Maurice Gallagher Jr., the CEO of U.S. airline Allegiant Air, invested in a company years ago that made body armor for the military. Before last week, though, he had never actually worn a ballistic vest.
Ive got a little bit greater respect for carrying around a lot of weight, Gallagher said as Sgt. Travis Gunderson, an infantryman with 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, helped him suit up for the first time in Army combat gear.
Ill tell you, I may have missed my calling, said Gallagher, one of 11 self-made entrepreneurs who visited Joint Base Lewis-McChord June 20 and 21 to share tips and advice on building businesses and successfully navigating todays job market with service members considering a transition to civilian life.
Members of Gundersons unit, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, hosted the men June 20 as Soldiers fitted them with body armor and protective helmets, transported them around the base in Stryker vehicles, walked them through a zeroing and qualification with M4 rifles, showed them military aircraft and simulation training aids, and displayed for them a variety of military weapons and equipment used in combat by infantry squads.
The visitors CEOs, best-selling authors, investors, and successful business owners became the first with their visit to take part in American Dream U, an organization that assembles some of the countrys most thriving and savvy entrepreneurs and brings them to U.S. military installations to offload some of their experience.
Phil Randazzo, an avid Las Vegas-based military supporter who has owned and managed multiple businesses, founded American Dream U to help troops entering the private sector achieve their goals despite a competitive economy.
I love the military; if it werent for the military, I wouldnt be able to have businesses, said Randazzo, whose JBLM visit marked the first of multiple American Dream U trips planned for the next year.
Randazzo reached out to businessmen hed worked with in years past and come to know through online research to find top entrepreneurs for the American Dream U visit. Among others, he attracted the attention of Gallagher; Ultimate Fighter Forrest Griffin; Ben Huh, CEO of the popular comedy blog The Cheezburger Network; New York Times Best Selling author Ramit Sethi; and Ken Wiles, CEO of AlertID, an online social network that provides public safety alerts to families and communities.
Randazzo thought giving the group an understanding of Army life before its speaking engagement would inspire some appreciation for the work Soldiers do.
I wanted them to have all this great interaction with the Soldiers today, see what they do on a daily basis, get to know them, talk with them, then go into tomorrow with that feeling of, Wow, I know what these guys do on a daily basis, Randazzo said.
As Gunderson helped Gallagher fasten his body armor and adjust the straps of his helmet, Gallagher asked about the Soldiers military experience. It was something Ive always wanted to do, Gunderson told Gallagher of his decision to join the Army. It was the best thing I ever decided to do with my life. In Afghanistan, he said, he wore his body armor vest between 16 and 24 hours straight on some occasions to keep himself safe while on mission. Thats hard work, said Gallagher, who also founded a telecommunications company in the 90s and has co-founded and owned multiple companies in the airline industry. I have tremendous admiration for the military, and its great to see everybody in person and get a firsthand experience, he said. After a Stryker tour to a rifle range and airfield, Huh of The Cheezburger Network looked over a few different weapons commonly carried by troops training and on deployment. Thats very Rambo, Huh said, smiling with astonishment as Sgt. Jason Caldwell demonstrated the proper handling of an M249 light machine gun.
Afterward, Soldiers with the infantry battalion used a small tent to give Huh and the other visitors a quick class on room clearing procedures they had trained on and used during Iraq and Afghanistan deployments. Huh then served as the point man in a four-person team as he tried it out for himself, yelling for occupants of the simulated room as he rushed inside his M4 at the ready position.
Staff Sergeant Scott Maloney, the acting executive officer for the battalions rear detachment, organized the event. He could have set everything up with around 50 Soldiers, he said, but he used as many as possible in order to give the Soldiers some interaction with men who had reached impressive levels of success.
The big picture is we want to see them interacting with our Soldiers, he said.
Maloney said that nearly all of the more than 170 Soldiers in the battalions rear element were held stateside either because they were physically unfit to deploy or preparing to leave the Army. Of that group, he estimated, about half will be transitioning out of the Army in the coming months Maloney included.
The day of events offered those Soldiers who will soon leave the military a chance to show their guests their knowledge, experience, and skill sets, which can appear irrelevant to the private sector workforce at first glance.
But Randazzo knows many troops make good civilians.
Theyre leaders, Randazzo said. And leaders make great bosses, they make great entrepreneurs, they make great employees, they make great partners. I already know some of these employers love hiring veterans, but some that really werent thinking about that I think theyre going to now focus on that.
At the end of the day, the battalions civilian visitors were given certificates dubbing them honorary Soldiers.