(11/13/2013) I just won Start Up Weekend and I was told by my mentor that I would get funding from a grant program if I submitted an invoice of what I needed as an early stage startup. The grant program wanted me to show my idea (Grypmat) to people at the base for feedback. Based on the feedback, I would be awarded grant money.
At this time in the development of Grypmat, I thought it would only be used to work on military aircraft — so I was going to my base to talk to military mechanics.
I thought to myself, “Okay, it's Friday and I have to be at the base tomorrow and Sunday…I can do that.”
So Saturday after we are done at the base, I show my supervisor and the Chief of my shop the CAD drawings I made of my non-slip tool tray idea. They both thought it was a great idea and were impressed with my presentation.
That night, I am thinking about everything I wanted to put on the invoice for the grant money. I wanted to go to a trade show to show my idea and I knew it would be $1,500-$3,000. So I said to myself, “It's 10 p.m. — I am going to sit here for one full hour and do everything I can to find the right trade show for my product.”
Finding the right trade show for your product is very important so you can be with like-minded people to make business connections.
So I crank out as many emails, phone calls, and voicemails as I can to random people online hoping that someone will respond and point me in the right direction. I figured it's Saturday and they will just get back to me on Monday.
After doing this for 20 minutes, I get a phone call…
It's Suezy Proctor…she’s responding to the voicemail I just left on her phone.
Suezy tells me she’s retired now but she used to specialize in getting military contracts for small private companies.
I’m thinking, “JACKPOT! This is exactly who I have been looking for!”
I explain to her everything I am doing and she gives me a website to go to that will help me.
Suezy: Go to this website and within three clicks you will have a map of the United States where you can click on each state to pull up personal phone numbers and emails of all the highest-ranking military members and Congress Representatives of each state.
Me: Uh… Suezy, are you sure this is okay?
Suezy: Oh yeah, it's fine. People do it all the time. That’s why it’s so easy to get their information.
Me: Suezy… you know this is breaking like EVERY rule of the chain of command EVER… right?
Suezy: Well, If you’re feeling weary about it, put my name in the email. I know them all personally so it should be okay. You should start with the states of Vermont and Organ because they are the most predominant with F-16.
(Right now I’m thinking…okay this makes sense. I mean, it’s harder to get my contact information than it is for these high ranking people, right? And if she knows them personally, I’m golden. You know what? I just sewed on Staff Sgt. (E5) YOLO let’s do it.)
Me: Okay, Suezy. You’re the expert. I’ll go for it. Is there anyone else that you know of that can help?
Suezy: If this website doesn’t help you, the one person that I know can make things happen is Hazell Booker. Shoot her an email, put my name in it as well, and you’ll be set.
Me: OKAY, GREAT. THANKS, SUEZY!
So after I crank out about 15 emails between Vermont and Organ, I’m thinking…well I’m from Ohio, I might as well send it to everyone in Ohio — but Suezy specifically told me NOT to email anyone from Ohio. She explained why but I didn't really understand. I thought maybe they would feel proud or excited that one of their Airmen came up with an idea to save lots of money in the wave of budget cuts…right?
I go on and email everyone in Ohio from One-Star Generals to Four-Star Generals to Congress Representatives. And I add a little in the email about myself and my shop and blah blah blah. I took Suezys name out of the email because she told me not to email them.
7 A.M. NEXT MORNING IN THE SHOP
I got in the Gun Shop and started up one of the computers to start working when Sgt. Compton (E8) walks in. He is from Weapons (the shop I belong to) but it’s kind of odd that he’s in the Gun Shop at this time — but whatever.
I hear him talking to the supervisor of the Gun Shop kind of angrily when he says, “WHERE IS BURDEN?!”
Me: Uh…I’m over here Sgt. Compton. What’s up?
Sgt. Compton: Colonel X wants you in his office. NOW!
(I’m thinking…hmm…that’s odd. I don’t think I have ever talked to him before.)
Me: Okay...for what?
(I am completely oblivious of what’s going on.)
Sgt. Compton looks at me like I’m the dumbest person on the planet and says, “Did you email a General last night?”
Right now my mind is racing as I’m replaying everything in my head of what happened just eight hours prior. Did he say “A” GENERAL? AS IN SINGULAR? AS IN JUST ONE? I emailed over a dozen of them and half a dozen people from Congress!
I'm thinking, “Uh, yeah.Let’s confess to emailing just one General for now…”
First thing that flies out of my mouth is: “But Suezy Proctor said to.”
I told them the whole story about Suezy but no one knew who she was nor did they care.
Sgt. Compton looks down at a paper in his hands. I notice it's a print out of the email that I sent the night prior. The email got forwarded from a Two-Star General to another Two-Star General to the Commander of my base to the Commander of Maintenance to the Commander of Weapons to the Captain of my shop to the Chief in my shop to Sgt. Compton and now the email has gone full circle and has trickled all the way down to me…All this happened in the time span between 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday night and 7 a.m. Sunday morning and Sgt. Compton is claiming it was sitting on his desk when he walked in this morning…Last night I was thinking people would get back to me Monday morning….boy could not have been more wrong.
As this snow ball of emails grows bigger and bigger going from military member to military member, there are frantic and confused comments:
“Bizarre – is this real? Why on earth would he email TAG (The Adjutant General)?”
“If someone got a hold of his cellphone and did it as a prank, this is NOT funny.”
“Someone get a hold of this guy and mentor him on the Chain of Command ASAP!”
Within seconds, I find myself being escorted to Colonel X’s office.
I have no idea who this Colonel is nor what he looks like. I'm escorted into a foyer that leads to a bunch of other offices and through one of the doors, I can feel eyes on me. I turn and make eye contact with a man that could turn Medusa into stone. I had no idea who I was looking for but once we made eye contact, I knew he was the one I was looking for.
While keeping eye contact like an outside linebacker stairs down a quarterback running with the ball in the Super Bowl, he flies out of his chair and serves me with a quick shoulder in the center of my chest…before I even get to the threshold of his door. As he’s passing me while keeping eye contact, he shoots at me: “We’re not meeting here, we're meeting in the conference room!”
As I follow this soon-to-be-erupting volcano of a Colonel to the conference room, I feel like I’m walking to the electric chair for my death sentence.
We entered a large room with a long wooden table in the center that could seat 20 people. I sit on one side of the table with my escort next to me and Colonel X sitting directly across from me…continuing the stair down from hell.
I’m so nervous that I forgot to salute Colonel X and give him a reporting statement (this is what you are supposed to do every time you talk to an Officer of higher rank). Colonel X was filled with so much anger that he forgot about the salute and the reporting statement as well.
Sitting next to the Colonel is a man frantically writing down everything being said. The man hands the Colonel a sheet of paper. The Colonel breaks the stair down for the first time and looks down at the paper in his hands. After a few seconds he flips the paper over and slides it across the table to me.
He says, “Did you send this email?”
Right now, my brain is screaming: “But…but… Suezy Proctor said…blah blah blah.” But I know that won’t protect me now — and he definitely doesn’t give a damn about her or any stupid excuse I can come up with. What comes out of my mouth is: “Yes, sir. Can I explain?”
He shouts “NO!” before my mouth can even get to the letter “n” in the word explain.
Within the first thirty seconds of the lashing, I’ve been hit in the face with at least half a dozen F-bombs and particles of saliva. While yelling at me, he is standing and leaning over the table towards me, slowly scooting this giant conference table into my chest.
He’s asking obvious questions without giving me a chance to answer like: HAVE YOUR BEEN TO BASIC TRAINING? HAVE YOUR HEARD OR KNOW WHAT THE CHAIN OF COMMAND IS? WHAT IS YOUR CHAIN OF COMMAND?
I can't give a complete answer to the chain of command for one because I’m about to piss my pants and, for two, because I’m in the National Guard…I’m here two days a month dude. I’m like half a click higher than an Eagle Scout.
After I give my broken answer to the Chain of Command, he goes off again. After being verbally crucified, Colonel X is breathing heavily. He is sweaty from anger and yelling. He has worn himself out. Then he asks, “So, what is your idea?”
OF COURSE I HAVE ALL MY CAD DRAWINGS AND PAPERWORK WITH ME.
Within seconds, I have this 15-foot-long wooden table covered in papers of my drawings and prints of research I found on how it could impact maintenance.
I’m watching the Colonel try to switch gears as he says, “Wow…this makes a lot of sense.”
Still lost in his anger, he struggles to find even the smallest complement.
He swiftly says, “This is going to be hard to push through with budget cuts…nearly impossible!”
I say to myself, “You don’t know the exact numbers of budget cuts and I’m still going to go for it.”
I say, “Well sir, I can prove that this will save a lot of time and money and increase safety in the shop. Sir, I’m really sorry for everything that happened. I just wanted to get attention to my idea and find the right trade show. I didn’t mean to step on anyone’s toes.”
As the Colonel inhales to throw out more lashings, he says, “ATTENTION?...YOU WANTED ATTENTION? You got attention all right! Do you realize that the highest ranking members in all of Ohio were all talking about you and your stupid email by 7 a.m. this morning? You want trade shows? You want Lockheed Martin contacts? I CAN GET YOUR THAT! Jumping through the Chain of Command and going straight to the leading General of Ohio is completely uncalled for and outrageous. WE HAVE THE CHAIN OF COMMAND FOR A REASON!”
I replied, “Sir, again, I’m sorry for everything that happened — but if I didn’t do what I did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation…”
After that response, the guy who has been frantically writing everything down nonstop for the past 15 minutes dropped his pen. Him and my escort both stop and stare at me at the same time with the same question on their face: Did you really just say that?
Right now I'm thinking, “Oh, shit. I said that out loud…”
The Colonel is speechless with his eyebrows raised as if they’re saying: “WTF. Who is this kid?”
His facial features start to soften and there is a long pause. It felt like an hour. Is he going to explode again? I feel like I'm at a point of no return. I don't think it can get any worse. Maybe they will take the rank from me.
My mind is racing but my face is frozen, waiting for his response. There is absolutely no way I will break the silence.
The only thing that can come out of this confused and shocked Colonel's mouth is: “You a student?”
I’m shocked with how much his tone has changed from being calm, almost quiet. I answer with, “Yes, sir. I’m in my senior year in Mechanical Engineering.”
Colonel: So you know how to make these products?
Me: Yes, sir. Design it, build it, and how it can be manufactured.
Colonel: You know there are a lot of job opportunities for Engineers in the military at Hill Air Force base (and blah blah blah).
The mood in the room shifted on a dime and I have no idea what the hell is going on. I feel like I am one of the three little pigs in the big bad wolf's house after withstanding his huff and puff. Now, he’s trying to help me find a job…
For the next five minutes, the Colonel goes on and on about jobs for people like me and how well they pay. I am listening to his spiel. I think that’s nice and all but my goal is not to be working for someone else… I’m here for a military contract…
Shortly after, my escort and I leave the conference room. The Colonel shakes my hand and tells me to let him know if I ever need anything. He makes a slight joke about not jumping over the Chain of Command again as he cracks an almost noticeable smile.
Shocked and confused by what just happened, my escort and I head back to my shop. Immediately after the door closes behind us and we are where no one can hear us, my escort is hysterically laughing while recapping everything that just happened.
Escort: DUDE…I have never seen him so pissed! I can’t believe you didn’t even salute him nor give him a reporting statement! I could tell you were nervous. You couldn’t even tell him the Chain of Command. I noticed you started to relax when you started talking about your idea. I thought you were dead for sure when you said that we wouldn’t be having this conversation if you didn’t do what you did!
We get back to the shop and are reunited with Sgt. Compton. Everyone is waiting with curiosity of what just happened. I recap the story to everyone waiting. Some of the other guys say, “Wow, dude. You are a fucking idiot. Why? Just…why?”
Sgt Compton looks at me and says, “Dude, that was freaking genius. You know you got the whole Air Force’s attention overnight? You’re going to be a freaking millionaire.”
Word spread like wildfire around the shop and then shortly around the whole base. Some would say I won the “Dumbass Award of the Year,” while others were saying, “Air Force wise…that was suicide, but business wise…that was brilliant.”
Monday, my Gmail account was flooded with confused emails. One person who got back with me was Hazell Booker, who Suezy said if anyone — Hazell can make it happen. She quickly became a mentor and was a key person that helped Grypmat get to where it is today. She told me that she wanted to help me because people in the National Guard have always helped her.
Now, obviously I did not get kicked out of the Air Force. And knowing how Grypmat has grown, it is an amazing story to tell. But I was terrified and questioned if I should continue pursuing Grypmat for nearly two weeks after.
Some say patience is a virtue. It can be, but starting is also a virtue and being persistent in your vision is a virtue as well. I say this because I know there is someone reading this that has an idea that doesn’t know where to start or how to start it.
I feel that I always wanted to know what the whole journey was to my future, nearly everything I predicted did not go the way it happened in reality. You will never get to know the whole journey. You may only know the next step, and with every step there can be second guesses and feeling like you are doing the wrong thing. I have felt this countless times with Grypmat.
If I could go back and talk to myself, I would say, “Don’t worry too much about the future. Focus on the present and the next steps you need to take.”
I want to hear from you. What is your next step?