Veteran’s Night. A Concise (Hi)story.
Let’s let Rod Stewart ring in the night…
The year: 1979.
After being kicked out of the house for being a non-conformist kid (my claim to fame was District Tennis Champ and Clearing a 6-Foot Bong in One Hit), I hit the wall. My best friend Steve and I had barely hung on by a thread that year. My ’67 Camaro belied the truth behind my meager existence.
I rode a Honda 175 to the Oregon Coast for our annual family get together.
My incredible Mom walked with me across the shore on an early morning walk through the fog.
Mom sensed my less-than-optimal state, asking of I needed an upgrade in life.
She gave me a room with one requirement: I’d get a job within 6 weeks.
I had 2 within 2 weeks: Gas Station Attendant.
And Clinical Lab Supply House Dude.
During that year, my big brother and true living hero Doug, ventured back from Eddies Air Patch (aka Edwards Air Force Base — home of the Space Shuttle) to share stories of his life amongst the winged machines.
As I made him chuckle with my very best David Letterman impressions. He did USAF marches across the livingroom.
I was transfixed. Interested.
Maybe there was something there to behold.
My step dad Jack made me a deal.
See, it was his clinical lab I worked for.
And he was the one who, since 8th grade, lit the spark called Entrepreneurship, in my heart and soul.
After dinner one night, Jack being three whiskey’s into his evening routine, asked me what my plans were for the next few years.
I let him know I intended to be a business owner. Perhaps his clinical lab?
Jack, being a decent judge of character. And a damn good CEO, said “Here’s the deal, Mark: You scored a 197.9 on your GED. And you were a district tennis champ in both singles and doubles. So you could probably get some scholarship opportunities.
I will pay your first year of University of Oregon, if you elect to attend. But you won’t like the pace of the typical college education (Jack had his PhD in microbiology. So he knows what he speaks).
But if you join the military like your big brother Doug, I’ll match whatever you send home, for the length of your first enlistment.”
The next morning I called the USAF recruiter and cornered him: How long can I make my first enlistment?
He let me know 6 years was the best deal.
I let Jack know, and threw my hat into the ring.
I wanted that juicy Clinical Lab cash, mixed with my USAF bones, to fund my startup.
Fast forward to December of Year One: Jack lets me know, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn’t expecting me to be such an aggressive saver. He was reneging on the deal. No more matching funds.
But I was too far in to stop.
So I continued to save.
Copped a degree in Robotics.
And saved $32,000 in cash to launch my eventual startup (which was managed by Big Brother Doug. Thankfully).
I spent 6 years in the USAF, dodging far more politics than bullets.
I was super lucky, and found great people to work with.
A community of friends and coworkers to learn from.
A spiritual awakening that I dove deep into.
Hang Gliding, thanks to an exceptional boss in Doug Mills, my very favorite coach and guide. (Doug, I thank you every day for giving me a safe place to play. And greatly reducing the sentence my occasional sh*tstorm might have otherwise created for our little corner of the world.)
I made it out alive.
Saved enough moola to create a business.
And learned to motorcycle Road Race AND Hang Glide!
My 6 years as an enlisted member of the USAF made a lasting impact on my life.
Some people skills.
A whole lotta life skills.
And I saved enough to start a company.
To begin an entrepreneurial journey that continues to this day.
I’m on company #18.
But I wouldn’t be at Company #1 if it hadn’t been for the USAF.
And the things you can only learn while under enemy fire.
On this Veterans Day, I wanna’ thanks The Two Dougs.
An incredibly supportive Mom.
A step-dad who supported me.
And the joy of living a life most people only dream about.