year and a half ago the idea of the Veteran Group of Companies (VGC) came to mind. Myself and a select few other veteran owned and operated companies are getting together next week to start developing a Co-Op who’s mission and vision is to support vets releasing from the military, with either work, support or schooling. The VGC will give back to the veteran community in more ways than just donating money to a blind organization that has little actual contact with the people. We want to be the first number that vets contact when releasing. We are going to design, develop grow and dominate our respective industries through our shared brotherhood, because as individuals we have the mindset to succeed in situations where most people choose to shut down and go home. But as a team or “battle group” we can change the business world for the greater good not only for this generation, but for every generation to come.
This is my story, I hope it is not too long, but drives home the point that as veterans our skillset is one that cannot be found, attained or bought anywhere else. It can and will carry us through the hardest times of our life, it can catapult us to success. We only need to understand how to take the military side of our mind and make it work in the civilian battle space.