SFC (P) Daisson Hickel (Army Special Operations, OIF, OEF Veteran)
There is no doubt that some of America's most elite war-fighters have the most complexly diverse backgrounds. Raised by his Colombian immigrant mother in a small townhouse with up to ten other family members at a time, Daisson Hickel is an indelible example of the American dream embodied. It was precisely what Hickel was lacking in life that drove him to pursue the path of a Special Operations soldier. He knew his destiny was assured in something greater than himself, a unique path that nobody else could choose for him. Still, Hickel would be quick to tell you the road chosen wasn't without intermittent potholes and speed bumps. Struggles somehow only solidified his resolve though, and now he finds himself on the precipice of a dreamscape, owning a successful company in a still-active Special Operations role. Daisson, casually observed, is always pushing for something greater than himself, his vision never quite fulfilled in his own mind's eye. It's that echoing hunger pang that continues to drive him in his search for continual excellence, throughout both his life as a soldier and as a civilian.
The small source of calm you find in Hickel's life is also the nucleus of his ultimate happiness, his family. No matter what the aim of his pursuits, you will always find him placing his family at the center of his constantly-evolving universe. This actually makes his life walk even more admirable. No matter the stage of his quest, he remains true to his core values. Despite this seemingly frenetic journey, Hickel is also a prime example of the "30A Mentality." His home environment in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida fits his "live and let live" personality perfectly. The atmosphere of SRB is an almost denominational epicenter of communal kindness and the outdoor thrill-seeker. These compounded environmental/personality traits make up the perfect concoction of ferocious resolve and quiet grace grounded in an empathetic, fun-loving warrior. Although this introduction could most certainly continue on endlessly, we'll let Daisson take it from here.
Talk a little about life growing up and what shaped you into following the path of a soldier.
DH: I’ve had a job as long as I can remember. My mother cleaned homes to make a living for my younger brother and I. My father passed away from Diabetes when I was only five years old. I never had a stable male role model growing up that I could look up to. I just had to figure it out on my own. I guess I learned what I needed to by my mother and from the trials and errors growing up. I never took school very seriously, but I’ve always admired those who were self-made. At 12 years old I started my first business detailing cars on the weekends. At 16, I started working at a factory which made phone cards all while I was going to school. I would give my mother half of that I made to help make ends meet.
What do you remember about home and your family?
DH: My home was always chaotic. There was always someone living with us who was trying to establish themselves in the U.S. At any point, we would have about ten people living in a little three-bedroom townhouse. People would sleep where they could. My Aunt Gloria spent years sleeping on a thin comforter which she used as a mattress on the floor. By that time, the family was split between South Florida and Medellin, Colombia. The coffee pot was always brewing, and the kitchen was filled with commotions either from my mom beating my aunts in an intense game of Parcheesi or my aunt being over from down the street with the latest gossip. Family parties which lasted into the early morning were frequent. We didn’t have much, but we were wealthy in love and family. My mother spared no expense on my brother and I.
When did you join the Army and why specifically?
DH: I surprised my family and friends when I joined the military the summer after the twin towers fell. I left for Basic Training on August 13, 2002. I was never a jock or even very competitive. If I was honest with myself, I didn’t even join because of a deep sense of patriotism. I would say that pride came after coming home from Iraq. I grew up seeing my family struggle, but we made it work. Joining the military provided me with an opportunity to move up a rung in life.
How many times did you deploy and where?
DH: I deployed to Iraq once, Afghanistan three times, Colombia three times, Honduras once, Ecuador once, and Peru once.
What were your biggest lessons upon joining the Army?
DH: I once read a quote that said...
“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man that had no feet.”
I learned from my time in the military to complain less. I learned to be grateful for what I had. You see children in other countries playing in the streets with a soccer ball made out of yarn and twigs. They are perfectly content. At the same time, you also see your comrades missing limbs pushing the limits in the gym and that's absolutely inspiring. So, my biggest take away is that excuses are garbage. If you are content where you are, you’ve made it. But, if you desire to be more then go get it.
What do you enjoy most about being a soldier?
DH: This profession (soldiering) is one of extremes with high highs and low lows. I’ve spent my entire adult life in this game. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with being in combat. You become hyper aware. The aches and pains go away when the adrenaline becomes a factor. You become laser focused. You make shit blow up and when you get back you share in a round of hugs and high-fives. But, when you lose someone or someone gets hurt then that’s a different story. I don’t think we are meant to be that elastic. However, when I see the old timers from wars past get together and talk about what they through, experiencing loss with much higher numbers, it makes me appreciate this point of view. Seeing it from up-close, not from the TV screen or an article in the news is the best way to see it.
Talk a bit about selection and the process of becoming a Special Forces soldier. I want to know what that experience was like for you specifically.
DH: My curiosity about Special Forces began back in Iraq when we performed a mission in Al Quiam, a town by the Syrian border. As a young Specialist and M1 Abrams Crewman/M240 gunner, I was in charge of blocking a road going into the city. With little guidance, I guarded that road and made sure nobody went through. In the distance, I saw a Toyota Hilux approach. Guns were sticking out of all sides of the vehicle. By the look of these guys, they were not American Soldiers. They had beards and wore local garb. No one good I thought. I pulled the charging handle to my M240 and was prepared to stop these apparent insurgents where they stood. The closer I looked the less they appeared Iraqi. They drove right by my tank as I carefully released the charging handle forward. These guys looked like something out of Sons of Anarchy meets Lawrence of Arabia (laughs). It was an SF ODA from 10th Special Forces Group, and I knew that this tanker stuff I was doing at the time was not for me.
I came back wanting to know who the hell these guys were. I learned about how the SF Groups were regionally aligned. Each group took a piece of the globe and operated there. The exception was during wartime where everyone got a piece of it. Every Group eventually took their turn going to either OEF and/or OIF. I returned after 11 months in Iraq and knew I wanted to be a Green Beret. Unfortunately, I was not a scholar or an athlete. I've always had to work a little harder on PT and academics. After coming home from Iraq, I started getting ready for SFAS. I would ruck until my feet were raw. I took the advice from a very unreliable source who said the fastest way to get your feet ready was to wear your boots without any socks. I would tell you today that I wouldn't recommend that, not even to my worst enemy (laughs). I enjoyed having something challenging ahead of me. There was a mystery there. All I heard were the stories of the people that didn’t make it. I enjoyed the process. Nobody was there making sure you got your miles in for the week. It was just you.
Once at selection, I took it one event at a time. The first few days were psychological evaluations, personality tests, and IQ exams. It was followed by a chat with the phycologist to make sure I wasn’t outside of what they were looking for. It was October, which was the best time to go. Not too hot, just a little chilly, and enough to keep you going. I made it all the way through the 21-day selection. On the last day, I was notified that I was going in front of a board to hear the results. It struck me as odd since everyone else was celebrating when they got the news they made it. I, in fact, was a non-select. I went through this whole damn thing just to be told no. While in front of the commander and other committee members It was explained to me that I failed a basic high school level reading and arithmetic test that I took within the first few days. Of course, my excuse of being too tired was not going to cut it. What made matters worse, was that particular test could have been taken before coming where a good night rest would have done wonders. I was told to come back when I had “some college under my belt." I was furious and I came back the very next class.
Now January, the winter class, was a different story. It was brutally cold. I was not in the good graces of my chain of command back at 3rd ACR. They were ready to go back to Iraq, and I surprised them with another SFAS packet that they could not stop. I had to make it through selection or I was screwed. Even though I served in Colorado, going through selection in the winter stretched me to my limits. I remember waking up to my canteens frozen solid. Even though the second time around was tougher, I felt like it was meant to be. You have to pay for the outcomes of your actions or in their case your performance. Going back just made the prize that much sweeter.
What was your toughest mission while being in Iraq as a young soldier?
DH: I was with Maddog Company 3/3 ACR as a tank crewman. We pushed into Iraq behind 3rd ID who cleared the way for the rest of Coalition Forces to advance behind them. Unfortunately, I spent 11 months around Anbar Province going on presence patrols and manning traffic control points. There was plenty of fighting around the country. This was before freedom fighters from around the Middle East used Iraq as a playground. We got into a few firefights but nothing earth-shattering. Let me add that my platoon was caught in the middle of this phenomenon. The other two platoons in the company were in engagements almost nightly while we saw little. It wasn’t for a lack of trying either.
But the toughest would have to be a month-long operation Al Qiam, in Northern Iraq, close to the Syrian border. We spent our time cordoning the city while the infantry cleared through every home and structure. For 30 days, we stared at the desert. I will never forget that Thanksgiving, a Turkey MRE on my 6-hour guard shift. Not being a part of the fight was the toughest aspect of that first tour.
I remember one afternoon we were manning a roadblock. I noticed a Land Cruiser roll up towards our checkpoint. There were bearded men in local white garb and they were armed to the gills. I was 19 and didn’t have the slightest idea what to do. I pulled the charging handle of my M240 to the rear, ready to smoke these guys. As they got closer they didn’t look like any Iraqi I’d ever met. And, certainly not with the balls to storm a checkpoint but I wasn’t going to be wrong. They finally slowed down and gave me a thumbs up. I later found out they were Green Berets…and I wanted in.
What were the toughest parts of serving in a combat zone?
DH: The tragic loss of life is by far the worst part of serving in a combat zone. I will be the first to say that many others have had far worse experiences than I have. Watching our guys get killed or come back from being maimed leaves you with an empty feeling. It's my opinion that we might have it slightly better than those actually living in a combat zone. After serving a 6-18 month tour in hell we can come home where we are almost always placed on a pedestal. We are fortunate enough to live in an era that is overwhelmingly grateful for the military and the sacrifices we make. Thank God that we are lucky to not live in such despair, or to come home to a society that humiliates and dishonors us for serving overseas.
Can you recount any particular experiences in Afghanistan or Iraq where a mission went bad or you lost someone?
DH: The day where we lost Andrew Labosco was a tough day. A small contingent of my team 7**5 volunteered to assist our sister team 7**3 on an operation were enemy contact was inevitable. This is one of those ops where Murphy had taken the wheel, and everything went wrong. We infiled most of the night on our RG-31 where the dirt roads turned to moats. We finally reached the outskirts of the village in which we were planning a Key Leader Engagement (KLE) the next morning. Once at the assembly area, I found that the arming switch to the .50 cal machine gun from the gunner's control seat had become disabled. To my misfortune, the switch had malfunctioned in the "safe" position, and I couldn't engage from the safety of our armored MRAP. I worked it all night with a Gerber multi-tool and a headlamp. The next morning, I had no choice to man the machine gun from the top of the RG. From there I could see their 18D (SF Medic) Andy Lobasco. He was in the rear of the last vehicle.
Andy was a good guy who I knew from down the hall. I remember shooting the shit with him at the chow hall at FOB Price in Helmand. He was always so motivated and eager to get out and get to work. The morning after our INFIL we went to our planned link-up point in the village of Yakchal to conduct our KLE. We secured a perimeter, and I glanced over at Andy who was in the MRAP behind us taking rear security. I remember giving Andy a head nod, and he returned one with a stoic look on his face. The Team Leader came out and said that there were Taliban fighters around the corner just a few hundred meters away. As we rolled out, we immediately started receiving indirect fire. Mortar rounds were landing within 75 meters of our convoy. As the convoy moved further into the open area, we began receiving small arms fire from a vineyard. I saw the fighters maneuvering. We gave them everything we had. I looked over to Andy and watched as he sent over 40mm grenades with the MGLM. I followed those rounds with my .50 cal. That would be the last time I would see him alive. I remember seeing bodies running into my barrage. As I looked back at Andy, I saw the side of his vehicle painted in blood. Our medics responded, but there was nothing they could do. He took a round to the head. The 18D on my truck secured Andy’s body and got him ready for a MEDIVAC.
We were still in an active firefight. Andy’s best friend Tim (the Weapon Sergeant on his team) who was in the vehicle next to mine got my attention. He asked how Andy was doing. I looked down in the turret and just saw his feet below me. I shook my head. He was gone. The MEDIVAC finally came in to receive his body. I’ve never been as impressed with pilots as I was that day. They landed that Blackhawk helicopter in a hot LZ and took Andy away. I am always taken aback by those who will blindly put themselves in harm’s way to get one of their own, regardless of the circumstances. We finally made it back to FOB Price early that afternoon where the rest of the team was waiting for us. We immediately got to work. It was a collective effort to clean Andy’s truck as soon as possible. Later that night both teams came together to lower the flag in the camps courtyard. That was a rough day.
How do you get over that experience and move past those hard times?
DH: I don’t know how you get past the hard experiences. You just do. You keep going. Talking to someone helps for sure. But I am definitely aware of what doesn’t help. Some focus their energy on self-awareness and improvement. Others take it out in the gym. Some go in a dark hole where they drink themselves to sleep. Unfortunately, there are some where the pressure is too great and ultimately take their life. I’m not saying this to pass judgment, but to show that there is more going on in someone’s head then we realize. I believe that the American society, let alone the military, is plagued with a mental illness epidemic. We throw pills at the problem to mask the symptoms. Is it the close to two decades of war in multiple countries where now our children are now going to have to fight in? I don’t know. I was asked by my counselor after my first trip to Afghanistan how I was doing. She asked how I slept after describing a particular experience overseas. “I slept like a baby,” I said. "That's not normal,” she replied. I don’t know how people get through it. We just do.
What have been some of your greatest memories on deployments?
DH: Being on a team with some of the best people I have ever met, is my favorite part of deployments. To be in the grind together produces a bond that is like none other I have ever felt. Whether in combat or training, you develop this almost twisted sense of humor where there is little that is sacred. God help you if you show any sensibilities. The guys come from all walks of life. These walks of life are not necessarily better or worse, just different. I love my teammates like my brothers.
I remember Thanksgiving in 2009. We were in our VSO (Village Stability Operations) site in the middle of the Arghandab River Valley just outside Kandahar, Afghanistan. We constructed the entire camp with the expertise of everyone on the team. Our medic, Jason, built a full kitchen to include a fully operational oven made out of sandbags and roofing tin. We made a full Thanksgiving dinner which rivaled anything I’ve ever had back home. I looked down the table at 13 Americans who were sharing a turkey dinner with our Afghan partners. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. Despite being away from my wife and kids, these guys were my family.
Talk about what being a Green Beret means to you and more specifically, 7th Special Forces Group.
DH: I grew up listening to family stories about Colombia in the 80’s and early 90’s when Pablo Escobar, drug cartels and the ruthless insurgent groups like the FARC and ELN ran rampant. Even though much of my family moved to the US during that time, many stayed back. 7th Special Forces Group had a legacy in there helping the Colombian government fight against these insurgent groups by providing training and even advised decision makers on the ground. Our accomplishments there have become our success story for Special Forces, considered a model to duplicate in other war-torn countries. I dreamed of going back and helping in the process. I felt that this was my calling.
After graduating the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC or just the Q course) I was assigned to 765 (later the number sequence changed to 7235). They just arrived from Afghanistan where they lost the team sergeant, Thomas Moholic, and their senior medic Brandon O’Connor who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for heroically low crawling, without body armor, through an open area to get a fellow American. The team member later died from wounded sustained during the battle. So here I was as the new guy. Now the team was headed to Colombia. I didn’t pick up that they so much cared about my romantic vision of going “God’s Work” in South America. They just came back from a taxing deployment and were ready to unwind. I left two weeks after my daughter Sofia was born.
Because I was fluent in Spanish I was embedded with a RECCE team from their Tier 1 CT Unit-the BACOA. This was during the time when 3 American hostages were held by the FARC. It was almost 5 years at that point. Despite everything else we were doing, we were ready to react to get those hostages back home. I was able to travel around Colombia to assist our counterparts training before they went out on their deployment cycle. We trekked through the jungles of the Amazon where I ate my first “Gusano." It was a fat white worn with a black head that lived in the base of the palm tree. The Colombian commando who invited me to take part of this delicacy said there are two ways to eat it, with the head or without the head. As he handed this very much alive and moving marmot, I quickly threw it in my mouth (head and all). It wasn’t bad and tasted almost like pineapple. The texture was more like gushers.
We left that deployment after five months. Shortly after, the Colombian military flawlessly executed Operation Jacues where they deceived members of the FARC and liberated American and Colombia hostages by disguising themselves as an NGO who would take the FARC members to Venezuela. Months later I was able to meet one of the hostages including Tom Howes. My time in 7th SFG has brought me some awesome experiences which provided me the opportunity to teach and be taught by some incredible human beings.
If you could tell a civilian one thing to change their perception of war, what would that be?
DH: The only perception that I would change is that people remember that men and women volunteer to go over and fight or support the fight. Politics will always be involved, but we go over to They were not forced or drafted. They made a conscious decision to help defend. On the other side of the coin, I do hope there comes a day where our military come home. This is a strange era. I joined the military during war time. I will leave the military under those same conditions. No other time in American history has the U.S. service member has been asked to do so much. Sending in ground troops should always be a last resort.
What does leadership mean to you and what’s your particular style of leadership?
DH: I follow a few simple ideas about leadership. Be the example. There's a foundational piece where your character defines the caliber of leader you are. Know what you're talking about. If you are going to be an authority in your field know what you're talking about. Credibility is everything. Lead from the front. Take the lead and others will follow in your footsteps. I like to trust in my guys. I tend to give very little guidance and trust them to complete the task they are asked to do. Unfortunately, this doesn't work for everyone. Your leadership style needs to be proportionate to the subordinate. At any given time on a team you might need to give more guidance to some of the younger guys then you would the senior members. Your level of mentorship is tailored to the individual. The beauty of being on a 12-man detachment is that you have strength in numbers. Your senior NCOs should be reinforcing what you are preaching to the team.
At what point did you decide to become a business owner?
DH: I’ve always wanted to be a business owner. I started detailing cars at 12 years old. When I graduated high school, I wasn’t being called to go to college. I joined the military with the intentions of doing my four years and getting out. As my time was getting closer to retirement from the military I knew I didn’t want to be stuck chasing contract jobs that would send me away from my family. I wanted to carve my own path. I wanted to call the shots. If this fails it’s because of me. If it succeeds, it’s because of me. That's a scary thing but at the same time it's ultimately motivating as hell.
Who were your biggest mentors in deciding to follow that path?
DH: I’ve been exposed to some amazing entrepreneurs. I've always seen these guys as unapologetically authentic. I’ve never told them directly how much they have influenced me from afar. Jeff Archer is the founder and owner of YOLO Paddle Boards in Santa Rosa Beach, FL. I ran into Jeff when I was heading out on a run at a local trailhead. His personality is welcoming and his “Pura Vida” attitude is contagious. His idea of building a brand around the people rather than making a product into a commodity really resonated with me. He organizes group trail bike rides and "SUP meet-ups" free of charge. Yolo Boards engages with the community and makes them feel as though they belong. Then, when these same people are ready to buy a paddleboard they know who to go to.
Carl Churchill founder of Alpha Coffee Company (formerly, Lock-n-Load Java) is a true patriot who hasn’t forgotten about his roots as an officer in the Army. He keeps pushing his staff to be warriors in whatever they do. He started his military-inspired coffee brand before many of the others. One aspect about Carl that really stuck out to me was that he represents his company with class. Even though he no longer wears the uniform he still presents something greater than himself. Carl also impresses me with how much he gives back to the military community. He sends out more coffee to deployed troops than any other coffee company I know of. Carl has gone out of his way to invite me into his store to show me a lot of behind the scenes in his day to day operations. There is a trend happening in small business today where people matter more than the products they're selling. I believe if that isn’t one of your company’s top priorities then you risk falling by the wayside. One main thing that these two influential entrepreneurs have in common, is that that embody their brand with authenticity and humility.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned in being a creative and what would you tell other veterans that want to be creatives in the industry?
DH: I have a tendency to pull the trigger (figuratively of course) on instinct rather than fully thinking about something. I’ve made many mistakes with my company because I was rushing in too fast on certain projects. If I can give two pieces of advice to other vets who are inspired to start their own business they would be 1. Be patient when it’s time to be patient, but move when it’s time to go. 2. Surround yourself with people smarter than you. This is a journey that I will be on for a long time.
What would be your biggest lessons for those looking at getting into business ownership?
DH: The biggest lesson I’ve learned since starting my own business has been that research is paramount. I've made some very costly mistakes. These mistakes have led to significant setbacks. But, learning from these mistakes puts money back in the bank. I have a unique opportunity where I am experimenting with The Java Can and my other company Up South all while still serving in the military. This allows me to take a few more calculated risks because of that income. When the time comes in a few years and the uniform is permanently hanging in my closet, then it's go time. That's why mentorship is so important in the early stages, so that the foundation is set for you to move forward.
What’s been your coolest military accomplishment?
DH: Leading a team in a combat operation is hands down the biggest accomplishment in my career. My team sergeant had returned home to be there for the birth of his child. During that time, we were planning a mission in a very volatile area controlled by the Taliban. I was handed the team while the team sergeant went home for a few weeks. I've accomplished everything I have set out for in my career. Leading ODA 7225 was the pinnacle.
What’s been your coolest personal accomplishment?
DH: Leading 4 amazing little women through life while in the military has been my greatest accomplishment yet. Obviously, my interaction at this point is minimal compared to their mothers. Since my time with them is so short, it is also very valuable. I try to make it the most impactful.
What’s your relationship with Warrior Rising?
DH: I quickly realized that if I was going to start a business, I was going to have a huge learning curve. Warrior Rising has helped me with resources to make sure I am successful. My company, The Java Can, is a featured business with Warrior Rising. They're a one-stop shop for veterans who want to be an entrepreneur. For me, after almost 2 decades of taking orders in the military, starting my own business gave me the freedom to control my future.
How important is it to receive help from a company like Warrior Rising?
DH: There is a value in asking for help. What I like about Warrior Rising is that they don’t throw money at your company. I find it challenging in the fact that I am not a businessman. These are a whole new set of skills that has to be learned and brought on through mentorship.
Talk about your company now and what you’re looking to accomplish through The Java Can?
DH: I started the Java Can in 2013 while deployed to Afghanistan. I jumped on the idea because I was afraid someone else would act on it first. I took the leap of faith. I initially intended to make some money off the idea at face value. The Java Can makes a great gift for the person for that person who has everything. But when I started looking at coffee production around the world, I found that there was a story there worth telling. Many of this coffee producing countries are dead smack in the middle of a conflict zone. I just arrived back from working in Colombia. If you ask what crop Colombia is known for its either coca or coffee. Colombia had come from a bloody history of narco-terrorism and political violence. I am currently digging to see how coffee has transformed many of these communities away from drugs and violence into something they can be proud of.
What do you think has prepared you the most for your position as a business owner?
DH: I can attribute many aspects of the military to my role in business. Leadership, discipline, focus are all traits required to be successful in business. But one very practical skill that I've realized is the ability to plan. I believe military planning is an extremely useful way to plan a business venture. If you look at your business as a battlefield and use military concepts to attack your objectives, you will find military planning is a fantastic tool to develop your company. On the deployments, we use the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP) to plan our operations. My partners and I use the same process just by switching out some military jargon with business terms.
What are your goals with the Java Can and Java X?
DH: My goal for Java X is to combine Coffee with Adventure. I'm looking to transition my current company, The Java Can, from a one product business and rebrand as a lifestyle brand. My focus with Java X is to bring people together through coffee and the outdoors. This means people who would not necessarily find a common thread. I am using coffee as that common thread. The secondary objective of Java X is to expand the view of coffee from the perspective of the people producing it. So many people go to their local coffee shop without realizing what had to happen to get that drink in their hand. So much of coffee production happens in countries that are either war torn or have been through a significant time of conflict. My team and I are working towards having our products make a difference in either giving back to a need or sharing a point of view that wasn’t realized before.
How important have your experiences been as a Special Operations soldier in growing you as a man?
DH: I grew up with my mother playing the part of both parents. I feel I missed out on a lot in my developmental years. Luckily for me, I had mentors in the Army and Special Operations to guide me through my 20’s and early 30’s. These attributes include being assertive, being a leader and standing up for what’s right. But much of these lessons has been done by trial and error. Furthermore, I would say being in the military has made me a better human being. None of the lessons I’ve learned in my time spent in the military are lessons that I'd hold back from my daughters. I hope to pass the baton forward and I hope my kids grow up better people than their parents.
Can you talk about the nature of business around 30A and why the community is such a tight knit one?
DH: 30A is a historic coastal highway in Santa Rosa Beach located in the panhandle of Florida between Panama City Beach and Destin. This 24-mile road passes through smaller towns and picturesque beaches, each with their own vibe and personality. Seaside is probably one of the better know towns along 30A after the movie "The Truman Show" was filmed there. With the sand being powder white and the water a crystal green, its most appropriately referred to as the Emerald Coast. SRB is a popular vacation destination for a great part of the southeast with a laid-back vibe. My good friend Mike Ragsdale, founder of the 30A Company, has done an incredible job marking this place. Known for its laid-back lifestyle, 30A is now known all over the world as a premier Florida destination. Mike developed a brilliant marketing scheme to promote the area by giving away millions of 30A bumper stickers. I’ve seen these stickers in most states and I've found a few overseas. Mike also added a unique touch by buying an ex-military Land Rover Defender from the UK. He hit up social media and allowed his followers to give him recommendations on how it should look. It was actually the 30A community that finally gave this iconic Defender its' name, Truman. Truman is arguably the most photographed Land Rover Defender in the world. Many other companies in Santa Rosa Beach jumped on the lifestyle branding by promoting the area as well. By doing this, it helps all the companies around the area really benefit during the spring and summer months. I'm proud to call this place home.
How important is family in everything you do?
DH: My family is the reason I get out of bed. We're on this journey together. Just taking them along on the ride is such an important part of my life. Hopefully, we’ll all learn a thing or two on the journey.
What would you tell veterans about accepting help when we’re kind of a reluctant group when it comes to that?
DH: I started the first few years with the Java Can by purchasing the components for the kit on credit. When it comes to asking for funding, that's where I had to rewire my thinking. I’ve never had to ask anyone for money. I’ve been successful thus far doing things on my own. Maybe that’s my ego talking but that’s how it is in the military. You make it work with what you have. What Warrior Rising has taught me is that requesting funds from sponsors and investors is a requirement for being successful in business. I have learned through my mentors that in order to make your company grow you need cash. Cash is king. I also had to change the way I asked. You are not begging for money. You’re asking for support. Get them to say yes. Show how your business plan will make money and capitalize on that impression. Show them that you're passionate in what you’re doing.
What’s “Live Life Charged” meant to you as a motto and how do you employ that mantra?
DH: "Live Life Charged" first came about as a way to symbolize my time in Afghanistan when I would climb the mountains on our firebase at sunrise. Bust your ass to the top, and once you get there, sit back and enjoy the view. This would become the branding for my business. I carried this philosophy throughout my travels to see places beyond the tourist traps.
How do you hope people remember you and your legacy?
DH: I hope my legacy reaches beyond me as a Green Beret. My greatest desire is to be seen as a humanitarian and as a bridge builder.
The quote used pre-introduction is a reference to the attitude and sheer determination exhibited by men like Daisson Hickel. It's hard to comprehend the unmitigated resilience and motivation necessary to make it into the world of Special Operations unless you've been a part of the process. Just imagine that space where the time and training requirements are beyond any other job description in the military. Compound that with family and an upstart business. Hickel is truly a prime example of a harrowing work ethic driven by the willpower of a man on a mission. A child of an immigrant is forced to hammer and forge his own destiny in order to form a better future. There is a beautiful arc in the story where a young Colombian kid realizes his dreams, yet still finds newer even more illustrious goals. This ambition is a fundamental paradigm of the American dream, and the ability to develop that dream into something even greater than the foundational visual. We'd like to thank Daisson Hickel for being a part of the project and sharing his life in such an open format.
Check out his company on Instagram: @thejavacan, Facebook: The Java Can, and at the Website: www.thejavacan.com.