Before Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner jumped into the meat of his topic on this edition of Rule Breaker Investing, he shared a surprising love with the audience -- the Olympics. It's not actually the games he necessarily got mentally involved in, but the chatter around them, including endorsing a funny suggestion from a very famous comedic actor. Gardner also shares his thoughts on how one competition ended, and his dislike for what happened.
Most of this episode, however, centers around the time Gardner spent with the five branches of the United States Armed Forces as part of the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC). Not a conference in the traditional sense, the program exists to teach civilian leaders like Gardner the capabilities, culture, history, and present-day operations of the U.S. armed forces.
A transcript follows this video.
This podcast was recorded on August 24, 2016
David Gardner: Welcome back to Rule Breaker Investing. I'm David Gardner -- a changed David Gardner this week -- as I will be spending some time talking [about my last] week. Before I get into my main topic, though, I do want to mention how much I enjoyed some of the Olympics. I didn't watch a lot of the Olympics.
Maybe it's as much that I enjoyed commentary about the Olympics. For example, there was a great tweet by Bill Murray, the comedian, saying, in effect, that every single Olympic event should be required to have one average person who's competing right alongside the athletes, just for context. I really love that idea. I don't think it's going to happen anytime soon, but brilliant. I did see the end of the soccer for the gold-medal ending, once again, in a shoot-out. Not the way any sport should ever end, in my opinion.
By the way, one of the things we do at The Motley Fool is we top it, so you can't just criticize. It's not enough just to criticize. You have to have a better idea. So this idea has been floating around for years, now. My good friend here at The Motley Fool, Todd Etter, is the one who shared it with me, and it might have some of Todd's stamp on it.
It's basically that, when we hit overtime, every three, four, or five minutes we should just pull one player off the field for each of the teams. So 11 on 11 becomes 10 on 10. Becomes nine on nine. As it keeps going, people are getting exhausted. Eight on eight. Incredibly dramatic and staying within the flow of the real game and not some artificial, half-cocked "everybody take a shot at whoever hits more" at the end of a long, grueling match. Not the way, again, to end any sport, to me, especially for a gold medal. But enough of that.
So in the past week, as I heralded last week, I have had a remarkable experience, and that is to be a member of the JCOC. Now that is an acronym. My week was full of acronyms, because it was spent with the military, with the five American U.S. armed forces. JCOC is an acronym for the unwieldy phrase, "Joint Civilian Orientation Conference."
Now, if "conference" makes you think about something that has a keynote speaker, and is at a lovely place -- let's go with Scottsdale, Arizona -- for a few days, rubbing elbows with industry people, that is not what this kind of conference is. In fact, the JCOC was held for the 86th time this past week.
It's a program that's [been run] for about 45 years, I believe. It is from the U.S. Department of Defense. It is Ash Carter, the Secretary of Defense. It is his program, and it is there to acquaint civilians -- people like me -- with the capabilities, culture, history, and present-day operations of the U.S. armed forces. As we were reminded throughout the week, we're paying their bills, so we, as taxpayers, had an incredibly amazing look at the U.S. armed forces -- all five of them. Again, they are the Air Force, the Army, the Coast Guard, the Marines, and the Navy, in alphabetical order. And over the course of the last week, I was privileged to spend about one full day with each of those.
And what I'm going to share with you this week is just going to be the top 10 things that I saw or did in the past week. The truth is, having just got back from this experience, I'm still processing it, so I think I'm going to spend a little time next week. Just reflect a little bit more on it with some learnings, and some things I hope you and I can take away from the experience that I had, partly on your dollar. And so I'm hoping to pay it back. I'll pay it forward a little bit next week. We'll also do some Mailbag next week to preserve the tradition of the Mailbag at the end of every month. So this is JCOC 1. Next week will be JCOC 2.
Before I start this list of my top 10, starting with number 10, I do want to again thank Ash Carter, the U.S. Secretary of Defense. It is an amazing program. The Department of Defense fully pays for it, and the opportunity that I had with 39 or so other civilians, drawn from around the country over the last week, was unforgettable, and something I'll always be grateful for. I also want to thank the person who really oversees the program, and that is Peter Cook, the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. He's also the Pentagon Press Secretary. He has two hats that he wears.
Peter was, in fact, a year behind me in high school. He had the misfortune, from my standpoint, of having graduated from Duke University, but other than that, I really appreciate Peter. The truth is that those two gentlemen, and so many other men and women over the last week, added lots of value to the lives of the 39 or so people who were part of the JCOC.
No. 10: So without further ado, No. 10. Again, the top-10 things that I saw, heard, or did in the past week. No. 10 was, we spent one afternoon that first day, Monday, at Quantico, which is a marine base located right near Washington, DC. And among other experiences that day, toward the end of the day, we had an opportunity to meet Joe Shusko. Joe is a retired lieutenant colonel of the Marines, I believe. I hope I have these titles right. He is a present-day -- as a retired gentleman -- instructor for the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. The acronym -- because there are always acronyms in the military -- is kind of a fun one. It's MCMAP.
So I didn't know -- maybe you do. I know we have Marines actually listening to this podcast, so you know much more about this than I do, but I'm here to share it out to all those others who don't know as much about this. Every single Marine is trained in martial arts. It's a six-month program. You're expected to start and get your tan belt. You can go higher from there, up to black belt. It is not a specific type of martial art. It's mixed martial arts. But every single Marine, male and female, has this experience where they learn martial arts.
And to have especially heard from Joe Shusko how he trains the Marines, how he thinks about it, and in particular, his emphasis not on physicality, but on character, is something that I will always remember. The things that he said. This is a guy who does speak publicly -- you could probably invite him to speak to your organization -- about values. About core values. Because that's something very important to every Marine, but especially within the MCMAP program. It is as much about teaching 14 core values that all Marines think about every day with the help of this program as it is learning karate chops.
Joe Shusko has a book. I'm going to plug it here, and I bought it myself as a consequence of this trip. It's called Tie-Ins For Life, because Shusko, as he teaches martial arts, is teaching character, and as he teaches character, he specifically draws on stories that he has accumulated over the course of his career. He ties into every point he makes a story to help these young marines learn and remember. And as it turns out, this older, non-marine really appreciates how he thinks about life, and I would highly recommend you take a look at that book if this seems something that might be helpful to you. I have already enjoyed reading the first couple of chapters of it.
So that was No. 10. Just learning about the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, but then specifically getting to meet and hear from a very animated, classically hard-core but character-driven good guy, Joe Shusko -- I think his nickname around the marines is actually Joe Marine -- was definitely a highlight.
No. 9: No. 9 was the next day. It was Tuesday, August 16 when I got to do something I've never done in my entire life, and that is spend half of a day with the U.S. Coast Guard. You know, a lot of us think, when we think of armed forces, of probably the Army or the Marines (or the Navy or the Air Force, depending on who you are), and I know that anybody who's been in any of those enjoys friendly rivalry with the others and would be surprised that I didn't mention them first.
The Coast Guard, though, often doesn't get thought of in the same regard, and it's partly because the Coast Guard actually has more of a law enforcement function for Americans. They are out there patrolling our coasts. If you're an American, they're keeping you safe, especially if you live near the coast. Frequently they're just out there pulling people out of the ocean who have fallen out of or sunken their own boats, so there's a big "save lives" component.
For those who serve in the Coast Guard everyday, they are, of course, also interdicting drug dealers and all kinds of stuff happening south of Florida, which is where I found myself that particular afternoon just being able to learn more about the Coast Guard and the efforts that they make to keep us safe.
They're on a beautiful Coast Guard Cutter. It was the [USCGC] Joshua Appleby. An afternoon that had encroaching thunderstorms dramatically playing off behind us. Watching 29- and 45-foot boats go through the motions of showing how they interdict smugglers was really impressive to me. So congratulations to all those in the Coast Guard. I have more appreciation for you now, and I think, yes, you can stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the other four armed services.
I also had a really wonderful conversation with the Vice Admiral of the Coast Guard back up here in Washington, DC, Sandra Stosz. Sandy spent lunch with a small group of us, and what an intelligent and charming leader the Coast Guard has in Sandy Stosz.
No. 8: No. 8 was getting to be up close to an F-35. Now the F-35 is the latest, greatest single-seat, single-engine stealth fighter jet -- strike jet... I think I have some of my terms right here -- that is being deployed and tested right now by both the Air Force and the Navy. This is a very expensive plane. Each one of these planes costs about $100 million of your and my money if you're a U.S. taxpayer. And the overall program costs about $1.5 trillion. That's estimated through the year 2070.
This is really the newest stuff and something that will be around for a long time as these programs tend to last. And just being up close to one was a real highlight. They're smaller than I thought -- just for a single pilot. But these are jets that play many different roles. And while I didn't have an opportunity to ride in this particular aircraft, I'll be mentioning a bit later some of the others I did get to ride in.
I was highly enamored of it, and clearly, both the Air Force and the Navy are really excited about this aircraft. It was cool to see the F-35 Lightning II -- I think that's the official name that Lockheed Martin has put on this jet. And I'll mention a little later one other experience I had with it.
"Ad: This podcast is sponsored by Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans."
No. 7: That brings me up to No. 7. Now, No. 7 is about guns. I realize there are lots of people listening right now who have very different feelings about guns. Some of us wish that there were no guns in the world, and some of us believe that being able to carry a gun is a fundamental human right.
Just so you know, I'm kind of in between where you all are. I am not anti-gun at all. I recognize, certainly, that they have really important roles to play, both in the military -- which is where I was last week -- and for our law enforcement officers.
At the same time, I recognize that lots of horrendous things have happened because of guns. We're seeing it every day in this country. You'll hear stats like a gun in a house is 80 times more likely to be used on someone in that house than on any intruder. Of course, unfortunately, crazy people get ahold of guns and do really bad things, and have in highly publicized ways in the United States of America for the last decade plus.
So my experience of guns probably came down to summer camp, about 40 years ago in Maine, where I lay down on the ground. I don't think I really ever got up from the prone position. I wasn't particularly good at firing a gun. If you were good back in those days at summer camp -- and I'm sure some of you know this -- you'd start in a prone position, and then you'd eventually get up to a kneeling or sitting position, and then up to a standing position if you were a good marksman. I was never particularly one. I'm not a hunter. I haven't spent much time with guns in the past.
However, having the opportunity to fire an M16 at the Marine Quantico base, or with the Army at Fort Bragg, North Carolina -- an M4A1, an MP5, the submachine gun on automatic, a Glock pistol -- and just shooting at targets, sometimes 100 or plus yards' distance, like it was at summer camp with paper targets. It's dummies that when you hit them, they flip down and then slowly lurch back up, letting you know that you got a hit I enjoyed. It was an enjoyable experience just like any sport for me.
I will note that the improvements in technology that now give you a red laser dot through your sight -- boy, does that make me a better marksman than I would be otherwise. So I'm one of those video gamers who's played any number of games where I'm shooting guns. This time, I was doing it for real -- seeing how they train, and learning about that. I walked away neither particularly pro-gun nor particularly anti-gun. Probably slightly more pro-gun than I had been before, but really understanding that guns used in the military make a huge amount of sense, and we want the best ones we can.
Guns used by law enforcement -- the same thing from my standpoint. I much prefer when Tasers are used by law enforcement, which is why one of our Rule Breakers stock picks that's done pretty well recently, is Taser. By the way, Taser has done pretty well, not because of Tasers, per se, but because of body cameras, which has been an important and growing market -- and for good reason -- here in the United States of America.
No sermons here, as I close No. 7. I think, at the end of the day, for gun control, we really need to make sure that, when people buy a gun, that we are enforcing who really can do it and what they're allowed to buy. When that's really done well, it becomes just like other things that are done well in our society, like who has a driver's license and who doesn't.
From that standpoint, I understand people who appreciate their guns. Retired military who want to be hunters. I'm not one of them. I'm not going to be that person. But I emerged with somewhat of a more balanced view than I probably went in with.
No. 6: No. 6 was that, on Thursday of last week I had the opportunity to spend a full day at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. This was with the Army Special Forces. The U.S. Army has many capabilities we saw on display. Our day kicked off after a briefing from Gen. Kenneth Tovo, who oversees the United States of America's Special Operations Command.
We were escorted outside to stand in the square just outside that central Fort Bragg building, and we saw members of the Black Daggers Army Paratroopers drop down, right in front of us, with perfect landings. But really what jumped out to me, most of all that day, was an opportunity to watch U.S. Special Forces practice and train the equivalent of assaulting a building if there were a terrorist in that building -- seeing how they land.
This was all real life here in a Black Hawk helicopter. This was a demo that included real bullets and real bombs -- landing on the building and dropping off the guys. This 12-man team -- and yes, they pretty much are all men, although women are now allowed in. It's been opened up so that women can try out and become part of the Special Forces. I don't think anybody has, yet, but I'm sure that barrier will be broken at some point.
These guys, each of whom has a specialist role in the 12-man team, cross-train so that they're all capable of doing medical procedures. To see how they do what they do -- if you've seen the movie Zero Dark Thirty about the bin Laden takedown, you know how these guys operate, and what it sounds like and what it looks like.
They told us the only difference between what we saw that afternoon and real life is that it was being done in the afternoon. The Black Hawk helicopter pilot would normally be using night vision, and it would all be done under the stealth of darkness. But in this case, we were able to watch it in the light of day, and hear how they communicate with each other, and the work that they do.
They simulated one casualty -- a guy who needed a tourniquet. He was not killed. He was just badly [hurt]. They actually had, again, a real Army Special Forces guy have an IV put in him, bleeding, so it was all real. It was simulated, but very real for him. It was amazing to watch that, as well as an urban assault, where we stood up above a facility looking down on a room. It was kind of a top-down view.
Again, I can't help but think of video games. It's like you're playing the video game of a top-down view of a building watching Special Forces move through it. Again, this was with live ammo and real bombs, so that's why we were up above it and had to be off to the left -- not the right -- for one particular room so we didn't get hit by shrapnel.
But seeing the work that those people do -- for them not every day, but often multiple times over the course of their military deployment -- was eye-opening, and something that is really, truly, I think, keeping us safe in the United States of America every day. Ways that we don't even fully know No. 6.
No. 5: Number five were the different briefings that we got from leaders starting the very first night of the JCOC program, when we had the second-highest-ranking military officer, Gen. Paul Selva. He is the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I really appreciated what Gen. Selva told us that night.
He said, "Over the course of your next week, it's going to be very special for all of you. You're going to remember it your whole lives. Please don't make this mistake. Don't talk to people like me. Don't talk to the leaders. Don't talk to the generals. I mean, you can. We're going to talk to you. But make sure you spend some time with the very newest, freshest, lowest-ranking recruits, soldiers, and people in the military. Make sure you have conversations with them about where they came from and why they joined."
That sense of humility and that sense of servant leadership, which was very real that night as Gen. Selva briefed us, I saw throughout the week. I heard it from leaders of each of the armed services that we went through. We did get to hear from them, though, and that's why I'm making this my No. 5, because hearing from Gen. Selva, or from Gen. Joseph Votel, who runs Central Command in Tampa, Florida.
Some of you work at Central Command in Tampa, Florida, but many of us, if you're like me, didn't even know what that was. In the United States of America, we've divided up the world into different commands, and Central Command oversees 20 countries, largely in the Middle East -- some of the most troubled countries in the world -- so all of the strategy, tactics, logistics, decisions, and deployments are decided in Tampa, Florida at Central Command.
We got to hear from the leader there, Gen. Votel, who personally, and I think humbly, spent 90 minutes with us. Greeting us outside with a handshake first, and then going inside and sharing a PowerPoint that he'd done. He talked about the history of the Central Command, what he does, and how he thinks about it, and then graciously answered our questions. We also heard from Gen. Kenneth Tovo in Fort Bragg. He oversees U.S. Special Operations Command. And I mentioned earlier lunch with the Vice Admiral, Vice Admiral. Stosz of the Coast Guard.
These were really unique opportunities. Somebody like me, who's never had any of those conversations or an opportunity to meet any of those people, and to think that pretty much at its highest ranks we had that kind of exposure to real leaders in the American military, is something that I treasure.
No. 4: And now for something completely different, at Eglin Air Force Base just outside Pensacola, Florida, right along the Florida Panhandle about as far west as you can be and still be in Florida. In fact, I didn't even realize that, in Florida, there is a one-hour time change. I thought, "That happens?" All week long, we flew from one airbase to another. I just didn't expect that, as we flew west in Florida, we would lose an hour.
But right there were we at Eglin Air Force Base, and among many amazing sights -- I mentioned earlier the F-35, and I tweeted out a photo of me holding an Albino python -- I also had the opportunity to go in the McKinley Climatic Laboratory.
Now, this is a unique space, and I'm going to tell you right now, if you ever have a chance to go and visit it -- and I'm saying this honestly, not even knowing if casual tourists like you and me can do that -- I would highly recommend it. From the 90-degree day that seemed to be true of every single day of the week that we spent -- JCOC 86, August 2016 -- every day seemingly 90-plus degrees.
Just one step inside a fully controlled climate for training purposes and testing purposes. That day, in the McKinley Climatic Laboratory, it was 20 degrees below zero, snow and ice conditions all around. Again, just 10 feet on the other side, 90 degrees, and it was an amazing experience. The laboratory was designed in order to test under real-world conditions. I believe I heard from the leader of the laboratory that they can crank it up as high as 165 degrees Fahrenheit of heat. And there's no known lowest level. I think they've taken it down to minus 85 degrees before. This was obviously developed in order to test real equipment under these conditions. It's one thing if the designer or manufacturer tells you it works at 20 degrees below zero. It's an entirely other thing to actually make sure that it does work at 20 degrees below zero.
That day, it had been rented out to Goodyear. Goodyear was testing rubber tires under those conditions. Just a really cool place, and an example of one of those sights I would never otherwise have had, and I feel obligated to share with you this week because it was very memorable. We're down to our final three.
No. 3: No. 3 is the aircraft that I got to ride in, JCOC 86. The C-17, first of all, is a very large plane. It's green and it's really big. It's as big as any commercial jet you'll see. I think it might even be bigger, and it was that C-17 that ferried us around from one airbase to the next. Each morning, we would wake up around 5:00 a.m., which is approximately three hours [earlier] than I like to wake up each morning. Every morning, we were up at 5:00 a.m., and then we were off to get to the airbase to fly to the next military base.
The C-17 was our friend. It can carry three tanks fully inside it -- they had it out. It's modular. You can put in anything you want. They put in two Jiffy Johns and 40 seats. Kind of low-quality theatrical seating, but it gave us the experience of riding the C-17.
Each of us, over the course of the week, was invited up to the cockpit to see what that looked like. Really, the interstitial conversations we had with things like pilots and soldiers throughout the week -- as I've mentioned and as I will be mentioning at the end -- was really what made it special, but the C-17 was our friend.
I also got to ride an Osprey 22. That's the helicopter that carries the President around Washington, D.C. and other places. Those of us who live in the D.C. area will see the Osprey up there. That was a really cool experience from the Quantico base with the Marines.
And the second most interesting aircraft I was in was a Black Hawk helicopter. We were taken around Fort Bragg in a Black Hawk helicopter. And this is what a nitwit I was. I boarded the Black Hawk which seats about eight to 10 people. I had a cup of water in one hand and my iPhone in the other. And I got some cool iPhone clips this week. I'm going to take a cool iPhone clip of me in this three-minute ride in the Black Hawk helicopter.
As it took off, the first five seconds or so looked kind of cinematic. My video looks awesome as we pull away, and people are waving at us down below. And then the pounding starts -- the rotors up above my ahead. I was sitting right on the edge, so I'm sitting right next to -- the air! These helicopters are only going up about 500 or 600 feet -- at least on the trip we took -- because that's what they do. They go low along the forest and they drop off soldiers in key areas for extraction, sometimes.
So in my case, within about five or six seconds, I realized, "What am I doing with a cup of water that I was thinking of holding?" So I quickly [drank the water] and dropped that into my lap, and no longer cared about it, and then, with both hands holding on for dear life, I held onto my iPhone as I did fully take this three-minute video.
But within about 30 seconds -- I've never seen my iPhone do this before -- the video itself starts undulating. And I'm not really sure, to this day, why it looks like that, but as I held it out of the helicopter looking over the forests of Fort Bragg, the whole thing is just shaking like waves. I think it had something to do with the rotor blades pounding down on me. Anyway, suffice it to say, I'm really glad I was not such a newbie that I dropped -- which I thought I would -- my iPhone somewhere in the forest, and go back for it at some point. But that was an intense ride in a Black Hawk helicopter.
And then my favorite ride, as we close out No. 3, had to be in what is known as the C-2 Greyhound. I didn't know it that way. Everybody around the Navy was calling it a COD, which I believe stands for the purpose of the missions that these run, which is "carrier onboard delivery." I can't tell you too much about that, like a lot of other military acronyms; but what I can tell you is that this is the plane that took us from the Norfolk Naval Base to an aircraft carrier.
Now, a lot of people have been aboard an aircraft carrier -- and I bet you have. I hadn't. I bet you have, but I had never. You can do it. Sometimes, when they're at port, especially, you can go visit it. At Norfolk, or maybe San Diego, or any one of these ports. But I had never done this.
A lot of people will say that it's much larger than you can ever imagine. You can't possibly capture it, people would say, in high-definition television, even, or your iPhone picture, just what an aircraft carrier looks like. Then, other people will say that these things are actually smaller than you would think. And after having had the experience, I can tell you I'm more in the latter camp. I've been aboard some really big cruise ships. I don't feel like this aircraft carrier is particularly bigger. It might even be smaller than some of the largest cruise ships.
The USS George Washington, which is what I was aboard in the Atlantic Ocean, goes about three football fields in length, so it's just over 1,000 feet long. Anyway, picture any plane that you're on stopping after 1,000 feet. That's what it's actually like to ride in the C-2 Greyhound, literally. As the plane touches down on the aircraft carrier, a hook pops up and the pilot has to be able to hook the plane to stop it. You are going from 145 mph to zero in two seconds.
I wasn't fully prepared for that. I didn't realize that's how things worked. Humorously, our pilot actually missed the hook the first time through, but we didn't fully know, because here's the experience of being on this COD on this Greyhound. There are no windows, so you're sitting in your seat, and you're simply wondering, "Wow, when are we going to touch down? When is that two seconds going to happen when it goes from 145 mph to zero?" If you've never had that experience, I hadn't. I would personally prefer to be able to look out a window and know when it's about to happen; but you don't.
And so, as we first touched down, I thought we'd done it, because the guys onboard with us -- the Navy guys -- were signaling we're just about to land, and we felt a hitch. Then it all kind of ended. I literally didn't know if we were still moving forward or not, and I thought, "Wow! Was that it? That was a lot easier than I thought it would be."
But as it turns out, we had missed the hook. We needed to spend about five minutes circling back around. It's not always easy to hit these hooks with the aircraft carrier listing left and listing right. Different tidal conditions and different winds. So we came down, and that second time, by Jove, I knew we had hit it. The two seconds of going from 145 mph to zero -- are they as intense as anything I've ever felt?
Yes. I've been to Mission Space at Disney in Florida. There's a little bit of that feeling. What was fun, also, was the reverse of that. As we left that day, we were shot -- catapulted -- off the carrier, zero to 145 miles per hour in two seconds, as well. All of those aircraft experiences were memorable and a very special part of the week.
I realize we're running long this week. I have my final two. So many amazing things happened, I guess I felt a need to try to cover as much as I could.
No. 2: No. 2 -- I just want to mention how special it was to the people I got to spend time with. I've already mentioned some of the leadership. I will mention, shortly, some of the lower levels of the military, and conversations I had. But in particular, this program brings together people from all walks of life.
I was part of Team Air Force. We were eight people. We'd all been nominated by the Air Force, and so, when asked what my favorite armed service was on a promotional video for the Department of Defense, I, of course, said the Air Force. My father actually went through the Navy. I did have a great grandfather who was a three-star general in the Army. But I said Air Force, because the Air Force is what made it possible for me to be there.
And also on the Air Force team was the CEO of Vanguard -- one of our very favorite companies -- the incredibly great mutual fund company. We had the commissioner of the Big 12 Athletic Conference. We had an AT&T executive. We had the dean of the University of Tennessee business school. We had the dean of the UNC (go Tar Heels!) School of Medicine. We had a film and TV producer. This is just my team of eight, and if you think about the other four teams, we had the head of marketing for the San Diego Chargers. I became a little bit more of a Chargers fan. People from all walks of life.
It is amazing to think back on this time. What I'm trying to convey to you is the more time that we can spend with really quality people -- especially if we can find excuses to spend time with those people when they're not from our industry, but from something totally different -- I would have paid quite a bit of money just to spend the time that I did with the group of people I did, regardless of what we were doing over the course of a week. But it was a huge benefit to have that shared memory with that group of people, and to have made some new friends, I think, for the long term. That was definitely highlight No. 2 for me. And I'll close it out, then, with highlight No. 1.
No. 1: I've already alluded to it a few times on this podcast, and that brings me to No. 1. Now No. 1 I've already alluded to a few times earlier. That's just the opportunity for conversations with the troops, with people who are serving you and me, if you're a United States citizen, in all kinds of ways. They're engineers. They're doing maintenance. And yes, they're out there in the fields, sometimes getting shot at.
It is remarkable the service that I got to see, and having heard from even some of the very high-up people in the military. For example, Phil Davidson, who is in charge of Fleet Forces Command and basically one of the heads of the Navy. He gave us a wonderful briefing and a delightful light hors d'oeuvre cocktail hour at his house in Norfolk, Virginia.
We heard consistently from people that they spent all their time in the Navy. Or the Army. But what we got to see last week, thanks to the JCOC program, was really a cross section. We got to go to every one of them, and see what they were all doing, and that's part of what made it so special. But it was those conversations with troops of all different types that I remember, and in particular, I just want to highlight three as we close, each a brief one.
The first one was a Coast Guard captain, who presumably lives in Washington, D.C. because he was there at our briefing the first night, and he hung out after the briefing as some of us were just getting to know each other as fellow participants in the JCOC interacting with some soldiers and staff. A handsome guy, just kind of hanging on the periphery. I broke up a conversation because it looked like he wanted to talk to me.
He came up to me -- I'll just name him as Howard -- and said: "Thank you so much for The Motley Fool."
I said: "Well, you're very welcome. The Motley Fool is very motley. I'm not going to take personal credit for what our company tries to do every day. Over the 23 years we've been in business, we've had any number of writers, community members, and advice givers. It's a very motley thing," I said to him.
And he understood that as a longtime member. But a very polished guy, who then begins to tell me that, at the age of 18, his parents didn't really have any money. They had never taught him anything about money. He was living out of a trailer at the time. And again, this is a polished guy. A more senior guy in uniform. And I thought, "Wow, that's remarkable."
I'm never quite sure of what influence we have as a company. I can't tell how many people know The Motley Fool or don't. I am glad to say we've been an answer, sometimes, on Jeopardy!, which always makes me feel good. In fact, I think we've been an answer three times on Jeopardy! No one has ever yet gotten buzzed out for not getting it. So that's always made me feel a little bit good as an entrepreneur. But Howard, thank you for your words that night. I remember them, and thank you to other members of the armed forces who came up to me at some point and said, "Hey! I'm a Fool." Or, "I read your book." That means a lot to me.
A second conversation I want to mention was with a 26-year-old. I think he was 26. It was aboard the USS George Washington. This is a young guy who said, "Let me tell you my story a little bit." He went on to say: "I was a freshman in college. My parents were scraping together money. They didn't have enough, so I was on student loans, and I partied my whole freshman first term and I flunked out. They kicked me out. I got the email. I got the letter. I'm done, which was a shock. Although not so much of a shock," he said, because he clearly knew he hadn't been studying.
He didn't really have much recourse at that point. His parents didn't really have any money and he, in fact, needed to call off his student loans. He needed to quickly let his lender know, "Please don't put me on the hook for these because I'm no longer allowed to go to this university." What he decided to do was go into the U.S. military. He said he chose the Navy because, "I didn't want to be shot at," he said, which I can certainly understand.
But within a few years, he began training as an engineer, and today he is in charge of a portion of the nuclear reactor aboard the USS George Washington -- all of the Navy's aircraft carriers are nuclear powered. And he said at lunch, just in a low-key way that day, that a year or so ago, when he first took over this role, he was pinching himself as he lay in bed at night and thought, "Wow. Here I am on an aircraft carrier with 5,000 other people aboard, and I have become the guy who's an engineer overseeing a portion of the nuclear reactor."
And my reflection on that, beyond just the kind of American dream aspect of that story, is it's very evident if you see the armed services how young the people are, for the most part, who are there. Not everybody's young. Some people do come to the armed services a little bit later, but really, you're seeing in many cases, fresh, young faces with serious responsibilities. Real-world responsibilities. And considering how well things go right most of the time, it's inspiring.
And the final story I want to tell was with a U.S. Special Forces officer the day that I was in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I'll just call him Kent. To me, Kent looked like the perfect all-American. A very handsome guy. Very accomplished. Clearly senior there at Special Forces. He deployed any number of times in scary places like Iraq over the course of the last 15 years of his career. A very charismatic guy. I decided I wanted to approach him after some of the demos that we saw and just ask him a little bit about himself.
It wasn't until about minute 12 of the conversation that he just let out, "And I have no left leg."
And I said, "I'm sorry. Excuse me?"
He said, "Yes, I'm wearing a prosthetic leg."
I said, "You're serious?"
And he said, "Yes. In Iraq, in 2007, I was shot four times in the leg. It was amputated, and I've been on a prosthetic leg ever since."
And I found out a little bit more. He deployed three times in really dangerous circumstances with the Special Forces with his prosthetic leg. And I thought, "You know? As much as I like to lionize CEO heroes -- people like Reed Hastings, Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz, Jeff Bezos -- people who are real-world heroes for me, who have made me and many other investors very happy through long-term performance, delivering everyday great products and services that each of us enjoys and benefits from -- or at least many of us do -- clearly, in my mind, there's a different level of heroism that I got to see last week."
And as I closed out my conversation with Kent, he got misty-eyed in a way I didn't quite understand -- and still I'm not quite clear about -- but he was describing how traditionally the Special Forces, the Army rangers, draw off of people who have already been in the military for a few years and think, "Maybe I could do that. Maybe I've got the right stuff. In this highly selective unit, maybe I could be part of that." So they try out, and a small minority of them actually make it.
But for the first time, I think last year Kent mentioned that there was a new program where anybody off the street -- you or me -- could apply and try out to be U.S. Special Forces. And he said -- and this is where he got misty-eyed -- that he'd been there that day, and walking in off the street was a former NFL football player, was a neurologist. He listed a few other occupations of people.
I think what he was thinking was that these are incredibly impressive people who were walking away, potentially, from really impressive callings in order to hope, to dream, to join the unit that he had served on in the last 14 years. I guess that's why he got emotional. Sometimes we can't fully explain why we're crying, but for me that day to have talked and had that conversation -- I'll remember that one a long time.
I hope, as I close up, that I shared with you some of the memories that I had that I'll retain for a long time. An incredibly epic week, where I saw from the very big to the very small people. Very highly ranked to very lowly ranked. People who, everyday, are putting it out there for you and for me in ways that we can't fully recognize or appreciate.
But I want to mention a number of the experiences I shared with you today -- I took some pictures of and shared out through my Twitter. I'm @DavidGFool on Twitter if you want to see illustrations of some of the things that I saw, including me holding the Albino python.
In closing, that was one amazing week. It's a great program. It's a nominations-only program. Some kind or thoughtful person in the U.S. Air Force nominated me, and thank you very much, sir or ma'am, whoever did that.
Let me just preview for you where we're going to go next week. This is an investing podcast the vast majority of the time, but sometimes I like to share life experiences like the one I had last week, and I'm still processing it, as I mentioned. Next week, I'm going to bring a few lessons and learnings from it to close it out. I'm also going to do Mailbag, so I'd love to hear from you, especially if you have any reflections on what you heard this week. I'll try to address that next week.
And then the week after, I'll be picking five new stocks and doing a redux. About a year ago, I made my first pick of five stocks in a podcast, holding myself accountable putting them on my CAPS page. We'll review how those did, as well, so back to normal as we start September.
In the meantime, I hope your August closes out very Foolishly. Fool on!
As always, people on this program may have interest in the stocks they talk about, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don't buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. Learn more about Rule Breaker Investing at RBI.Fool.com.
David Gardner has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.