Can you tell me about your early life and reason for joining the Army?
I grew up in a small town in Virginia. It was sort of an Americana upbringing- a small farm town, I was a boy scout and I had a family history of military service. When the war broke out, my older brother was already at West Point, and by the time I was going to graduate High School, he would be in the war.
As soon as 9/11 happened I was hoping it wouldn’t be over before I got there; I knew it was going to be something big in our generation and I wanted to be a part of it. God forbid my son asked what I did, and I didn’t like the answer.
What drew you to the Ranger Regiment?
I was in Ranger Regiment and I got accepted to West Point prep school. I was really impressed by Rangers I had seen compared to other soldiers in the regular army. I thought “That’s the group I want to be in.” Honestly I didn’t want to go to war with the guys I was with through Basic Training. I knew in the Ranger Regiment they would never leave a man behind. When I was coming back, I had the offer to stay at the Academy, I could go to Special Forces, or anywhere I wanted in the Army, and I went back to Ranger Regiment. It’s the only place where I was on a team where everyone on that team was better than me at something. They would all bring you up, and you would compete with each other all day which made you as sharp as a knife.
What was your job within the Regiment?
I was a mortar man. In the Ranger Regiment, a mortar man is a utility guy. I was an extra gun, I worked with multi-purpose canines, mostly sniper security, and every now and then I filled in because I guy got hurt; there’s a lot of things you can do with an extra Ranger.
As a mortarman, you get attached when you go overseas. So I carried the sixty-millimeter, handheld, on deployment. Back home, we trained with a mortar section, but we had to train with all the companies and all the platoons. So while everyone else does their one or two iterations, you’re doing all of them. My first deployment was with first platoon, Bravo Company, which is the Black Hawk Down Company.
In the second deployment, they had just stood up Delta Company because they were expanding all the Ranger Battalions, and even our big brother units were getting an extra group, so we had to be able to support them. The only problem with that is you have to open the gate a little bit wider to fill those slots. They had to qualify with the Army as a unit to deploy, qualify through special operations to deploy, and then qualify within the Regiment to deploy. So they had a horrible six-month training cycle to get ready. But they made it. Going out there, you’re a little nervous with the new company that other companies just sent guys there that they didn’t want, but that wasn’t the case- some of the best NCOs went there
In regards to the motorcycle crash you had in 2009. Considering you were hit by a drunk driver, is it hard not to be resentful or bitter about that?
In some ways, but I can’t really complain because I have friends who are dead. The best and worst part about my injury is that I can mask it, and people can’t tell. Sometimes people will think that I’m just lazy, but they don’t realize I’m hurt because they don’t have X-ray vision.
For a civilian to do it, it adds gas to the fire. Obviously, not everyone is bad. But when you get out of Ranger Regiment, one of the big problems is you don’t have a lot of people who believe in courage, integrity, honor and bravery; they think that’s something out of a movie. For this to happen by some drunk going to a poker game was made even worse because it ended my career and I wasn’t ready for that. I had also given up West Point to be a Ranger, so I was really fucked.
The most frustrating part was when I had first gotten out from the injury and everyone that was dying overseas was someone I knew or deployed with. And you start thinking “If I was there, I could have changed something…” Especially two of the guys, who I had cleared rooms with in the past, were going up a stairwell and got shot. Maybe I could have gone first and got the guy. I don’t know. But with that, I just felt guilty.
I read about several veterans who work with you on the farm. What do you think is the big pull or benefit for veterans to join you with farming?
There are different elements of farming that are good for veterans, and some elements that are bad. There’s really hard work, and you don’t get paid that much, but you’re a free man, and you’re doing something that makes you feel like a man after being a Ranger. The biggest draw, that I’ve noticed, is that you’re still doing something cool, like working with horses and cattle. And after being a Ranger, that is hard to find.
Rangers have to deal with a lot of hate and anger, and it was for a good reason. From the guys in charge of us having lost friends and hating the enemy to every botched relationship we had had because people don’t understand us. But with something like a horse, you have to walk up to it like you’re not a lion or a predator; you have to relax and learn to be soft again. You’re slow and smooth, but the only other time you’ve seen that before is in a stack, with a rifle in your hands, with a Ranger in front of and behind you, and you’re getting ready to flow into a room and potentially kill a man who is trying to kill you.
I like that I can find that slow, smooth, calm, and focused power still but in a different outlet. It’s a unique thing that is hard to explain with a really practical mindset that I’ve always had. It’s a whole different world when you get out on the farm; whether it’s guys getting together and riding, or if you’re hurt, being able to have that sense of athleticism on a horse, it’s powerful.
The biggest thing, for Rangers at least, is being out in the country where you can be a Ranger. You can start a fire, drink a beer, shoot guns, and work some cattle. We’re all were little boys that thought “This is what men do” and that’s why we became Rangers.
What is it you are doing with Conway Cattle Company?
Right now, I’m just trying to have a farming operation that exists so Rangers can keep coming to visit. I had some personal issues with my family, which is why I lost my home farm. When people are getting out of the military or out of contracting, they’ve been in for so long that when they go home, it’s not necessarily a home as much as it is a place they came from. So when I have the guys up here, it’s bringing me up and it’s a place you can go and not feel crazy. I’ve laughed and jokingly called the farm the place where killers are welcome. To put that in regular people terms, the guys I know saw some hard shit and had to take some guys down. They were wild, but that’s what you needed to be to do the shit that we did.
But Conway Cattle Company right now is me out of my pocket doing it, and eventually I’m going to try to slaughter beef. But right now it’s just giving guys a place to come.
In some interviews I read, you spoke about the importance of the birth of your son. Can you talk about the impact that has had, and how it has changed you?
It’s kind of scary in a sense because as a Ranger you are willing to take it to an extreme level to protect people you have never met and may not even like. So when it comes to your own son, you worry about having to even get in a situation like that, because you know you’re going to do something bad.
You fear for him because you’ve seen other children ripped apart, and you think “what’s special about mine?” He could get ripped apart just the same.
I think of the future. These Rangers are killing themselves all the time, and I know why; I understand it. If I can get them out and keep them in a healthy state of mind, where they can spread their honor, courage and bravery throughout wherever they are, well that’s going to make this country and this culture better for my son. Right now, I am scared for him a little, because it seems like people don’t really understand what being American is.
My son has taught me a lot about patience, and has re-opened a part of my life that has been closed off for a while. It brings me back to who I was before the pain. I jokingly call it the Peter Pan effect.
With reference to Conway Cattle Company; farming is not going to be something you can get into. It was really hard for me to do it, I basically had to give up my leg, and it’s still hard as shit. I want my son to have the choice of whether or not to do it, because after me, it’s just going to be big farm corporations. It’s a free and unique lifestyle; he may not want it, but if there’s one thing I can do for him after this broken leg, maybe I can at least give him that option.
You’ve had to move farms multiple times. Can you tell me about the most recent move?
Originally I was living in my camper on twenty-acres of land so I could pay off my equipment. The problem with equipment is that you only have five years to pay it off and a tractor costs around $130,000. My family pulled the rug out from under me in a sense, and they have their reasons. After I was living in a camper for about eight or nine months, a guy who brought one of my farms I leased approached me about living in a vacant house he owned next door to him. Eventually, he changed his mind. He spoke with me right before Christmas and told me his decision. So I had to move again.
Luckily, someone else I had farmed with, an older mentor of mine, has a basement that he let me move into with my son. And here’s the kicker on top of that. I have another farms that I lease for my cows, and one of my larger herds, which is owned by a man named Asaal Hussein, ironically. He fucked me over; we had a handshake deal and he just decided that he doesn’t want cows there this year. So while I was moving across the county, I got a notification that I had to move forty of my cattle by March. But I Rangered up and I’m moving forward.
Do you think the principles and mental toughness you learned in Ranger Regiment played a big role in allowing you to push through obstacles today?
Sometimes it’s the only thing. I just say the word Ranger and I remember. I’ve been through the Ranger selection twice and I’ve been exposed to some of the greatest men of our time. And I’ve seen how far you can go, and I know when people look at me, they think Ranger. That’s my deciding factor, because every day is really painful, and some days it’s harder than others to push through the pain, unless you have something that you really enjoy. One thing that unit helped me understand how to do is how to motivate yourself, because that’s everything.
How can people support the Conway Cattle Company?
Stay tuned. I’m setting something up so that I don’t have to do this whole thing by myself. There’s going to be an avenue for people to help, but I want to hold off on what that exactly is until I actually have it.
Also, if you ever run into a Ranger (I can speak for them at least), let them talk about their experiences and listen. It’s the least you can do. Sometimes they need to just tell someone that something that crazy happened.
And respect them. Believe it or not with the NFL shit, there is some guy out there who is upset already and his life is falling apart, and everyone blames it on the Army because that’s the easy culprit.
He knows that volunteering for the war set him on a path of isolation and misunderstanding, but thinking it was worth it will make the difference between suicidal thoughts and a personal pride that can carry through any low point in life.