Veterans Honored with Presidential Recognition

On Monday, Feb 11th, former SSgt Clinton Romesha was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Obama for his heroic actions in the Oct 3rd, 2009 Battle of COP Keating (also known as the Battle of Kamdesh), during which the position was nearly overrun. It would have been the first time a US unit was overrun since the Viet Nam war. The COP was attacked by a force that outnumbered the US forces by almost 10:1. The COP occupied the low ground, and was surrounded by ridges. The COP has since been called “indefensible.”

American, allied,  and Afghanistan forces, including the Observation Post about 2 km away and the mortar pit, included 57. The Taliban attacked with more than 300. The attack was a complex, supported attack. Breaches occurred at a latrine area close to the perimeter wire; the main entrance where civilian guards, Afghan Security Guards were overwhelmed; and from the eastern side—where Afghan National Army soldiers were stationed. Despite the efforts of two Latvian military advisors, who tried to convince the Afghan National Army forces not to flee, the Afghan defenders quickly broke and ran. US soldiers reported that none of the Afghan soldiers held their ground. Once the perimeter was breached, the Taliban set fire to numerous buildings, while the Americans and allied soldiers formed an internal defensive perimeter around two buildings. From there, the Americans counter-attacked to retake the COP and restore the integrity of their base.

The insurgents began to retreat later in the day. Quick reaction forces from 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment did not reach the outpost until 7:00 pm that day, while insurgents remained in parts of the outpost as late as 5:10 pm. On October 5 and 6, coalition troops conducted operations in the area in an attempt to locate and destroy the Taliban forces responsible for the attack on the outposts. Another 10 Afghan soldiers and 4 Taliban fighters were killed during these operations.

American forces had already planned to pull out of the area as part of a plan to move forces to more densely populated areas, so closure of the base was imminent when the attack occurred. The attack accelerated those plans, with the troops’ departure taking place quickly after the battle that some munitions were abandoned. The outpost was evacuated two days later, and bombed on October 6 by a B-1 bomber to prevent insurgents from looting the munitions abandoned in the hasty withdrawal. The outpost’s depot was promptly looted by the insurgents and bombed by American planes in an effort to destroy the lethal munitions left behind.

Eight US soldiers were killed and 22 wounded; eight Afghan soldiers were wounded, along with two Afghan private security guards. The US military estimated that 150 Taliban militants were also killed as a result of repulsing the assault. The US soldiers killed in the battle were: Justin T. Gallegos, Christopher Griffin, Kevin C. Thomson, Michael P. Scusa, Vernon W. Martin, Stephan L. Mace, Joshua J. Kirk, and Joshua M. Hardt.  Twenty-seven purple hearts were awarded, as well as 18 Bronze stars for valor, 9 Silver Stars, 8 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and 1 Medal of Honor.

SSgt Romesha’s combat has been called epic. According to his citation, Romesha moved uncovered under intense enemy fire multiple times to muster reinforcements and fire on attackers. He took out an enemy machine gun team and, while engaging a second, was wounded by shrapnel when a generator he was using for cover was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. He fought on undeterred, exposing himself to “heavy enemy fire” while moving “confidently about the battlefield. Romesha engaged and destroyed “multiple enemy targets.” He also directed air support to destroy more than 30 enemy fighters and saved other wounded troops.

“Staff Sergeant Romesha’s heroic actions throughout the day long battle were critical in suppressing an enemy that had far greater numbers. His extraordinary efforts gave Bravo Troop the opportunity to regroup, reorganize and prepare for the counterattack that allowed the troop to account for its personnel and secure Combat Outpost Keating,” according to his award citation.

On Tuesday, Feb 12th, Adam Burke of Veterans Farm and the Farmer Veteran Coalition will receive the Presidential Citizenship Medal from President Obama. Connecticut’s own Working Vessels for Veterans works closely with Veterans Farm and the Farmer Veteran Coalition to help veterans learn about farming and start their own farms. Adam Burke is a Purple Heart recipient who started Veterans Farm in 2009 in Jacksonville FL. It is planning to expand to our state in the near future.

I find it very interesting that two veterans are receiving such important Presidential recognition in such close proximity, and so close to the 2013 State of the Union address. I have long believed that this current generation of combat veterans would lead the way in the next decade for solving some of the economic ills that have beset our nation. At the same time, in grand scheme of things, this generation of veterans are creating both social value and economic value by committing to reintegrate veterans into the workforce and American economic life.

Start-up Nation Transformation: The Case for Veterans

It takes a special mindset to volunteer to join the military in times of war. To leave the comforts of home, to leave family and friends, to go into harm’s way in far off foreign lands creates a complex mindset. It takes a certain mentality to brave the dangers of combat, to go outside the wire and engage the enemy on their grounds.

What is it, ultimately, that makes veterans different from civilians? I have been interested in this question since 1994 – my first recruiting tour of duty. Why did some people sign on the dotted line for four years or more, and some not? What was the unmoved mover that prompted the best and brightest of America’s youth to raise their right hand and take a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution? Over 6 years and two recruiting tours of duty, I never could put my finger on it. It remains a mystery to me, even now.

We have to recognize the difference between transitioning from the military to civilian life, and transformation from a warrior to an entrepreneur. Transition is merely a change of position. Transformation is a change of substance. It takes a specific attitude to make a transformation. There is a world of difference, and we should celebrate that difference.

I read a book entitled Mindset by Carol Dweck, a psychologist who studies success. In her book, she posits two fundamental mindsets, Growth vs Fixed. Growth mindsets have a tendency to learn experientially, a willingness to take on new challenges and explore new opportunities, and maybe most importantly, a proclivity for hard work. In other words, qualities we most often associate with successful entrepreneurship.

A body of academic research exists about why veterans the world over tend to be successful entrepreneurs. In their book Start-up Nation, Dan Senor and Saul Singer explore the factors contributing to the entrepreneurial success of Israel, on a per capita basis, the most entrepreneurial country in the world. They assert one of the key reasons is Israel’s compulsory universal military service, which creates a common language and outlook for mission accomplishment and – once again – hard work.

Hard work, mission bias, and problem solving skills are at the heart of the veteran-entrepreneur transformation. Here in CT, we have a population of greater than 250,000 veterans; but more than 40,000 veteran-owned businesses, about a 1-in-6 ratio.

Today, as I speak, the unemployment rate among disabled veterans is 15.8 in CT, and here among the current generation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the unemployment rate is greater than 30%.

Approximately 2.5 million Americans have served in overseas  theaters of operations in the Global War on Terror since 9/11. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan draw to a close, and as budgets are cut and the military draws down over the next decade, more than 600,000 service members a year will leave the military and transition to civilian life; as many as 10,000 veterans a year will return to CT.

If 1-in-6 of those veterans started businesses – our nation would create more than 100,000 veteran start-ups per year. We could create more than 1,000 veteran start-ups here in CT. We veteran-entrepreneurs, with our Growth mindset, as we transform from warrior to entrepreneur – we are part of the solution to the present economic situation.

We can create a start-up state, and a start-up nation.