I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a young man who had to cope with stressful circumstances during his youth, and by his own admission, was a “wild kid”. In retrospect, it could be said that he stumbled into the best decision of his life when he joined the U.S. Marine Corp in his senior year of high school. His journey since that decision has been on an upward trajectory, illustrating once again the power of the “American Dream” – the truth that our human possibilities are limited only by our willingness to work hard, offer conscientious effort, and use common sense in our everyday living.
Jason Stapleton has been gracious in taking time to share for us his reflections on life and the “American Dream”.
Tom: Good afternoon, Jason. Thanks for sharing your story with us.
Jason: Hi, Tom. No problem.
T: Why don’t you start by telling us about your early years.
J: I was raised in a little town in southwest Kansas named Sublette. My father was an unsuccessful lawyer, so it was helpful that we lived on a family farm next to my grandparents. When I was13 years old, we moved to Dodge City. Three years later, my parents divorced and as part of that process, I moved to Olathe, Kansas (a Kansas City suburb) with my mother.
It is interesting that you are focusing on the “American Dream”. When I was little, I had tons of the typical “kid” dreams: I wanted to be everything from a soldier to an artist, depending on my mood and what was happening at the time. When I got older and was in high school, I thought I was going to be an actor, which seemed to feel “right” to me. I did have lots of energy; I was definitely not a conformist. In fact, I was kind of “wild”. I was clear about one thing — school was absolutely not my thing. As I entered my senior year, I decided to go into the Marines. Looking back, I think it may have been because I saw that as the quickest way to leave town; and it definitely saved me from college!
I even worked within the Corp for the last half of my senior year—going into the recruiting office after I had my last class of the day! I left for boot camp the day after I graduated.
T: Jason, you sure know how to jump right in. Where were you stationed after boot camp?
J: When I had finished with my basic training, I was stationed at “29 Palms California”. I was initially assigned to a basic infantry unit; but as the Marines assessed my capabilities, I was transitioned into a sniper team. Later, we were deployed to Okinawa on a regular rotation. I went through a selection process (‘indoctrination”) and was selected to become a part of the 5th Force Reconnaissance Battalion. As part of that unit, I spent the final two years working within the Counter Terrorism/Direct Action Team.
T: We are grateful to you, and the thousands of others, who put themselves in harm’s way to protect America. What did you think or feel about America while you served overseas? Did the “American Dream” mean something different to you in that context?
J: When I was in the military, I really thought I was working to preserve someone else’s dream. When you’re in the military service, you don’t have any real freedom. Consequently, my dreams were restricted to becoming the very best that I could be as a Marine.
Quite frankly, I also didn’t think that I’d live very long. As I said, I had been a wild kid; and let’s face it, my occupation involved me with a gun in my hand. I figured that, eventually, I’d find myself in a gun fight. I figured the “law of averages” would get me!
T: What did you learn about life, service, your goals, and your inner-self while being a Marine?
J: I learned that I could do far more than I ever thought I could. I learned first-hand that my mind would frequently tell me to “quit”. In recent years, I have discovered that I am not alone in that respect; the same thing happens to most (if not all) people. They talk themselves out of success because their own mind makes them question their ability, their judgment, and even their self-worth. Their mind tells them to give up.
To combat those tendencies, I taught myself to set extremely lofty goals and then not accept failure.
Don’t get me wrong, I am no Pollyanna. I know that failure “happens”. But in those moments, that is your time to shine… your time to “regroup” and stage a second, more well-informed “assault” on success!.
But most importantly, I learned that I controlled my own destiny. Even in the military, this little 6’1”, 150 pound boy from rural Kansas could become a shining example of the Marine Corps elite. When I succeeded in that, I knew I could do anything.
T: Very impressive! What happened when you were discharged?
J: I was lost. I ended up in a series of short jobs — selling windows, then selling ADT security systems door-to-door, then scrubbing trailers for a truck company. I even did landscaping!
Finally I found a job that fit my Marine skill set – serving as a deputy sheriff within the county jail. That felt more natural. But an even better opportunity soon surfaced. Because the Iraq War was in full bloom then, a former Recon buddy of mine who was employed in Iraq gave me a call. He recruited me to become a private contractor for the U.S. State Department! I left the Sheriff’s Office and flew to Iraq to become a member of the now famous “Blackwater” operations there. I was, in essence, a mercenary.
Tom: We need to take a break here. But we’ll pick up the rest of Jason’s “American Dream” in Part II. You will learn how Jason’s Marine experience shaped up for his current work as a professional trading professional and educator.