I am thankful that I am a veteran. I am thankful that where I come from (the special operations community), words mean something. I’m thankful that I lived in a world where we had “skin in the game” and we knew that the consequences, were we to not work hard and prepare, were severe.
I’m thankful that my leaders, all flawed humans like me, gave a damn about us and shared in our victories as well as our failures.
I’m thankful that we gave our best efforts when it counted. We relied on one-another and cared for each other in horrific circumstances on the battlefield, and in my personal case, on the battlefield waiting for me here at home.
I’m thankful for the two Vets who came to visit me in my hospital room after I was severely wounded in combat, and after I asked them who they were, they told me: We are Vietnam Veterans and we are here to make sure you are getting treated better than we were treated when we came home.
I’m thankful that my immediate military leadership was ready to do whatever it took to give us the tools we needed to be successful in combat, even if our civilian leadership didn’t grasp the need to define what the “success” we were working for, was.
I’m thankful that I was fortunate to be a part of an organization that actually, truly, believed in an America where “all men are created equal” even if some of our fellow citizens, and politicians in particular, disagreed.
I’m thankful I never had to play “dress-up” and run around my town with my assault rifle, yelling at my fellow citizens to feel like I was a warrior. I’m thankful that I made it through many complicated vetting processes’ to get into a special mission unit where we could confront evil face to face, not in some tv series, movie, or video game.
I’m thankful that my fellow citizens reach out and thank me and ask me if I need help as I, like many of my fellow service-members, struggle at times, adjusting to a different life where the values seem to be different and where the individual is king, not the team, where the individual good seems to outrank the collective good.
I’m thankful for the First Amendment of the Constitution that allows me to say what I want.
It is my hope on this Thanksgiving that our national leadership becomes strong like the team I served with in combat. We were held to account for our actions and decisions. We were held to account by our enemies and more importantly, ourselves. We were Thankful to stand in the breach for America.
This is a photo taken of a painting that was drawn on a stone wall in Egypt over 4000 years ago.
Dogs have been helping humans for a very long time.
As a working k9 advocacy group, we are constantly working on ways to improve our efforts at helping the K9’s who, not because they volunteered but because we decided they have the qualities that will best serve us, take care of our communities and country in difficult and sometimes very violent situations.
A few months ago, we took part in a podcast with some fellows who have a good view of the working K9 community, and I asked them: “what are we missing? Where do we need to fill a gap in the care of these K9’s that isn’t being addressed?” Their response was simple and quick: “Training.”
After mulling it over, and I mean really thinking about it, we decided that we, with the resources provided by our donors, would start to fund classes for handlers and their Dogs.
The Dog’s safety and health are almost entirely in the hands of the human that they are attached to. It makes sense that the education of the human part of the K9 team is a priority. I know I made huge mistakes as a handler, to include killing Spike, the namesake of our non-profit, in a “shoot-through.”
We presently have two classes on the books and we will use these as “test-runs” of sorts.
The first one is a basic “day with a trainer” here in Portsmouth Virginia. We will be paying the team from Crystal Clear Canine, a group I have worked with extensively, to come to the department and interact with the various handlers and K9’s to try to find solutions for what they see as their issues or worries, you know, the places in their work where they don’t have complete confidence that the K9 will succeed.
The second class will be in Tacoma, Washington. It will be a class on K9 emergency medical care. It will be taught by a young man I have great respect for and who has much experience in that tough environment; Evan Nolte Cross. The Tacoma PD lost a K9 recently in a shooting incident and we are keen to fund this class to people who see the value in being trained for the worst-case scenarios.
We will continue to plan more class events, and we will do so with great care to provide these classes for people who are genuinely invested in what we are offering. We will vet each and every instructor and student. If we think they are not interested in the classes for the right reasons, we will not select them. I intend to approach this “vetting process” in a way similar to what I went through in the military. This is important for two reasons. The first is that we are being trusted by our donors to spend their hard-won $ in the most effective ways. The second, and this may sting a bit for some, I have seen K9 handlers in the military and law enforcement who are lazy and should probably be doing something else with their lives. Additionally, the humans who “think” they are the shit, and who spend a large amount of their time actually talking shit, instead of working their Dogs, are people we will avoid; be they instructors or potential students. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a member of the “shit-talker-brigade” and for that reason, I really hate it. Seems the best place to interact with that specific crew is on Facebook where nobody gets punched in the mouth for being disrespectful.
We take this work very seriously. These Dogs have been helping us solve human problems for a very long time.
We will do everything we can to take care of them.
This past weekend, the fine folks at Crossfit Chesapeake helped us with their fourth annual “Kipping for K9’s.”
The event raised over $4,400.00 for our mission.
As I explained before each heat of the 20 minute workout- We at Spike’s cannot conduct our mission without the efforts of other people. People like those cross-fitters, who get up early on a Saturday morning to come do a workout that kicks their ass, and all for the cause of helping the working Dogs.
Dogs serve our communities and we serve them. Pretty simple. Seeing the extra-curricular efforts of members of the Chesapeake community as they spent their precious weekend hours doing what they can for the Dogs, is a great reminder that we are in this together and I am very grateful for the kindness and generosity of the people who support our mission to care for these amazing animals.
This is a photo of my puppy Gianni. What a blessing he is; during this madness, this election insanity, and all of the other loud confusing chunks of life that we are all faced with during this period of American history, he and his simple puppy needs are a refocusing for my psyche. See Gianni is concerned primarily with life in the present moment, and when I try to copy his simple approach, I am much more likely to have a good day.
I’ll finish this overly-simple blogpost with a poem by Lorca-
“I’ll be saying goodbye and the crossroads, heading off down that road through my soul.
I’ll arouse reminiscences, stir-up mean hours, I’ll arrive at the garden spot in my song, my bright song, and I’ll start into shiver and shake like the Morning- Star.”
Here’s to the road through our soul-
Gianni travels that road quite well, and he is a 13 week old puppy.
For several years now, Spike’s K9 Fund has been the premier charity benefactor for the Old Point, Wicked 10K and Monster Mile run in Virginia Beach, held every Halloween weekend. This year was no different, except for the covid-calamity.
We are quite fortunate to have partnerships with organizations that we admire. J&A racing is certainly one of those relationships. It is difficult to understand the huge undertaking one has to confront when you hold a running race, let alone several running races during the year. In our short conversations with them, I’ve learned how tough it is, even for a business that brings well over 30k visitors a year to the area, to get things done.
J&A are an excellent example of how to be persistent and positive in spite of insane regulations and people who are less than enthusiastic about helping out. We run into similar situations when we try to help certain organizations. The way J&A perseveres, every year, is an amazing example.
I think that the most important thing that we gain from our relationship with J&A is an “attitude check.” They always strive for a positive attitude and because of that, being around them gives us a jolt of light! I for one could use some work in that area.
I am also very proud to be associated with a crew like J&A. A crew that understands, and believes in the value of “community.” They understand that bringing humans together in a positive way, sends positive ripples and creates a better world to live in. I’m not being overly dramatic. It is true, I see it every year when we participate in this event. People show up early, in their costumes and run and laugh and enjoy each other’s company for several hours. The support and entertainment associated with the event are top-notch and although we didn’t have any of that because of covid, we, because of their hard work, could still participate with close loved ones or friends, as we did on Friday morning.
Thank you J&A- thank you for the financial support and more importantly, thank you for your example, especially as we navigate this tough time in our country.
I wrote this at the end of my first semester at Yale University in 2019.
At the age of 52, I was accepted to the Eli Whitney student program at Yale University.
I am the oldest freshman in the class of 2023. Before I was accepted, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had seen the infamous YouTube video of students screaming at a faculty member. I had seen the news stories about the admissions scandal and that Yale was included in that unfortunate business. I had also heard the students at Yale referred to as “snowflakes” in various social media dumpsters and occasionally I’d seen references to Ivy League students as snowflakes in a few news sources.
I should give a bit of background information. I was an unimpressive and difficult student in public schools. I joined the military at 17 and spent close to 26 years in the US Navy. I was assigned, for 22 of those years to Naval Special Warfare Commands. I went through SEAL training twice, quit the first time and barely made it the second time. I did multiple deployments and was wounded in combat in 2009 on a mission to rescue an American hostage. Every single day I went to work with much better humans than myself. I was brought to a higher level of existence because the standards were high and one needed to earn their slot, their membership in the unit. This wasn’t a one-time deal. Every time you showed up for work, you needed to prove your worth.
The vetting process is difficult and the percentages of those who try out for special operations units and make it through the screening is very low.
In an odd parallel, I feel, in spite of my short time here, the same about Yale.
After receiving my acceptance email and returning to consciousness, I decided to move to Connecticut and do my best in this new environment. Many people have asked me why I want to attend college at 52, and why at an Ivy League institution like Yale? I could have easily stayed in Virginia and attended a community college close to my home. Well, based on my upbringing in the military, I associated difficult vetting process’ with quality. I was correct in that guess. More importantly though, I simply want to be a better human being. I feel like getting a world class education at an amazing institution like Yale will help me reach that goal.
My first class of the semester was absolutely terrifying. I don’t know if it was so for the kids in my class, but it damn sure was for me. It was a literature seminar with the amazing Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature, Professor David Quint. He is an amazing human in that he has dedicated his life to literature, and he knows what he is talking about. The discussion was centered around the Iliad. I had read a bit of the Iliad in the middle part of my military career and decidedly didn’t get it. Listening to Professor Quint demonstrated exactly how much I didn’t “get it.” The other students looked like children to me. Hell, they are children, but when they speak, and some of them speak English as their second language, they sound like very well-spoken adults. My Navy issued graduate degree in cussing wasn’t going to help me out here. These young students had a good grasp of the literature and although they lacked much experience to bounce it off of, they were certainly “all in” on trying to figure out its underlying meaning.
At one point, I said; “hey, I’m just an old guy sitting here with a bunch of smart people, but I think….” And they all smiled, some of them nervously because I was essentially an alien. I
was an old dude with tattoos all over his arms, and a Dutch Shepherd service Dog brandishing a subdued American flag patch on her harness, sitting next to him. Professor Quint later approached me and said “hey, don’t downplay your intelligence. You are smart as well.”
I thought, I’ve got him fooled! Turns out I didn’t fool him at all when I turned in my first paper, but that is another story for another time.
After a few classes, I started to get to know some of my classmates. Each of them is a compelling human who, in spite of their youth, are quite serious about getting things done.
One young woman made a very big impact on me. She approached me after class one day and said; “I am really glad I can be here at Yale and be in class with you. My grandfather came to Yale and when WWII started, he left for the Navy and flew planes in the Pacific theater. After he came home, he came back to Yale, but he couldn’t finish. He locked himself in his room and drank and eventually had to leave, so I feel like I am helping him finish here at Yale and I’m doing it with a veteran. You.”
I was surprised and quite emotional. Exceptionally emotional. She went on; “I can send you a photo of him!” and I told her I would love one. That evening she sent me this photo of her grandfather.
I used to read stories about men like him and they are heroes to me. Clearly her grandfather is a hero to her as well, and she is going to make him quite proud. This connection with a WWII vet through his amazing granddaughter is a gift. One of many I receive on an almost daily basis in this amazing University. I think it’s worth taking a moment here and acknowledging that this thing we now call “PTSD” has always been around and some of us veterans escape it while others, like me and likely this gent in the airplane, felt the sting of it.
One day in in another lit class, I brought up a book I’d read a long time ago called “Taxi Driver Wisdom” by Risa Mickenberg, Joanne Dugan and Brian Lee Hughes.
After that class a couple of the students approached me and explained that their fathers were cabbies when they first came to the United States, and that their fathers had told them that the things they sometimes heard from people in their cabs were amazing.
Think about that for a second. These students are second generation Americans. Their fathers immigrated to this country and started out by being taxi drivers. Now, their children are attending college at Yale University. I’m a patriotic man and those are the stories that help me understand how, in spite of the seemingly endless stream of negativity surrounding it, the American Dream is still alive and kicking. It makes my heart sing every time I see those kids.
Let me address this “snowflake” thing. According to the Urban dictionary, a “snowflake” is a “term for someone that thinks they are unique and special, but really are not. It gained popularity after the movie “Fight Club” from the quote “You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.”
I hear the term occasionally from buddies of mine who I love, they say things like; “how are things up there with the liberal snowflakes?”
Let me assure you, I have not met one kid who fits that description. None of the kids I meet seem to think that they are “special” any more than any other 18-22-year-old. These kids work their assess off. I have asked a couple of them help me with my writing. One young woman volunteered to help me by proof-reading my “prose” and, for the record, I believe she will be the President someday. I recently listened while one of my closer pals, a kid from Portland, Oregon, talked to me about the beauty of this insane mathematics problem set he is working on. There is a young man in our group who grew up in Alaska working on fishing boats from a young age and who plays the cello. There is a very special young woman from Chicago who wrote a piece for the Yale Daily news expressing the importance of public demonstrations in the light of a recent police shooting. She and I are polar opposites. I am the “patriarchy” at first glance, and she is a young black woman who is keen on public protests. Not the type of soul I generally find myself in a conversation with. We come from different worlds and yet we both read classic works with open hearts and minds.
We recently met with a prominent writer from a think tank who is researching the state of the humanities in the university setting. There were four of us students, two other young men, the young woman from Chicago, and me, the old guy. As the younger students started to express their thoughts, the young woman (truly a unicorn of a human) used the word “safe space” and it hit me forcefully. I come from a place where when I hear that term, I roll my eyes into the back of my vacant skull and laugh from the bottom of my potbelly. This time, I was literally in shock. It hit me that what I thought a “safe space” meant, was not accurate. This young woman, the one who used the phrase, “Safe Space” isn’t scared of anything. She is a life-force of goodness and strength. She doesn’t need anyone to provide a comfortable environment for her. What she meant by “safe space” was that she was happy to be in an environment where difficult subjects can be discussed openly, without the risk of disrespect or judgement. This works both ways. What I mean is, this young woman was comfortable, in this University setting, wrestling with things like the Aristotelian idea of some humans being born as “natural slaves.” She was quite comfortable in that space. The question was, how comfortable was the 52-year-old white guy in
that discussion? Did it make me uncomfortable? Yes. I’m grateful for the discomfort. Thinking about things I don’t understand or have, for the most part of my life, written off is a good thing.
Being uncomfortable is KEY in this world of ours. Not altogether different from the world of special operations, where the work needs to be done, regardless of personal feelings. The climate in this educational institution is one where we seem to understand that there HAS to be a place where people can assault ideas openly and discuss them vigorously and respectfully in order to improve the state of humanity. I’ll call that a “safe space” and I’m glad those places exist.
Here in the “Directed Studies” program, instead of “tuning in” to our favorite self-confirming “news” source, we are given a timeless text with heavy ideas and then we throw them out on the floor and discuss them with people who have, as I mentioned earlier, made these works and their meaning, their vocation.
In my opinion, the real snowflakes are the people who are afraid of that situation. The poor souls who never take the opportunity to discuss ideas in a group of people who will very likely respectfully disagree with them. I challenge any of you hyper-opinionates zealots out there to actually sit down with a group of people who disagree with you and be open to having your mind changed. Not submitting your deeply held beliefs to your twitter/facebook/instagram feeds for agreement from those who “follow” you. I have sure had my mind changed here at Yale. To me there is no dishonor in learning. There is dishonor in willful ignorance and there is dishonor in disrespect.
On veteran’s day, there was a great scene on cross campus. A bunch of American flags had been placed there and I stopped on my morning walk to class and took photos of my dog in front of them. Later at some point, a young student placed a glove with red paint on it on one of the flags as she wanted to demonstrate her displeasure with something…I’m not quite sure what.
That same afternoon, some of my fellow students from Directed Studies, after a lecture, gave me this:
It is a card thanking me for my service to our nation. I was awestruck and amazed.
These kids are very kind and very thoughtful. A far cry from the picture that is often painted of them.
I am quite fortunate.
One of my Professors, a Professor of Philosophy, told me once “a good leader is a bridge builder.” This professor is David Charles. A man who has been teaching bright young people and some slow and old ones like me, the difficult subject of Philosophy at Oxford and now Yale. He’s been doing this for over 30 years. He is extremely humble and very kind, in addition to being brilliant. I want to build bridges and lead, in some small way, a new conversation where we stop pointing out perceived (often, like my own expectations, wrongly) differences in each other, or this group vs that group, and start pointing out similarities. We don’t need more condescending friction in humanity. We need less. One step in the direction of less societal friction, is to seek commonalities. Another step, and one sorely needed, is respect.
Now before you think I’m preaching, please know that I come from a place where I was distinctly the opposite of this ideal. I looked for reasons to disregard the opinions of those I didn’t respect. I discounted the ideas of people I felt like hadn’t earned the right to share what was in their mind. Particularly when it came to national security issues, I felt that if you hadn’t taken a gun into combat, I didn’t give a damn what your opinion was. Talk about a “safe space!”
I’d like to count this as my first brick in attempting to build a bridge between the people here at Yale and those like me before I arrived here. We need everyone who gives a damn about this American experiment to contribute and make it succeed. We humans have much more in common than we have differences. Thanks Yale, for helping me to become an aspiring bridge-builder at the age of 52,
In our welcome speech at the beginning of this semester, with all of us Freshman sitting in Woolsey Hall, me sitting next to another veteran, one who’d served in the 82nd Airborne, President Salovey said;
“There is so much we do not know. Let us embrace, together, our humility—our willingness to admit what we have yet to discover. After all, if you knew all the answers, you would not need Yale. And if humanity knew all the answers, the world would not need Yale.”
Now back to that bridge. I need to figure out how to actually build one. Good thing I’ve found a place where I can get help. If this place is peopled by “snowflakes” I’m proudly one of them. I’m a snowflake with a purple heart.
Today is a special day – National First Responders Day. Thank you to all the first responders out there who are working hard each day to keep us and our communities safe.
Jimmy Hatch is giving a speech today at a memorial for a first responder. We wanted to share it with you.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a product of good policing. In the summer of 2010, after being wounded in gunfight during a mission attempting to save an America hostage,
I was sad, suicidal, without hope, and had a pistol in my mouth.
My wife called 911. I remember thinking to myself that I hoped that these officers would come to my home and put me and everyone else out of the misery I had caused.
Me being that misery.
I did not think for a second about how unfair that would be for those officers. I didn’t consider how it would hurt my wife. I was mentally ill, and I did not believe that I had anything to offer. Additionally, I didn’t think I had anything good to offer anyone in the future because I lacked hope. That is called ‘despair’.
Despair is dangerous.
The officers who came to my home were not who I’d hoped would greet me.
They were kind.
I was looking for a fight. They were not.
I think y’all have a special gift with that ‘verbal Judo’ thingy.
They came to my house and treated me with a great deal of respect and care.
Toni Morrison once said, ‘people will probably not remember what you did for them, but they will remember how you made them feel’.
Today, I stand in front of you and testify that those officers made me feel like they cared.
That is a unique and very significant gift that those officers gave me.
‘Never underestimate your ability to affect the trajectory of another human’s life, especially in their most difficult moments.’
After the Officers who came to my home turned me over to mental health professionals, I went on a long journey through the psychiatric care arena.
People there helped me just like those officers, people that didn’t know who I was or where I came from; they only knew that I was a human being, and I was suffering, and I needed some help.
They were in the business of doing that very thing.
The Officers who came to my house on my worst night, put me in front of you. They shaped my trajectory.
Today were are here to remember and, more importantly, honor the law enforcement officers who gave their last full measure for us.
They showed up to work like every other day and did what we as community asked them to do.
In doing so, they willingly put themselves in harm’s way, and they perished for us.
Let me repeat, they did this for us.
College introducted me to these things called ‘Epic Poems’.
Epic Poems are like a novel written in verse, like a poem. They are amazing.
Some of the epic poems I read last year are the Iliad, the Odyssea, and The Aeneid.
As I read through them, I realized that we are all authors of our own poem.
Our lives are epic poems, and some of those poems are short, sometimes for tragic reasons, and some of those poems are long.
Some aren’t so epic. Some are amazingly epic.
Regardless, we are all writing ours – all the time.
When I think about Officer Thyne’s poem, I am amazed at how much selflessness she packed into that brief life of hers.
She served in the US Navy; she volunteered again to help her community by becoming a police officer. From what I am told, she was kind and generous and loved to smile.
And that leaves us to ask ourselves, should we be sad that we didn’t get the poem we wanted or needed from her.
My answer is a resounding ‘no’.
We should be grateful that we were exposed to it.
See, Officer Thyne was similar to the Officers who showed up at my house on arguably my worst night.
She wanted to help people, and she did. She didn’t just talk about it; she did it.
Her life ended while she was doing that very thing.
And that is why, in my opinion, the best way to honor her and what she stood for is to work extremely hard at our own poems by using her as an example. We have an opportunity that she and other officers, military members, and first responders have given us and one they don’t have for themselves.
We have an opportunity to write a longer poem. Maybe not as epic as the poems of the fallen, but much longer and with more opportunity.
To honor the fallen, to honor Katie Thyne, live your life as full as you can. Write the most epic poem you can with the gift she gave us.
While writing your poem, remember:
Never underestimate your ability to affect the trajectory of another human’s life, especially at their most difficult moments.
Honor those who paid the ultimate price for our way of life by living an epic one.
This is K9 Blaze. He is a Dog that works for a trainer named Evan, who works for Crystal Clear Canine.
Blaze is a beautiful K9 who has had some excellent training and conducts himself like a pro!
I share Blaze’s photo because I feel strongly that we need to open our minds a bit to who these amazing creatures really are. Some of us like to see bite-work, some of us enjoy watching a K9 track down a missing child, some of us look in awe as a dog settles down a panicking patient at a hospital. Dogs work in so many disciplines that share one thing: They work for humans.
These Dogs are a gift to us. We want to advocate for them and insure that they have what they need to live a safe and happy life.
Blaze, the K9 model that he is, wants you to know that he might be pretty, but he could still give you one heck of a “tooth-hug” if he were asked.
In 2011 I purchased a Dutch Shepherd puppy from a breeder in the Netherlands. We decided to name her “Mina.” Mina became an essential part of my life. She was not a “working Dog,” although she was the same breed as some working Dogs. Mina gave me something to think about instead of feeling sorry for myself. The Dutch Shepherd breed has very high energy, and an increased (compared to other types of dogs) drive to work, so I had to keep her busy. In doing so, I saved myself from myself. Today is national “Pets for Vets” Day. I hope that there are other vets out there who have a fantastic companion, one to help them find a path through the vapid and increasingly insane theater known as the “civilian world.” 🐾🐾
The Search and Rescue Community is one that is largely self-financed. From the purchase, care and feeding, to the equipment and training time, Search and Rescue Dogs and their humans are always operating on the bare minimum.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t appreciate the need for SAR Dogs until we absolutely need one to find a lost child or confused adult. We generally don’t think about these amazing teams until a disaster rolls in and we need to use them.
This is unfortunate. These K9 Teams often work in very austere conditions and the amount of training, and therefore , “time” it takes to properly train these K9’s, goes unrecognized, as do their needs.
Spike’s has helped many SAR K9 teams across the country. From avalanche Dogs in Sun Valley, Idaho to the SAR Teams on the eastern seaboard, we try to help these teams with the proper equipment and medical cost assistance.
It seems like we see the need for these amazing K9 teams increasing as our world seems fraught with fires and hurricanes and other natural and unnatural disasters.
Spike’s aims to be an asset for these teams and with your help, we will make sure that they go to do their jobs with the best chance for preservation and success.