MAJ Jason Van Camp (Army Special Operations, OIF Veteran)
The business world is not a space for the faint-hearted. There are far more stories of failures than successes and it takes a certain personal makeup to thrive in industry where talent guarantees no accomplishment. Educated risk-taking is a large part of becoming a business owner. Even the startup of a small enterprise is a gamble in and of itself. For Major Jason Van Camp, a man who led a storied career in the United States Army as a Green Beret, risk was always an inherent part of his calling. Educated risks are a large part of the battlefield, except in Jason's career as a soldier, he wasn't worried about disappointing employees or having to make cuts. He was worried about loss of life and limb. Those titans serving under him were his fraternal community and letting them down meant letting his brothers down. Letting them down could also mean violence of action and death. Major Van Camp's candor throughout the duration of the interview was a breath of fresh air in a society that often shirks responsibility and looks for a scapegoat at the slightest hint of admonishment.
Jason openly took responsibility for death under his watch, never hiding from his position as a commander on the battlefield. It's a bit unnerving to watch a man of considerable confidence who is never at a loss for words, pause when they think of past circumstances. Yet, it gives great insight into the character of Van Camp and his ability to contemplate the choices that still torment him to a certain degree. The greatest commanders mourn for their men who are lost, while at the same time driving forward, because in combat there is no time to reflect upon past decisions. There will be days in the future relegated to those thoughts, but the battle space is unforgiving. One second of after-thought equals the possibility of additional casualties. Those decisions in warfare became a proving ground that now manifests itself in the form of successful multi-company ownership, in both the for-profit and non-profit spheres. Here's Jason with the rest of his journey.
What got you into the Army in the first place?
JVC: I went to West Point (United States Military Academy) which was strange because I was never a guy that saw myself serving in the military. I didn’t have anyone in my life that really pushed me to join the military. Growing up, my friends who had parents in the military never seemed to be positive about their experience and the ones that did felt forced. I grew up in the D.C. area so a lot of my friend's fathers worked for the government in some capacity and a lot of them in the military. My grandfather served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII which later became the Air Force, and he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He never really talked about his service nor expected special treatment because of his service. My dad served in Vietnam, but he kinda lucked out. In basic training, he volunteered to work on a special project called “computers” and was subsequently sent to Paris, France during the war.
So, military service was in my background, but I didn't personally feel pushed to serve and therefore, didn’t think that military service was going to be my path in life. I was patriotic and I loved my country, but I didn’t really dwell on the future when I was young. Like most kids, I just focused on what I was doing in the moment. I thought, who knows what the future holds? It seemed to me that thinking too much into the future was a bit ridiculous. I remember in high school, in one of my history classes, the teacher asked where each student was planning on attending college. The teacher then asked what we were going to major in. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to major in college. One of my friends spoke up and said, "Engineering management." I was shocked. I panicked a little bit. I thought to myself, "How does this guy even know what he's going to major in? I have no clue what I'm going to major in." I didn't even know what engineering management was (laughs). I wanted my future to be a surprise. I wanted to travel and experience new things, meet new people, and just enjoy being educated by my journey.
Sports was about the only thing I was sure about in life. I was captain of the football team in high school, captain of the lacrosse team, I wrestled a bit, and I also participated in track and field. My only real goals were to play football and lacrosse in college. As I went through high school I progressively grew into a really good football player and by the time I was going to be scouted, I thought sure I was headed for a major D1 program. That’s what everybody was telling me. My junior year of sports really set me up for high expectations. As I entered into my senior year, I found out that scouts saw me as undersized. Although I basically lived in the weight room, I was six foot tall and about 185 lbs. To my surprise, no D-1 schools were taking me seriously at that size as a linebacker. I was heartbroken. It was the first time I realized that my future wasn't as sure as I thought it was. My perspective was kind of skewed because I thought I was destined for a major division one program and now I'm being told, "You're too small to play for us."
I was pretty depressed because it was mostly smaller schools recruiting me as well as the military academies. I honestly didn't want to go to any of those schools. The recruiter for West Point was a super talented recruiter and he really came after me aggressively. If he hadn't shown as much of a desire as he did to have me at West Point, I would've never gone in a million years. It just wasn't on my radar 'til he started recruiting me. It was coming down to decision time and I was a bit distraught. I prayed a lot and I knew my parents were really excited at the idea of me going to West Point. Everyone in my family was kind of pushing me that way. The coach and recruiters flew to our house to have dinner with my family one night. I remember the recruiter looking me in the eye and saying, "Jason, I flew all the way to Virginia to be here with you and I need you to make a decision." I committed to them right there on the spot. I had no idea what it meant to be an officer in the Army but that realization settled in that I was going that route. Looking back it's pretty wild to think that at 18 I was committing the next ten years of my life to my country.
Talk about the transition from West Point to the Army.
JVC: I hated every second at West Point. I was quite possibly the most miserable cadet ever (laughs). I got there the first week and was like, "This isn't for me." I'm not a quitter though so I knew I had to get through it. I watched a lot of guys quit and that's just not my style so I followed through on my commitment and did what I had to do. I thought to myself, "Here's the deal. If the regular Army is anything like West Point, I'm done as soon as my contract is up (laughs)." I knew that I was going to give it my all though. I was going to give it an honest go no matter what. I was absolutely shocked at how different the regular Army is compared to West Point. The guys that would turn in their classmates and rat on their comrades that were praised at West Point, did not do well in the regular Army.
My time at the military academy really matured me so I'm grateful for that. I just wasn't a big fan of the way things were done at West Point. I loved every bit of the regular Army. I went to Ranger School pretty soon after and enjoyed every bit of that time. I learned more about leadership in Ranger School than anywhere else up until that point. I'm not saying this to bash West Point because they certainly laid the foundation within me to do some great things in the Army, but Ranger School was incredible. That's different for everybody but I would say that I'd go through Ranger School start to finish all over again, rather than spend one more day at West Point (laughs). Overall, I really enjoyed my time in the Army. I appreciated the opportunity to serve those on my left and right and also those that needed to be protected.
Talk about the transition from being a Ranger to Selection and becoming a Special Operations soldier.
JVC: I went to Ranger School right after OBC (Officer Basic Course) and when I got my tab I went to my first duty station which was in Korea. I was standing in the lobby to meet with the battalion commander so he could tell me which unit I was being assigned to. There was a Ranger tabbed E-8 that walked out of the battalion commander’s office and he saw me and was like, "Hey LT, where you coming from?" I told him, "Just graduated from Ranger School, Sergeant." He's like, "What unit are you going to?" I said, "I'm about to find out right now." He replied, "You're going to my unit, man. We have the best unit and I want you with me. We have all the best Rangers there." He walked back into the battalion commander's office and told him, "I want Lieutenant Van Camp." The battalion commander was like, "You've got him." This guy didn't know me from Adam. He literally had a 20-second conversation with me with no previous knowledge as to who I was.
He saw that Ranger tab and he immediately hooked me up. Having that Ranger tab really paid off and so many doors opened up for me. I thought to myself, "Maybe one day I'll try out for Special Forces. Those guys are crazy and I'm not sure I can do it, but I'd love to at least try." I didn't honestly think I ever would, but I could see the benefits of going the Special Forces route. My friend Jesse Waters, who'd played football with me at West Point, called me one day and said, "I'm turning in my packet for Special Forces Selection. You should do it too. We’ll go together and it'll be just like old times.” I told him he was insane but he was very insistent so I decided to put my packet together. It turns out that I got accepted to go to selection and Jesse did not. He got in trouble in Korea for staying out past curfew and that's why he didn't get picked up. I remember going out to Camp Mackall (selection) on this bus by myself and I was thinking to myself, "Why am I doing this? I don't know anybody here. This is absolutely crazy." I got to selection and I totally hit it off with all the guys. We all were of the same mindset so we immediately got along. It was crazy how much I had in common with those guys. I loved every second of selection. I felt like I did really well throughout and I enjoyed it more than any Army course I've ever been a part of. After that, I was all about the Special Operations community.
What was that first deployment like?
JVC: Let me preface the first deployment by explaining how I got there. Immediately after I left Korea and I went to the "Joint Power Fire Control Course" in Las Vegas. I was sick as a dog when I showed up. Little did I know that I happened to contract malaria while I was in Korea. I reported to duty in Las Vegas and was going through the first week of classes feeling like ten pounds of dog shit in a five pound bag (laughs). I was feeling absolutely awful. One day my buddy and I were going to get lunch and I could barely get out of the car. I was vomiting everywhere and my buddy was like, "Man, I'm going to take you to the hospital." He took me there and come to find out I was the first case of malaria in like 100 years in Las Vegas. When I went to the Emergency Room, the doctors had no idea what was wrong with me. SARS was big at the time so they thought I had SARS. They made it this huge thing where I had about ten different doctors in my room at one time. I stayed there for a couple days and tried to heal up. I finished the course at least and ended up reporting to Ft. Campbell with the 101st Airborne Division.
When I arrived at Ft. Campbell, the entire unit had just deployed a couple weeks before that. The S1 knew that I wanted to deploy so he promised he'd put me on the first bird out to Iraq. I was in with 3-187 Rakkasans and linked up with them over there. The unit was moving up from Baghdad to a town called Rabia which was on the Syrian border. Now it's completely run by ISIS from what I understand. I was the FSO for that particular infantry company. I was still getting over malaria and I remember being exhausted and sick all the time. I remember being nervous because it was my first real time in combat, so I called my dad before I left hoping he'd give me some profound advice or something. My dad says, "Well, Just keep your head down." I remember laughing at that. There wasn't that much going on In Iraq at that particular time. Our unit was driving around the area of operations in Iraq with the doors off of our Humvees. There wasn’t much resistance. I fired my weapon maybe two or three times on that tour. We were just kind of repairing the city and we opened up the first commerce train in Iraq. I hired some people to repair all the headquarters for the Iraqi Police. There was a lot of posturing going on during that tour and we all kind of just wanted to go home. I finished up that first deployment and went to selection when I got home.
Tell me about the second deployment.
JVC: The second deployment was definitely different than the first (laughs). I finished selection and became a Green Beret. They assigned me to 10th Special Forces Group out in Colorado to 3rd Battalion, Alpha Company. They decided to put me on Mountain Team. The team that I went to hadn't had a Team Leader in a really long time. I passionately wanted to go to a HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) team and I really think I would've done well on an ASOT (Advanced Special Operations Techniques) Team, but instead I went to a Mountain team. I'd never really climbed a mountain before and never really had an interest in climbing mountains before that (laughs). I got to my team and we found out 1st and 2nd Battalions were deploying to Iraq.
I think 3rd Battalion was only taking 15 teams and we were one of the teams that they weren't going to take. I was told that they were not taking my team because they did not have a team leader during the planning process. They were having us stay back and do something like White Cycle Tasking or something like that. We were going to be in the rear and that was going to mean that everybody else was going to combat except for us. A couple of the older guys on the team came up to me after we found out we wouldn't be going to Iraq and they were like, "Hey man, we're not staying in the rear with the gear while everyone else deploys. We are going to deploy. You get your ass up to the group commander and convince him that he's going to take us or you're not worth shit." So, now I'm a brand new Captain walking into the team room now having to convince the group commander that our ODA needs to be deployed.
I put together a pretty solid proposal and my company commander said, "No way." I finally convinced him to let me go to the group commander and present the case to him. I presented the case with passion and the group commander said, "Alright, instead of 15 teams we will be taking 16 teams." I told my team and they were pretty excited. My company commander wasn't too excited about it because he didn't think I had a shot in hell to convince the group commander. He said, "Well Jason, I've got no place to put you over there so here's a map of Iraq. Find a place to go." I talked to the guys on the team and we found a location called Jalula (Ja-lou-la) that hadn't been occupied by coalition forces in over three years. We were hearing a lot of rumors about that area because it was near the Al-Qaeda stronghold of As Sadiyah. I was on the PDSS (Pre-Deployment Site Survey) with Zach Loudy and Scott Hendrickson. We went with another ODA and this ODA (Operational Detachment-Alpha) had a FOB (Forward Operating Base) and they already knew where they were going so we traveled with them.
We took a trip up to our area to see where we could potentially build a team house and we found an Iraqi Army Battalion up there. We found there were some Australian contractors living with them up there. We talked to the contractors and found out they were getting mortared nearly every night by Al Qaeda. We thought that made it a good place to go because obviously there was a good fight there. We talked to the Iraqi Army and they showed us an isolated outpost on their base. They told us we could live there. The outpost needed a ton of work so we went back to the FOB that night to start planning how we'd build up that outpost. The next day, we prepared to go back to the outpost to continue our site survey. We left on a three humvee convoy. As soon as we left the wire, my company commander, Major Csicsila, called me on the radio and told me to turn around and come back. He told me he was flying to my location and he wanted to speak with me. I said, "Roger, wilco." We turned around. I had Scott replace me in the Humvee and the convoy left again. I went inside, took off my body armor, set my rifle down, and I heard on the radio, "Troops in contact, troops in contact, troops in contact!" I went to the operations center and asked, "Who is it? Who's in contact?" The guy on the radio said, "Dude, it's your guys!" I was like, "How is that even possible? They just left!"
My guys were in contact so I threw my shit back on, grabbed some guys from the sister ODA, and we ran out to our vehicles. It turns out that my guys were about 6 miles from the base and my particular humvee had hit an IED. I believe it was a 105mm round in the culvert under the road and my humvee went over that spot and was completely destroyed. Zach, who'd been sitting in my spot in the Humvee, fell forward and tried to brace himself which ended up snapping his arms backwards. Both of his arms completely folded back and broke. Scott was in the turret and he got ejected about 100 feet down the road where he fell on his M4. He snapped his rifle in two and broke his back. When we got to him he was trying to put his rifle back together so he could fight the enemy. That was the second day of the deployment. After two days, we were down two guys. Thankfully, they didn't die but two were injured badly and had to be sent home. In addition, the interpreter was killed, and the driver who was on the outgoing ODA lost his leg.
I called Major Csicsila when I got back to the base to let him know about the situation. I wanted to know when he was coming to meet with me as he requested earlier. He was surprised and said to me, "I didn't call you." I was like, "Sir, You called me, you told me you were coming in and that you needed to talk to me." He replied, "I never called you Jason. That wasn't me." I don't know how to explain that. I suppose it was divine intervention.
What was the rest of that deployment like?
JVC: Being young, my entire team myself included wanted to find the guys who were responsible for detonating the IED that injured our brothers. We had that young, vengeful mindset at the time. We were looking for a fight. We wanted to find those guys and make them pay. We wanted to make things right. My team was pretty young and most had never been to combat before. A lot of the younger guys were asking about my first time in combat and so I tried to help them by utilizing those previous experiences. We moved into our outpost and it was a disaster. The entire team was sleeping on cots one room. Blazing hot, pulling security shifts at the top of the building every single night. It was a major bonding experience in shared hardship and that passage of suffering and all that came with it. We were pretty miserable but surviving because we had each other. We got mortared a few times a week.
We started to realize the area we were in was completely overrun by Al-Qaeda and even some nearby villages were enforcing Sharia Law. This was an area where the enemy felt very safe and they were just doing whatever the hell they wanted. For whatever reason, nobody was sending information back to the coalition forces or complaining about this issue. Our presence there really screwed things up for the enemy. It turns out, they had some pact with the Iraqi Army where it was basically a ceasefire agreement where if the IA (Iraqi Army) didn't mess with Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda wouldn't mess with the IA. A lot of the IA soldiers that we were embedded with were actually Al-Qaeda operatives and we were training them until we found out who they were. It was my first time as a detachment commander so I was learning on the fly. It was a crazy situation.
What was your most frightening time over there?
JVC: That was a really rough deployment. We had the ultimate Special Forces mission which was to find a location with very little information, embed with the locals, find, fix, and destroy the enemy by, with, and through the indigenous fighters. It really was the absolute epitome of a Special Operations mission. We knew exactly what we had to do but that didn't make it much easier. I remember we were getting mortared from this particular location called Tibij. We went and talked to the Iraqi Army and they kept telling us there was no way they were going to crossover into Tibij. They told us there were IEDs everywhere and Al-Qaeda was controlling the village. Their idea was that we'd just take getting mortared and do nothing about it which just isn't really an American attitude and definitely not the attitude of SF. We just said to ourselves, "Great. We have a group we are training to fight for their country and they won't go to certain areas because they're too dangerous."
The S2 who was control of the Iraq forces in that area was named Captain Hayman and he spoke English really well. He was a very very intelligent officer and he was a Kurd. He was on it. He told me, "Jason, listen. The Iraqi Army will not fight for you but I know some people that will fight." I was like, "Who?" He replied, "My countrymen the Kurds will fight for you. I can get you 600-1000 Kurdish Peshmerga that will fight for you." I went to my commander and he said, "Listen Jason, there's an agreement in effect at the highest levels of the Iraqi government that prevents Kurdish Peshmerga past a certain demarcation line." The Peshmerga couldn't fight for us. So, I submitted a special request to General Petraeus so that I could get these Kurds to fight for me. General Petraeus approved it so I got my fighters. Peshmerga means "those who face death" and they were definitely stone cold fighters, for the most part. They were great. We told them our plans and the Peshmerga were like, "Are they Arab?" and we were like, "Well, yeah." They responded back, "We don't care if they're Al-Qaeda but if they're Arab we will kill them." We were like, "Well, I guess they hate Arabs (laughs)."
One morning, we went into Tibij before dawn. Al-Qaeda knew we were coming and we found about 13 IEDs in the road on the way there. We had this commander of the Peshmerga forces named General Chetu and this guy dismantled every single IED himself and put them in the back of his vehicle. I was like, "Man, this guy is trying to impress us but at the same time I'm unbelievably impressed (laughs). I don't care if he's trying hard." We got to know General Chetu and we found out he was from Darbandikhan and he was the youngest of 13 kids. His whole family was gassed by Saddam and Chemical Ali. Everyone died except for him. He was fighting for the honor and for the memory of his family. We became really good friends. Al Qaeda saw us coming from miles away in Tibij so they cleared out before we even got there. That was their SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) of course. They would see our humvees, leave, and then they'd come back into the area after it was clear that coalition forces were no longer there. I decided that I'd do something innovative.
I talked to General Chetu and I told him, "You're not going to go back to Kurdistan. You're going to stay here in Tibij." He agreed and later that day we left, but when we left some of our guys stayed behind. The enemy started matriculating back into the village and when they got there they were caught completely surprised to see the Kurds there. The Kurds snatched each returning Al Qaeda fighter up one by one. This strategy cleared that entire area of Al-Qaeda. After that it was a lot easier for us in the area but we still had our moments. I remember an Iraqi lead Humvee hitting an IED in front of us and the Iraqi Colonel was just absolutely incinerated right in front of me. They took his charred body and threw it in the back of their humvee. I also remember that Captain Hayman had a bounty out for him. They blew him up when he was helping clear a house one day but we got him to an Army hospital and he recovered.
The most difficult mission was on August 15, 2007. We crested this hill and we saw two cars just take off. We knew it was on. I had like 400 Kurds with me and my guys as well. I had my guys set up a cordon around a certain compound. For some reason the Peshmerga weren't being cooperative that day. I told my guys where to go and they kind of adjusted on the fly. One of the mini guns went down on one of our humvees, so my team sergeant made the decision to dismount with some of the guys and assault this compound on foot. As they were running up to this particular compound a guy dressed in all black jumped on the roof. He had an AK47. I was in an overwatch position with a few of my guys. I heard the weapon go off as I was coordinating the mission from my humvee. My driver who was also my medic (Tim) also heard it and we looked at each other. We then heard, "Eagles down," on the radio. I yelled at Tim, “what happened?” He said he'd seen a guy in black on the roof firing down at our guys. My interpreter started freaking out and we decided to drive up to the edge of this building. I remember being frustrated because the battle was chaotic and it was difficult to control.
I got out of my vehicle and maneuvered around the side of this building. I saw my team sergeant, Don, propped up against the edge of this building. His helmet was off and he had this defeated look on his face. I did not realize that he had been shot. I yelled at him, "What the fuck are you doing?" He looked at me, but didn’t respond. He just glanced at me and didn't say a word. My medic ran up to him and it was clear that he'd been shot. My medic immediately started working on him. I realized that two of my guys were around the corner. I left Tim with Don and ran around to where Chris and Rob were located. Rob was on his back and Chris was on all fours. Chris was frantic. It was pretty clear that he wasn't there mentally. I was like, "What the hell are you guys doing?" Chris yelled back, "Rob's been shot." I didn't see any blood and Rob looked totally fine to me. I looked at Rob’s face. Chris told me he'd been shot in the head. I pulled Rob’s helmet off. In the act, I could see an outline in the helmet where something had cut through it. I refused to accept that it was a bullet. I took off Rob’s helmet. At that point, blood started completely draining out of his head. I remember trying to keep all that blood from draining. I held his head together with my hands. I thought we were invincible. I kept yelling at Tim to come over and help Rob out. Tim ran over to me and just kind of threw me some gauze. I didn’t know how to help Rob. I felt like if we could just get him to a MEDEVAC bird, it would all work out.
Tim was working really hard on Don. I guess I just thought Tim could fix Rob because he was a medic, as ridiculous as that sounds now. I was kind of yelling at Tim because I didn't feel like he was taking me seriously. I kept telling Tim that he needed to come over and take care of Rob. I think Tim just got fed up with me. We put Rob on top of the humvee and we put Don in the back. We took off and we got behind this berm where we were able to layout Don and Rob. I remember Tim immediately started working on Don and I was just trying to hold Rob's head together. I was talking to him about the New England Patriots because he loved the Pats so much, and he was from Franklin, Massachusetts. I kept telling him everything was going to be alright. Tim finally came over and cut a hole in Rob's neck so he could breathe better. Rob was shaking and having these strange seizures. When Tim and I talked about it after the fact, he said to me, "Listen, Rob was hit in the head. He was a goner. There was absolutely nothing I could do and I wasn't about to spend any time on Rob when Don still had a real chance to live."
It was the first time Tim saw real shit in combat and he stepped up immediately. I was very proud of Tim. He was outstanding. We brought in a MEDEVAC to pick up Don and Rob. Most of the Kurds were still kind of cowering behind the berm not wanting to fight so I was just like, "Fuck those guys. We'll fight this battle on our own." I called in air support to attack this compound so an A-10 came in on four different passes. They were always super accurate but this particular time they kept missing. I finally said, "Screw it." My warrant and I decided to go in and clear this building ourselves. So it was just the two of us clearing this compound. I forget the exact numbers but we had something like 9 KIA and 16 that we captured. It turns out, the guy that was on the rooftop was the battalion commander of this Al-Qaeda cell and they just happened to be having a battalion meeting in this house. We happened to show up in the middle of this meeting and effectively ended that meeting.
Do you ever think about that moment and does it ever come back in your thoughts?
JVC: Yes. I think about Rob's death every single day. For me, it all came to a head in 2013 when ISIS came down through Syria and took the area back that we'd taken from Al-Qaeda. I was watching Fox News and CNN. They were reporting the situation on the ground. I saw enemy vehicles rolling into Jalula and As Sadiyah. They were waving their ISIS flags. I knew what they would do to the area. I knew the death and suffering that awaited the locals that we promised to protect. I knew right then and there that everything we'd done was a waste of time. A complete failure. We'd committed to those people that we were going to do everything to stop the bad guys from ever coming back. Watching the news five years later and watching ISIS roll into those areas that we'd cleared, made all of our sacrifices worth nothing. We promised those people that they would be safe. If I could do it all over again, I don't know that I would've ever left the compound and gone on that mission.
How do you handle death in combat?
JVC: Everyone processes and handles death differently. As a commander, I knew it was my fault because we went on that mission. It's something I wanted to do and hindsight being 20/20 would I have done things differently? Absolutely. It was tough for me to accept that's what happened. There were a couple guys on the team that face-to-face blamed me and that was really hard to handle. That was really rough. But, I thought about the fact that I was the commander and I needed to be tough in those moments. I didn't flinch after that and two weeks later we were on one of, if not the largest FID (Foreign Internal Defense) missions in Iraq at the time. I had 4,000 Kurds under my command and we cleared a city up in Northern Iraq. It was completely overrun by Al-Qaeda and we cleared the city and gave it back to the Iraqi government. We executed it flawlessly and we actually ran that mission on September 11, 2007.
We caught a lot of guys and killed a lot of guys as well. I believe in a supreme being and if things happened I believed they happened for a reason. There would be times where we'd go on an operation and guys would get shot at, but nobody died or is wounded. Why did it happen that way? I don't know. People get in car accidents back in the states and die. Why does that happen? I don't know. When Rob died, a lot of the guys brought up the fact that it was Rob's time to go. There have been things that have happened to me in my life where I could never deny the presence of a higher power. I believe that there is a plan in life and Rob's death was a part of that at the time. It doesn't mean I like that plan. I definitely didn't. There are also a lot of guys that are religious that don't handle things well. They kind of grew up in a sheltered version of religion where when anything bad happens they can't believe a supreme being would allow that. I've seen a lot of guys who had their faith completely unraveled because things didn't make sense in the moment. I know a lot of guys who've seen the way the world really is in combat, and they have a hard time processing that while maintaining their faith.
What was the most attractive aspect of serving in the Special Operations community?
JVC: I was in the Army for 14 years and 9 years of that was spent on the Special Operations side. The quality of the people and the mindset was a part of what I loved so much about serving in that capacity. There is definitely something unique about that Special Forces soldier that's hard to define but easy to recognize. It's something that I was really attracted to and I still am attracted to it. I'm still close to the guys because the mindset is so similar. Those guys are the most successful people I've met in this life.
Can you talk about stepping out of the Army world and into civilian life?
JVC: I think most guys are ready to take some sort of sabbatical and take some sort of step back, especially when it comes to Special Operations. I think we all get a little tired of going 100 mph all the time. I needed to get my head right and I was excited to begin a new chapter of my life. I didn't necessarily want to leave Special Forces but I realized with my medical conditions, having seizures, degenerated disks, and things of that nature, I couldn't really be an effective soldier. It was over and I knew it. Being a soldier didn’t define me as a person, it was just something that I did. A lot of guys leave the service and find it hard to come to grips with that. My life was defined by who I was and I started looking at a lot of guys in my position. They were just holding on and struggling to get to their twenty year retirement. It's like a boxer who is holding on to his opponent just trying to make it to that last round and not get knocked out. Not competing. Not throwing any punches. Just holding on. I didn't want to be that guy. I decided then and there that I'd rather get out then be miserable for five years until I hit retirement. The military gave me a nice retirement package anyways, but I'll be honest and tell you it feels like I didn't finish the PT run.
It feels like I hit the homestretch of that last 1/4 mile and I didn't quite make it to the finish. That's the flip side of not making it to twenty years. I still have mixed feelings about it. I thought I would kill it as a civilian when I stepping into this world because of my work ethic and background. It's different in so many ways. It's very difficult and there are a lot of things that translate over from the military and a lot that absolutely don't. You have to redefine yourself and reinvent yourself in many ways. I knew that I didn't want to sit at a desk and I knew that I couldn't do that. I thought about what I was passionate about and I thought about how most of my time was spent. At the time, I didn't have a family so a lot of my time was spent playing and watching sports. I thought that there would be a way I could combine my knowledge and my passion. I got together with a group of my friends who I completely trusted and I told them I had an idea.
They told me they supported my idea so I started this company called "Mission 6 Zero." Being bold and a risk taker and believing in myself, I just started cold calling NFL teams. I went down the list of teams until I got to the New York Jets and they answered the phone. They told me to come out to New York on my own dime and present my plan to them. I was offering a service that put me in competition with a couple other companies who were offering the same type of service. I was fired up and I knew that if I had a chance I would win that contract. I went up there with a couple of my SF buddies and we presented our plan to the Jets, exposing our hearts to them and the next day they called me up and said, "Congratulations. You won a contract. We liked you guys more than the other teams." That was the beginning of Mission 6 Zero.
What is Mission 6 Zero?
JVC: Mission 6 Zero teaches the unconventional, Special Forces type mindset. What does that mean? To us, that means "unconventional stress management." We believe that Special Operations Forces manage stress better than anyone else in the world. If that's something we can help others do to improve their lives then we should do that. As we've started this company we've done another thing that operators are good at, which is adapt to the environment. Sometimes the client has feedback where we have to pivot on that feedback and learn while in motion. We realized pretty quickly that having Special Forces soldiers there to tell stories only goes so far. It gets the client excited and fired up but it fails to fix a lot of issues.
We leave and they forget that training. We resolved to combine the Special Operations experience with the fields of human performance, behavioral science, and psychology. We brought PhDs, researchers, experts, and psychologists on to the team. These experts combined with our operators create an environment of sustainable growth. We provide our clients a mindset that empowers them to become a “total warrior.” We believe in the whole man concept. Warrior Diplomat. The total warrior is someone who can find balance in their six intelligences; mental, physical, spiritual, social, emotional, and professional. If you find balance in those six intelligences you're going to be an extremely successful individual. You will be able to control those stressors in your life much more easily.
What do veterans bring to the corporate world and why do they make better leaders in the business space?
JVC: Veterans understand that the mission comes first. They know how to accomplish the mission under intense pressure and limited resources. They know what both good and bad leadership looks like. They also know what it’s like to manage people because they’ve been responsible at every level of their careers to lead. They understand that during the mission, you need to be laser focused and determined to capitalize on opportunities. They know the importance of a thorough plan and how to effectively mitigate risk in that plan. Finally, I would point out that they know who they are and what they are capable of. In the military you learn about yourself through incredibly adverse conditions whether it be in training or in combat. When you prove yourself in those conditions, you feed yourself the confidence required to succeed in the business world later in life.
What's the goal with your new company, Warrior Rising?
JVC: We created Warrior Rising after an event with the Oakland Raiders in 2014. We brought a lot of wounded veterans out to the event to serve as instructors. It is very cathartic for them to come out and share their experiences with the client. It is very beneficial for them to be back around their brothers again in a team environment. We treat them the same as before they were wounded. They're our brothers regardless of their physical and mental wounds. It was pretty incredible for the players to get to hear our wounded brother's stories and how they'd overcome their circumstances. After the event was over we were all hanging out. I asked the guys how they were doing and I got some responses back. One of the guys started talking about his disability checks from the government and I was like, "That's great brother." Then one of the guys talked about this charity that took them out hunting and again I was like, "That's awesome." I remember quite a few of the guys telling me, "It's not that awesome Jason." I was like, "Sounds pretty great to me. Why's it not awesome?"
One of the guys responded, "I never asked for this stuff. I joined the military to serve others, to give back, and now everybody is serving me. I had a purpose when I served and now that purpose is gone. I sit on my porch all day and smoke weed because I get free stuff all the time. I don't feel a need to go out and do anything. It's hard to break out of that mentality." I said, "Okay, I get that. What do you want me to do about it?" He said to me, "Give us a purpose again. You started a business and we want to start businesses too." I replied back, "Well, I can appreciate that. What kind of business ideas do you have?" The guys all started bringing up their ideas and some ideas were good and some were not so great (laughs).
So anyways, we started talking about business models and how to do this. A couple of the guys asked for money and I told them that really defeated the purpose in giving them initiative. They responded something like, "Well, what do we need to do to earn the capital to start our businesses?" I told them, "Well, give me a business plan, your SWOT analysis, your pro forma, your operating agreement." They had no idea what I was talking about. I told them, "Do not start a business if you don't know what those things are. Just because you were a Navy SEAL doesn't mean you're going to succeed in business or anything for that matter. Check your ego at the door and realize the world owes you nothing because of your military career. The world doesn't care about that when you get out. You have everything inside of you to succeed. You're never going to quit. You have intrinsic leadership skills and your integrity knows no bounds. Those are going to be the things that help you succeed in business. But, just because you can untie your SCUBA tubes under water or hold a log over your head doesn't mean you are entitled to anything in the business world."
They understood that and responded really well so I went and talked to Ryan Miller who was a West Point grad, Ranger, lost his leg in combat, Harvard business guy, and a successful startup owner. We came up with the idea for Warrior Rising along with Joe Hilton who is a fantastic entrepreneur here in Utah. We became a one stop shop for veterans looking to break into business. We vet their business idea, vet their service record, and we give them a mentor that helps them create a business plan. We give them material that translates the military decision making process to a civilian business model. I went and got my MBA from BYU and I realized it was basically the same thing as an operations order. They are both extremely thorough plans that ensure you have thought through every contingency. All we had to do was change the terminology and it would make sense to military guys who'd never had business training before that. They come back to us and we give them economic assistance. We started out by just handing over money and we quickly learned that wasn't the best way to support these guys. It created an environment of entitlement and they really had no skin in the game. We needed them to understand that starting a business is always a risk. They needed to be completely invested in the idea in order to make it work.
Now with that, we want them to be successful so if their company doesn't succeed we don't take that money back. We don't ask for money back until they've reached a certain level of profitability. At Warrior Rising, we recruited a phenomenal board of directors that are all rockstars in their specific niches. Our new website is coming up soon and we really like what Kiva.org is doing with the micro-financing model. It's a brilliant strategy and nobody's ever adopted that model in helping veterans before. We are partnering with them and we are going to become essentially the only place where specifically veterans can go to crowdfund. We feel we have a very unique approach and nobody is quite doing it like we are when it comes to veterans. Since November 2016, we've raised over $400,000 and our goal $1 million by the end of the year. Our desire is to be a nationally known non-profit that does things the right way when it comes to veteran owned businesses. We want the model to not focus on “veterans” but to focus on the individual veteran. Individual success stories are a major part of this plan. We want people to be able to give money to an individual and not a nebulous group of faceless veterans, where donors don't know where their finances are going.
How are you going to go about making sure Warrior Rising maintains a certain standard and remains ethical in its approach?
JVC: Warrior Rising supporters need to be able to track their money and know where their money is going. They'll have skin in the game with the veteran they donate to. I didn't like the models of other veteran charities that turned into absolute disasters after making a certain amount of money. The founders of these non-profits were taking lavish vacations to the Bahamas and misappropriating funds at every turn. That's the last thing I want with Warrior Rising. These groups were blacklisted by the military when I was still active and I remember being furious about that. Then, I saw the nonprofits that were out there giving to Gold Star families. I thought that was fantastic. Then I saw how some of these charities exploited these Gold Star Families. They would ask them to stand up in front of an audience at some formal function and speak about how sad they are that their husband or father is gone. I thought about how I irate I would be from beyond the grave if my family was asked to stand up there in front of a group of people asking for money. It just looked like they were being exploited and I couldn't stand that. Ask the Gold Star Families for yourselves. Most of them never asked for nor do they need the help that some of these charities are giving them.
Then I talked to these wounded veterans that would go off on these hunting trips or veteran expeditions. Most of those guys have told me these trips are nice but they don't actually fix anything. They go off on these hunting trips and they come back to lives that are sometimes worse than when they originally left for the trip. I've had so many of those guys talk about that. The question always becomes, "Now what?" Wealthy donors who like to hunt take these veterans out on these hunting trips and it's another tax write-off for them, while the veteran comes back to a life that is even less appealing as before he left. I believe that charities should be looking to give someone a little bit of a boost so they can then help themselves. That's how I look at it.
If you were to give any struggling business owner advice what would you tell them?
JVC: To any struggling business owners I'd say, "Embrace 'the suck.'" You're going to go through some tough situations -- deal with it. And, don't just deal with it--open your arms and welcome it as you would an old friend. You know him well. Just when you think things couldn't get any worse, he shows up. "The suck," is here to make you tougher. He's a friend that arrived to make you better. Instead of complaining, celebrate the blessing that is the suck. If you're embracing the suck by yourself, laugh at how ridiculous the situation is. You are building your mental and physical toughness points. If you are embracing the suck with others, you've just made loyal employees for life. Embracing the suck in a group is a powerful bonding experience.
Talk about business ethics and if you were going to give advice to those stepping out of the military into a civilian career, what would you tell them?
JVC: If I was going to tell veterans coming out of the military and moving into the business world anything I'd tell them business is incredibly difficult. It's even harder than you think it is. If you're going to start a business you're going to need to commit to it 100% or not commit at all. You're not going to walk out of your career in the military and make a ton of money right away. It's just not going to happen that way. If you're going to start a business, grinding and being broke is a big part of that. It's doing all of those things for quite awhile before you're going to see any type of dividends. When those dividends come you're going to see some major ones if you've been working hard. You're going to be extremely successful if you do things the right way but it's definitely going to take some time.
You're going to have to grind and a lot of guys don't understand that. A lot of guys have families and after a year of starting that business their wives are complaining or on the flip side, their husbands are complaining. The spouse starts fighting them on the money side and so they take the easy way out and go for the desk job. You have to be 100% all in and your family has to be all in as well if you're ever going to be a thriving business owner. The next thing I'd say for guys starting a business is to humble yourselves. Don't just jump into things without doing the research. Get with Warrior Rising and ask for some help. You don't have all the answers. I can assure you of that. If multiple people tell you it's a stupid idea, don't say, "Screw them. I'm going to do it anyways." Listen to them and then look for mentorship from those who know the business.
Don't be a thief. There are so many thieves and it's actually really bad in the veteran community right now. There are so many people copying other people's ideas in this community and calling them their own. It's disgusting. Be a good dude and do the right thing. I've had so many dinners with guys who I thought were really cool and I told them insider information thinking it was alright. Literally the next day, they are taking things off of my website word for word and posting it on their own website. It's so disheartening when you see things like that. Don't focus on marketing too much either. That's certainly one important aspect of the business, but it's not the first thing you should be focused on. You need to have great content or you truly have no reason to market. Some veterans are out there thinking they're going to be the next Black Rifle Coffee Company and they truly just need to focus on being their own company. Be original. Focus on your content before you start telling the world how great you are. I know a lot of times you have to fake it until you make it, but there are too many guys out there acting much more successful than they actually are.
Talk about adaptability within the business world and remaining fluid. How do you handle adversity as a business owner?
JVC: Business is much about being comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s about not only managing your stress, but also controlling it. Most days it seems as though owning a business is nothing more than handling extreme adversity. At some point, you are going to say to yourself, "What else could go wrong?" We've all been there. Here's a trick: Find humor in the misery. When it's over, you are going to say, "It wasn't as bad as I thought it was."
Talk a little bit about your family and how important they are to what you're doing now.
JVC: I completely lucked out with my wife. I hit the jackpot when I married her. I've failed at a lot of things in life but if there's one thing I won't fail at, it's my family. I'm going to do everything I can to put my family first and make sure they're taken care of at all times. They always need to know how much I love them and how much I'll do for them. I remember being little and how my mom would talk to me about life and teach me a lot. One thing I remember she used to tell me was, "Jason, I don't care what you do in life. I will always love you no matter what. If you go to jail I'll be the first to break you out."
It meant so much to me as a son to know how much my mother loved me. I feel the same way about my family now. I'll always be there for them no matter what. It gives me so much confidence in my life to know they always have my back. It's simple for me. I just want them happy. In my short experiences being a husband, it's all about service. If you don't mind serving them, I feel like you'll always be happy. It's kind of counterintuitive nowadays because you're putting your wants, needs, desires second to theirs. By putting them first, it makes you truly happy. That's my experience at least.
Talk about what this day means to you being September 11th and do you remember where you were on this day?
JVC: I remember every bit of today. On September 11th, 2001 I was a recently commissioned officer at Ft. Sill in Oklahoma and going through the OBC (Officer Basic Course). We were in class learning about propellants, charges, and all sorts of random stuff. It was a bunch of mind-numbing field artillery information and one of the guys in our class named Jeff got a call on his cellphone. He kept leaving class and I remember the instructor was kind of getting on to him about his phone. The rumor started going around class that the World Trade Center was attacked. Everyone was kind of confused. Everyone went outside and there was this little coffee shop in our building. There was a TV in this coffee shop and it was on and they were showing the news. I remember the reporters were confused and I was thinking, "What a dumbass pilot. Some guy accidentally crashed into the World Trade Center." Then, I saw the second plane crash into the other tower. That moment completely shocked everyone. Everybody was really quiet.
Then, we started hearing about Washington D.C. being attacked and that was my hometown. Jeff's dad was in the Pentagon and his mom was calling him. I think the President came on after that talking about it being an act of terrorism. I remember hearing Osama Bin Laden's name after that just briefly. At that point, Officer Basic Course got real. We all started realizing, "Wow, we're going to combat. We're going to be fighting overseas." We finally felt a purpose in those classes. We all started talking about combat because up until that point we hadn't experienced even the thought of that. The people that taught us had never seen combat. They knew garrison, PT scores, training manuals. That's what they did. We were going to be the latest generation of warfighter and we realized it at that point. It was a very surreal moment. We were going into uncharted territory. I remember that anger being very real at the moment and the sadness for those who died. The shock settled and anger took over at that point. I also kind of wondered how I would've reacted if I'd been on one of those planes. I don't know what would've happened because I wasn't on the plane, but I hope I would've been leading the charge against those guys.
What was your youth like and what prepared you for the military and life outside of the military?
JVC: My childhood was phenomenal because I had incredible parents. My mom and dad were absolutely amazing. A lot of kids grew up embarrassed of their mom and dad but I always thought my parents were cool. Every time my mom recommended something to me I knew she was right. She was so awesome. My mom always had the answers. Even when I didn't agree with her, I knew it was always the right decision when she gave me advice. My dad was always very blunt and absolutely hilarious. He kind of gave me the tough love. I remember when I was in 8th grade and I was playing youth club football. I was bigger than most of my friends so I had to play in the 155 lb. league. There were a lot of high school kids that hadn't made the high school team so they were playing youth club. I remember I was a lot smaller than a lot of the guys because I was playing a level up in that league. I remember one game in particular my dad saying stuff like, "You pussied out. You were too scared to make that tackle." He completely tore into me but I knew he was right. I could handle it and he knew that. I learned to be tough as a kid.
I remember storytelling being a part of my childhood. I remember my uncles all sitting around a table and telling stories during the holidays. They had all these incredible stories and I remember wanting to contribute. I had nothing to share and I remember thinking, "One day I'm going to have more stories than all these guys." I lived my life that way. I want to collect stories and whenever I'm in a situation I always think to myself, "Is this going to be a good story?" If it is, I go after it. It leads me to risk a little more than most but it also helps me find humor in the mundane parts of life. Some of the most embarrassing experiences in my life turned into the most hilarious stories later in life. It's important to find humor in a lot of situations. My parents didn't discipline me all that hard which I guess didn't bode well for my time at West Point, but actually helped me in my time in the Special Forces world. My parents let me explore and learn my own way.
What's been the most therapeutic thing for you since getting out of the military?
JVC: One of the most therapeutic things for me since getting out is just staying busy. I stay actively engaged in good causes. That's been very therapeutic. I don't give myself time to sit, be bored, tell myself stories, and let those stories get out of control. Those stories turn into fallacies at a certain point where guys become their own worst enemies and that can turn into suicidal tendencies. You don't have time for those thoughts if you're busy. I'm busy with businesses and with my family. The second thing is to stay connected with a community of people you love. Stay close to the people in the military that you created bonds with. You'll find out that people in the civilian world don't get the military. And that’s ok. You shouldn’t expect them to. They don’t get it because they've never served. They don't understand your feelings. The guys you served with understand you. Stay connected with them. Sometimes when you're struggling and you think you're alone your buddies are going through the same thing. If you stay in touch with those guys, you'll truly never be alone.
I think what struck me most about this particular project was the leadership aspect. Jason's ability to take responsibility for a catastrophic event, whether he was or wasn't at fault, is truly one of the greatest internal qualities you could find in a great officer. It takes a man of courage to make good decisions in the heat of battle, but it takes an even more courageous man to live up to decisions made with deadly consequences. The ability to not only make tough choices but to take responsibility for those choices, is what makes the enlisted men under leadership truly believe in the master plan.
There's a fraternal bond in the brotherhood of those who've served our country. Those ties don't just end outside of the military society though. Often times, they extend themselves outside of the sphere, even in the business world as a model of ethicality and perseverance in union. Jason Van Camp's example is a powerful and straightforward model of honesty and the constant understanding of education. A truly great operator or soldier doesn't stop learning after their time in the military comes to a close. The military teaches the lifetimes skill-sets of humility, adaptability, and leadership.
Those skills are what makes the military's educations system such an incredible one. It's not the tangible assets of a soldier's education that necessarily translate into the civilian world. It's the common core principles and the intangibles that make our veterans the strongest in almost every sector. Jason Van Camp is another incredible example of those intangibles.
Check out Warrior Rising on Instagram: @wearewarriorrising, Facebook: Warrior Rising, Twitter: Mission6Zero, and online www.warriorrising.org. Check out Mission 6 Zero on Instagram: @mission6zero, Facebook: Mission 6 Zero, Twitter: @Mission6Zero, and online at www.mission6zero.com.