I had the pleasure of interviewing, Karl Monger, the founder and executive director of GallantFew, Inc. Karl is a retired Army Major who jumped out of airplanes, carried heavy loads and led the best soldiers in the world. He jumped into Kuwait with the 1st Ranger Battalion in a show of force operation at the end stages of Desert Storm.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Karl: My paternal grandfather fought in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. He died in 1977 in a Denver men’s shelter isolated and alone. I never knew him. I believe he suffered from post-traumatic stress, probably a traumatic brain injury, and was an alcoholic. He and my father were estranged from an early age, and my father left my family when I was four. I had a two year old sister and my mom was pregnant.
As a result, mentors became very important in my life. I was fortunate to be one of the first boys in a then brand new program called Big Brothers. Because of its impact on my life, I became a mentor for an at-risk youth as soon as I turned eighteen and years later after I left the Army for two years I led the organization I’d been a kid in many years prior.
I didn’t plan to join the Army, I was tricked by a flyer for a marksmanship class during enrollment at Wichita State University. Who doesn’t want an easy A? Turns out it was an ROTC class. I fit right in and soon the Professor of Military Science, a striking figure — Green Beret, Ranger, and Vietnam veteran, suggested I apply for a scholarship. I did, and the Army paid for three years of my college. I went on to serve ten years active duty in infantry and Ranger assignments.
When 9/11 happened, I reconnected with many of my friends still serving, and I saw firsthand the stress and strain of constant combat deployments and I contacted Fort Riley and the local VA Regional Hospital, offering to help veterans return to my community, at that time Wichita Kansas. I couldn’t get anyone to even call me back.
The more I saw, I became convinced that applying an approach similar to Big Brothers Big Sisters and connecting veterans returning home with veterans already transitioned and established in the community would prevent many of the long-term transition issues veterans experience, so I wrote a concept paper and approached some community leaders and veteran friends with it. In 2010 GallantFew, Inc. became a 501(c)3.
GallantFew’s mission is to facilitate a peaceful, successful transition from military service to a civilian life filled with hope and purpose. GallantFew connects veterans where they choose to live when they leave the military. Connecting them with veterans identical to themselves — same branch of the service, same military specialty — who have previously transitioned and are established in the community. In my opinion, the greatest threat to a veteran’s successful transition is isolation. That isolation begins with a natural tendency to not ask for help and often leads to self-medication. In a worst-case scenario, that leads to employment problems, money problems, relationship problems, addiction, loss of purpose and hope. Without hope there is no will to live.
When a young soldier leaves the military and it seems the only career path is security guard, having a former young soldier who now owns a business employing ten people is a great example and wonderful motivator. Veterans that have successfully transitioned have learned a wealth of lessons about that transition, but before GallantFew, no one has intentionally set out to capture those lessons and share them with those about to walk that same path. We call these veteran mentors Guides, and those they mentor are Future Guides. When they are comfortable in their transition, we hope they will, in turn, become a Guide and continue the cycle.
In addition to our peer-to-peer matches, GallantFew serves veterans in relation to our STAR model. STAR stands for Self-Training and Response-Ability and has five points of functional fitness: Spiritual, Emotional, Physical, Professional and Social. We use the terms functional, because it has to be applicable in daily life and fitness, because we want to measure and improve it.
Our largest annual awareness and fundraising activity, Run Ranger Run, as we mentioned before, fits brilliantly on top of our STAR model and touches every one of the five points of the STAR. The obvious part is exercise (physical) — but it provides purpose (spiritual), friendship (social), networking (professional), and builds self-confidence and trust (emotional). The challenge is a perfect way for a veteran to experience these initiatives, but is also a great vehicle to communicate with others about what GallantFew is doing and why it is important. So, not only is Run Ranger Run an awareness and fundraising campaign, it is also serving our veterans at the same time.
Yitzi: Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
Karl: We just recently launched registration for our largest awareness and fundraising activity of the year, Run Ranger Run. This challenge does not take place until February, but we work with a committee of volunteers year-round and registration opened in October. It is always fun to watch as people join and the excitement builds to a crescendo on February 1.
Run Ranger Run is a challenge where teams of up to ten individuals pledge to walk, run, row, kayak and/or ride bicycles a combined total of 565 miles in the month of February. Each team raises funds for GallantFew and increases awareness for issues veterans face as they transition from military service to civilian life. Teams can be one to ten people and they are not limited geographically. Run Ranger Run is not a race, but rather a challenge its participants take on together.
What we love about Run Ranger Run is that teams can be local groups that log miles together or can be a team spread out across the USA or even overseas. All that is important is the commitment team members make to each other to complete their 565 miles.
Also, just recently, I became certified as a Master Burris Coach. The Burris Institute teaches Functional Emotional Fitness, providing powerful tools to guide the subconscious to drive achievement of objectives. We are working on training a number of veterans as Certified Burris Coaches so they can in turn coach other veterans in the techniques. So far we’ve saved marriages, restored relationships and helped veterans overcome addiction, among others.
Yitzi: Can you tell me a story about a person that you helped?
Karl: One of my favorite stories to tell is about US Army Ranger Veteran, Corporal Cory Smith. Cory, having deployed to combat twice, experienced having friends killed and wounded and, with his marriage failing, decided to highlight the difficult journey home many soldiers have leaving the Army. He decided to run 565 miles in 28 days with the end goal of his run to hold his daughter Elleigh in his arms. GallantFew was a young organization at the time, but was able to stand with Cory as he stepped out on his own personal journey. We were able to help him with logistics and get him linked up with brothers and community support along his entire 565 mile route home.
After Cory’s personal solo journey home, he suggested that GallantFew might be able to take his story and help many other veterans with it.
Today, Run Ranger Run is a story of victory and triumph that resonates. It resonates because it inspires from a story about the power of one. The power one person has when he is determined to make a commitment, dares to take bold action and refuses to fall short of the commitment he makes to his fellow veterans, family members or friends. It brings to light that the path to victory is not always the one we planned. In Corporal Cory Smith’s journey, he planned to run 565 miles home. Half way through the route he developed stress fractures in his shins and was not medically cleared to continue running. Smith completed his mission by walking and then riding a bike. He did not give up and he utilized all that was available to him to stay in the fight and honor his commitment.
Our Run Ranger Run participants are inspired by Corporal Cory Smith. They are inspired by Cory for the reason he chose to run home and face those 565 miles. Finally, they connect with their own opportunity to make a difference and inspire others. Look at how helping that one veteran turned into the ability and opportunity help hundreds of other veterans every year.
In a more recent example, a veteran of multiple combat deployments with a Special Operations unit, this former sergeant was under tremendous financial strain. He had waited until he had exhausted all his resources to reach out, because men like that prefer to solve their own problems — they don’t like to admit weakness.
I had never spoken to him before, and as he told me what he was going through (losing his job, divorce, struggling with alcohol, anger) I told him I had worked with a lot of veterans just like him, going through nearly the exact same thing. I asked him about a couple of other things and he was astounded that I knew he was going through that, too — chief among that, that he felt like a failure because everyone else was doing so well and they expected more of him.
When I told him what he was going through was actually normal, that I’ve worked with many men going through the exact same thing, he broke down for a moment, emotional on the phone.
Once he realized he wasn’t abnormal and that others had gone through it, he was willing to find out what they did to overcome, and he’s open to connecting with resources. Those connections led to a job offer and a more stable life.
Yitzi: This obviously is not easy work. What drives you?
Karl: I enjoy helping others. Once at Fort Benning during a Ranger reunion a Vietnam veteran approached me and thanked me for saving his buddy’s life. He had learned of the Spartan Pledge, which is a promise between two buddies, and got his buddy to watch our video. Then they took the pledge together, and he strongly believes his buddy is alive today as a result. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Yitzi: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Karl: There are so many, GallantFew would not exist without each one of them playing their role. I do want to highlight my buddy Bill Cooper, though. He became my Guide after I left active duty, and the night I told him my dream for an organization that mentored veterans he reached into his wallet, pulled out his emergency hundred-dollar bill and slid it across the table to me. “Your first donation,” he said. “Get to work”. He became one of the founding board members, and encouraged me to expand the vision beyond Special Operations and help the greater veteran population.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Narrow the focus and be very good at precisely what you plan to do. Don’t jump towards every opportunity for exposure or try and create a program for every good idea. With no paid staff at the time and initially me the full-time volunteer, I chased good ideas that spread precious resources, endangering our fledgling existence.
2. Other organizations will feel threatened and plant booby-traps. It shouldn’t be a competition, there are too many veterans for us all to help. Create and foster relationships to enable partnering, keeping the focus on the veteran needing help. It’s easy to start a rumor about someone or some organization. It’s harder to have to respond to that later. Absolute transparency dispels rumors. Be willing to pick up the phone and call someone to resolve these issues. Bad or misimpressions become fact when ignored.
3. Fundraising will be harder than you think. Asking a hundred of your Facebook friends to each give ten bucks so you have a thousand dollars to get started will net you precisely zero dollars.
4. With the best of intentions, people will love your ideas and will make grand promises of support. Hope is not a strategy, don’t hope they come through and base your budget on that hope.
5. Create an interview and selection process for the board of directors. Don’t add someone merely because of their visibility or perceived popularity. Have a list of expectations and requirements, and build a board that will reinforce itself. Every member of the GallantFew board, both past and present has played an important role in GallantFew’s growth. Had I been more diligent about creating expectations and requirements, board members may have felt more empowered to act on their initiative, rather than waiting for the executive director (me) to ask them to do something.
Yitzi: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see just see this. :-)
Karl: Chuck Norris. He’s a US Air Force veteran and universally respected, and with his help we could turn the GallantFew into the Gallant Many.
Note to our readers: If you appreciated this story, please click on one of the buttons on the top left to post to your twitter, facebook or pinterest. If 2000 people like you do this, there is a good chance this article may be featured on the homepage. -)