This is the first of several articles being published over the next few weeks focusing on the men and women of the Ohio Valley who have served in this country's military and returned to the local area to live and work following active duty service. As a reporter, it is my honor to have been able to meet these veterans, and I am grateful for their willingness to allow a snapshot of life lived walking in their boots to be share. They are each someone's hero and are deserving of our respect and thanks.
More importantly to them and their loved ones, they are simply who they are: a son, a daughter, a brother or a sister, a father or a mother, an uncle or aunt, friend, neighbor, co-worker. Regardless the nature or location of their individual service, each one's efforts and sacrifices can and should be recognized for their unique value. How do we as individuals find the words to express a heartfelt message of appreciation for their sacrifices, most of which we at home will never know about or be able to fully comprehend. The answer is not complicated, because in fact most veterans do not expect any recognition of their military service.
There are not thanks enough to share with the loved ones of those soldiers, sailors and airmen who made the ultimate sacrifice: laying down their life in the defense of freedom while in the service of our country.
But, the next time you find yourself at a loss for words when meeting a veteran, whether you know them personally or are simply passing as strangers on a street consider sharing a simple, five word message, chances are you will never know how welcomed those words will be. "Thank you for your service." Though few in number these words speak volumes to our nation's veterans and their loved ones: those who have literally paid the price of our nation's many freedoms.
Freedom is not free; never has been, and never will be. A price is always exacted when freedom is the prize. Even in these United States of America our freedoms are enjoyed by many thanks to sacrifices made by the few: the men and women of our nation's military. Veterans' Day is an opportunity to recognize their sacrifices - and those endured by their loved ones as well.
It is these men and women of the U.S. military: our champions, who have paid and, are still paying, the price for the many freedoms Americans and those who live within our boarders are able to enjoy without hesitation and without fear of penalty or persecution. One reality of serving in your country's military is that the individual entering the service is forever transformed by the experience. It is a simple truth. Some veterans will forever be defenders and protectors of those around them. Others will put many of the memories connected to their military term of service neatly onto a shelf for life's memories, but know it will be ready to again employ in an instant if needed.
Even the most battle proven, educated and highly skilled among of our nation's military men and women know making the change from active duty to honorably discharged veteran may happen in a moment, but it is a transitioning and transformative process which takes time to accomplish and is a unique experience for each individual.
Longtime Jefferson county resident and now businessman, Frank Hoagland's military career as a U.S. Navy SEAL not long ago changed forever when a service related injury had an irreversible impact on his life, moving him to retirement years before he had planned to make that change.
The life and career changing injury came on his 999th parachute jump.
Jump number one thousand was no longer an option.
Injuries have never been something he allowed to stop him from completing a mission or achieving a goal, but this time he would have no say in the matter.
As a result of Hoagland's injury three words "unfit for duty" were added to his military record and forced a career change.
Hoagland never expected to have applied to him came crashing into his life's path, effectively blocking all access to any of the options he had been focused on achieving as a Navy SEAL since he was a young boy looking for his father's face on the nightly TV news reports about the war in Vietnam.
His father was a Green Beret serving in Vietnam.
Hoagland would never again be cleared for active duty as a leader or member of a SEAL Team; a career that literally took him to heights where he had often seen for himself the curvature of the earth's surface, nor would he be allowed to swim as a member of an active duty SEAL Team.
Hoagland would not ever be allowed to make that career changing benchmark 1,000th jump, nor would he be deemed fit to take part in deep diving activities.
It stopped his pursuit of the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer, one step shy of that designation.
He was well known in the elite services for his abilities to gain access to destinations or to reach goals others saw as impossible he always had seen an as yet unreached solution as one simply waiting to be found - never allowing the ultimate goal to be abandoned because there was no possible way to successfully reach it.
Looking back on the experience that abruptly ended his active duty U.S. Navy SEAL Team career, it may well be described as a time when one door slammed shut without warning, but just as quickly another swung wide open, allowing unexpected opportunities to work for the government in an effort apart from the formal military, but an arena few are ever invited to - much less find themselves a part of for nearly a decade.
Hoagland had long before proven his abilities to mold individuals into the exceptional elite warriors who come together to form specific highly skilled SEAL Teams; to be an effective leader, instructor and mentor in many of the specialty training opportunities and at the now famed core training component of SEAL career training called BUD/s (Basic Underwater Demolition School) ; he was asked to develop what is today called the SEAL Challenge; was asked to develop the training necessary for the initial Federal Air Marshals program, and was then tasked with seeing to getting the individuals trained up and into the planes.
Hoagland's post active-duty career era spanned nearly a decade during which he and those he trained fought tirelessly against an evil most Americans had never known as a direct enemy: those who fight in the War on Terrorism.
The walls of his office at his Mingo Junction headquartered business, START: Special Tactics and Rescue Training, are home to rare items connecting him to people and places most of those around him now have only read about in the newspapers, history books, or seen in made for TV movies.
As his business expands, so too has his ability to reach out to other veterans for the purpose of offering quality employment. It is a practice that is simply always going to be an essential part of the fabric that has become his business focus: "START - Special Training and Rescue Training".
His business practices, potential and his personal career accomplishments a few months ago garnered him an unexpected - but much appreciated accolade from the national publication, "Vetrepreneur Magazine" as the "Vetrepreneur We Love- July 2013".
His business, "START, LLC" earned the right to identify itself in all aspects of business as a Federally Certified Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business.
Today he focuses his professional skills on developing industry and client specific safety analysis services and also offers customized mitigation resource reports to a wide array of clientele, including players of all sizes in the gas and oil industry and a quickly growing list of school districts, private schools and universities seeking his expert capabilities and those of his core team to accomplish what begin as an "All Hazards Assessments" and then gives rise to customized mitigation plan recommendations and the opportunity for his team to work with educators and students on the next level of preparedness education, or "C.A.S.T." Counter Active Shooter Training.
Hoagland and his team members at START, which includes his wife Darla, take special pride in the response being given their unique programs for educators and students of all ages and who spend their days in any type of building.
Hoagland's military career is always a point of pride for his family - and he is pleased to see the willingness of educators to open their policies and practices to a unique approach to ideas that will only improve their collective abilities to more effectively "deter, detect, defend and defeat" those who seek to bring havoc and harm into the once sacred environment that a school building not long ago was.
These programs and services are additional means for Hoagland to carry forward his belief in the importance of the practice he excelled in applying in his more than 20 year long career as a SEAL Team member, leader and trainer and nearly decade long tenure of working on specialty assignments for the government: "People Helping People".
Frank Hoagland, Senior Chief Petty Officer and U.S. Navy SEAL, retired: thank you for your service.
Loccisano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org