For as long as we’ve celebrated the passing of years, the beginning of a new one has always been a time for reflection and change. It’s a chance to take a step back and look at where we are, how far we’ve come, and where we intend to go. For me, the start of 2020 means more than making resolutions and struggling to write the date properly (I guarantee I’ll be writing 2019 until February); this first day of January also marks a new professional endeavor. As of today, I’m the new editor for Sandboxx.
That certainly covers the change, so how about a bit of reflection? My road to Sandboxx started, very literally, over thirteen years ago, on April 17, 2006. That’s the day I stepped off the bus and onto the yellow footprints of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. After a year or so of training, my next stop was a lovely little stretch of land just beyond where the Mojave and Colorado Deserts meet known as Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, or just 29 Palms, as we tend to call it. I’d always seen myself as a writer, but during my tenure in 29 Palms, I lost sight of writing in favor of competition; first, earning a starting position on the base’s Best of the West champion football team two years in a row, and then by joining the Marine Corps’ first-of-its-kind mixed martial arts team, Fight Club 29.
Before long, I’d signed another contract that sent my little family to the 25th Marine Regiment out of Fort Devens, Massachusetts. It was there, serving on the active duty staff of a reserve unit, that I found my way back to writing. In fact, it was a piece I wrote during a deployment to Mozambique, Africa that would eventually land me my first professional writing job (some years later). Unfortunately, the years of football, martial arts, and deployments soon proved to be more than my decidedly banged up joints could handle, and after six surgeries over the span of just a few years, Uncle Sam decided he was tired of sewing me back together. At 28 years old, I was medically retired from service.
Fortunately for me, this great nation offers veterans a number of programs to help them make the transition out of service and into civilian employment a bit easier, and before I knew it, I was back in school–this time with a renewed sense of purpose, a far stronger work ethic, and a clear objective. I graduated from Framingham State University in just two and a half years, thanks to some transfer credits from the Marine Corps. I even managed to get “summa cum laude” written on my diploma in fancy letters. From there, it was on to graduate school, where my newfound passion for writing and academia allowed me to earn another diploma in just about 18 months.
It was near the end of my tenure with Southern New Hampshire University’s graduate school that I applied for a position at a prominent military news outlet, using pieces I’d written in service, including one from Mozambique, as my portfolio. They liked my pitch and gave me a chance to write one piece for their site. It went well and I was asked for another, and then another, and before I knew it, I’d found my way into the role of staff writer, and then senior staff writer, and a bit further down the road, editor. Over the past few years, my work has been published on a number of websites like Business Insider, SOFREP, We Are the Mighty and more, as well as magazines like Popular Mechanics. I’ve gotten the opportunity to run and grow small websites dedicated to niches within the military sphere like aviation and defense technology. I’ve had my work referenced by senators in open hearings, interviewed movie stars and celebrities, and met legitimate American heroes like Delta Force legend George E. Hand IV. Heck, George even sent my little family a gift when my daughter was born.
The thing is, I’d love to take all the credit for what I’ve managed to accomplish thus far, but I know better. I’ve always benefited from support from my family, a great team around me, and some really good luck. And it was that luck, coupled with my experiences in service and as a writer, that got me here.
A few months back, I received a message from a guy named Sam Meek. He told me Sandboxx was looking for someone to help grow their blog into a site that’s dedicated to service members and their families; a digital destination free of the politics and drama that permeate the media landscape, where our focus could be on being a resource for our audience and a positive voice in the world. That idea, that challenge, was exactly what I’d long been looking for. Sam Meek and the team at Sandboxx offered me a chance to serve a community that serves us, to engage with service members and their families in a way I never could in any previous role… and in the spirit of New Year reflections, to get back to my roots as a Marine and a husband.
Over the past few months, I’ve gotten to know a few members of the Sandboxx team, like Nicole Utts, Shane McCarthy, and the aforementioned Sam Meek. I even had the honor of having a brief phone conversation with Major General Ray L. Smith, a man that not only served his country with distinction for 34 years, but that founded this company alongside Sam. Throughout our conversations and e-mail interactions, one thing has become clear: this company’s focus is on the end user–the service member and their families. Sandboxx was born out of the idea that it could be easier to get correspondence to members of our armed forces while they’re in training or in theater, but it has thrived because of the sincere aim of being a benefit to our customers, the men and women that are making sacrifices on our behalf each day. As great as my interactions with these folks have been, it was their dedication to honoring those who serve, not the friendly banter, that made me certain this was where I wanted to be.
I’ve done some pretty cool things over the years, but as I sit here on the cusp of 2020, I’m confident that the best is yet to come.
Here’s to a new year, a new adventure, and a renewed sense of gratitude for those serving our country at home and abroad. Most importantly, here’s to you.
With the utmost respect and gratitude,