(Community Design) Veteran’s Day: From a Formerly Homeless Vet
I was in the Air National Guard for 12 years, and am accustomed to having this flavor of military service treated with open disdain.
It’s ok. I’m a thick-skinned kid, and I know something they don’t: the guard was a pretty sweet deal.
I have received a lot of benefit, (my career earnings have averaged twice the median American salary), and if I’m not mistaken, I owe a total of $2,500 in student loans.
Big bang for small bucks.
I joined in 1986, and became part of the 272nd Combat Communications Squadron, whose mission was something called “initial bed down,” which roughly translates to:
- Show up out of nowhere
- Set up communications
- Help ground forces coordinate with those in the air
My first job was gasoline / diesel mechanic, and the first thing I learned was this: the military schools are extremely high quality, and either you sink, or you swim.
It’s not like what you see in college; you don’t get to just sit around and run your mouth. Either you work your tail off, or you are washed into a less-challenging career field.
This is why I’m pretty proficient at diagnosing and fixing cars and trucks, which is my favorite way to get to know people in the neighborhood: just turning wrenches.
The guard is a “one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer” deal, which means you have a day job, and then the guard becomes your side gig.
Often, you can sign up to be a “guard bum,” which means you are short-listed for “TDY,” or “temporary duty,” which is a cool way to make your guard job your kind-of-lucrative side hustle.
More on that in a moment.
In that squadron I worked with a lot of exceptionally high-quality people, and it didn’t take long before they recognized my worth, thus exposing me to another underrecognized value:
I got to witness first-hand what happens when a person is exposed to high-quality management.
We would have regular exercises, simulating a worst-case scenario, just to see how we’d do. In this case, we were set upon by waves of “aggressors” who gave us a healthy preview of what it would be like to flip a switch and begin broadcasting within some other country’s borders.
By happenstance, I was in the command tent at the same time the people in charge were “killed,” and I just started emulating what I’d witnessed them doing, which enabled the communications to keep flowing.
One of the “dead guys” was a Chief Master Sergeant, which is sort of a big deal in the military. His name is Beaudoin, a guy I hold in high esteem, and he was responsible for “operations,” which in terms of social status was about as far away from vehicle mechanics as humanly possible.
Operations was one of the “whys” of the squadron, and the mechanics were the “how,” not to deprecate the value of their work. Gosh: I’d never.
Long story short: he and others coaxed me into switching career fields, and before you knew it, I was in my second military school: learning about the “Internet” before it was even called that.
At the time what we now call the Internet was being eased in as a replacement for an older system called Autodin; a network for handling secure encrypted communications.
I remember sitting in class, thinking “how in the world am I going to use this unix and TCP/IP stuff in the real world?”
Well. Turns out, it’s essentially why I earned a job at Tektronix; my knowledge of security and networked systems was next-level, at the time.
Color me surprised: not long after I returned from military technical school, I’d scored a high-paying job, for one of the most esteemed companies in the industry. Gosh.
The military schools are very difficult, far more so than the civilian equivalent, as colleagues such as Todd and Larry can attest, so when you spill into the civilian world, your experience is looked upon with a respectable appreciation.
I earned my way into a top secret clearance, which merited significant background investigations, and in turn this earned me exposure to some pretty cool security operations, just about at the same time information security was considered “a thing” in the realm of the Internet.
This afforded me a certain instinct that gave me an edge, again: thanks in no small part to my military service, however small and insignificant.
Within weeks of my hiring at Tektronix, I encountered a guy I knew was up to no good. I could feel it in the marrow of my bones, and so push came to shove, and I set up a honey pot, which is just like it sounds: it’s a trap designed to lure people of a certain inclination.
Watching from a separate unix system, I witnessed him engaged in some pretty shady stuff, and months later he was arrested for industrial espionage: he was stealing proprietary information and selling it (in exchange for drugs) to a foreign company.
Therefore, at around the time when people were first hearing of eBay and Amazon, I was already advising executives on the strategies and tactics of something called a “security incident response team,” or a SIRT.
A little bit about that:
The “detect to respond” gap in my first security catch (industrial espionage) was months, which was disastrously damaging to a Fortune 1000 company, so there was an incentive to create and sustain a SIRT: let’s speed up our corporate response.
My next case was a guy who was sharing proprietary information for the purposes of driving down stock values: corporate legal had been notified by the SEC that something fishy was going on.
I was given a ton of printed logs, and sat in a room and “correlated them” until I found the guy, which earned another arrest.
Turns out, I’m pretty good at this sort of thing, although I’d observe that it takes a thief to detect one, you feel me?
One thing you can do in the guard is volunteer for certain assignments, and many in my squadron signed up for deployments all over the world, including Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, etc.
Because of our “initial bed down” mission, combat communications people like me were very good at providing essential services in the wake of a natural disaster, during forest fires, etc; you learn first-hand how to distill chaos into order.
For my sins, it was in this manner that I got to experience “ye olde drug war” up close and personal, in sunny South and Central America.
Ergo: the photo of me holding the snake.
A “guard bum” with significant real-world experience is treated with some value on these TDY deployments, because they bring a lot back to the theatre of war, and this facilitates a rich knowledge transfer to those who are still in active duty.
It also creates a rich opportunity for the active duty guys to poke fun at the guard bums, such as me.
In this case, there’s a roadside “zoo” in southern Colombia, and I think we paid like $1.60 to get into as many enclosures as we’d like.
I visited the zoo with some Fort Bragg guys, who playfully called me “Outward Bound,” and they coaxed me into holding this monster while they about died of laughter.
I’m pretty sure this thing had just eaten an entire deer, and it’s easily the heaviest thing I’ve ever held, lord have mercy.
I did decently well in the military, for a pathological smart ass with zero reverence for those undeserving of it.
I got to work for people like Vicki; who earned her way into the enlisted ranks, and then became an officer — a respectable path that earned her significant respect. I got to know Chris Val, who remains a friend, and guys like John - a pretty fabulous First Sergeant so committed to “his people” that he’d continue to check in on my years after my separation from the military.
There’s more of you than I could possibly list, and I really appreciate you all.
Somehow, I was awarded a few medals, as well as an airman of the year award, for the creation of something akin to a playbook. I’m not going to toot my own horn, other than to say I achieved a rank no higher than a staff sergeant, basically I’m generally terrible at kissing ass.
Military service comes with some good benefits, in my case: the ability to purchase a home without a down payment. Larry and Kimberly just purchased a dream farm with the newly-modified VA benefits, which no longer have a maximum purchase price.
As I contemplate my next purchase leveraging my VA benefits, I think about all this Texas land; I like the idea of being able to ride a motorcycle all over a large lot. Maybe someday.
A final comment about being a vet: there’s a lot of us on the streets.
In 2017 my wife made her first attempt at divorce, and I was locked out of my home as well as my bank accounts, forced to sleep in my truck.
It didn’t take long to connect with fellow vets on the streets; there’s a whole lot of us, and it was through using the services at Right 2 Dream Too, I was able to watch the functions of a self-governing community, managed by the homeless, many of whom are veterans.
I don’t actually resent that experience at all, for a lot of reasons, not the least that I now knew my now-ex-wife’s intent; within months I was hired as CTO for Bitnation, which aspired to create a decentralized self-governance solution for stateless people and refugees.
For context: in 2017 Bitnation was awarded recognition by UNESCO for their services to Syrian refugees.
I had the honor of getting to know James; a veteran of UK military service, and soaked up the experience up like a sponge, rubbing elbows with anarchists, voluntarists, ancaps, ancoms, etc from around the world.
Self-governance makes a ton of sense when you’ve been ejected by your own country, when you’re on the edge of a war zone, or your community has experienced a natural disaster.
Strange thing: these fringe expressions of self-governance are “brought back down to earth” when viewed through the lens of a veteran forced to live on the streets.
Although it’s technically possible to model an expression of the European Union on blockchain, why would you?
Most people facing the need for self-governance aren’t aspiring members of the Model UN; survival is an essential challenge, and “governance” isn’t a theoretical or escapist exercise.
It’s through all of these experiences that I’ve settled upon my role at 214 Alpha, providing human-based and technology services to help people self-govern.
It was from fellow veterans living in the streets I was reminded of the rich gift economy which thrives below the threshold of a cash economy, where cigarette butts are treated as a form of currency.
It’s from these experiences that I have the highest confidence that we are going to be ok, just as soon as we get over our sense of decadent entitlement, and rediscover the wealth with surrounds us, beginning with the person asking for a dollar at an intersection.
Three years ago, that person was me, thank God.
We are each other’s keeper.