Vail Daily column: Honoring the legacy of the 10th
October 3, 2016
The transition — or perhaps the calling — from military service to entrepreneurship isn't an original story.
There's one such local legacy that sticks in my head, pushing me to work harder as a business-builder and simultaneously persuading me to get outside more often. The story is that of the American soldiers on skis — the Army's 10th Mountain Division. These days, we remember and celebrate the role that Camp Hale, in Colorado's cold and puzzling landscapes between Leadville and Red Cliff, played in training 14,000 soldiers who went on to serve and protect in 1945. Many made the ultimate sacrifice. Others returned home and helped craft the Colorado we know and love today, with inextricable ties between the great outdoors and our innovative economy.
As entrepreneurs, we are all too often seen as saviors of the economy, shattering tired paradigms, reinventing categories and generally bettering the planet. But rugged individualism doesn't build bridges nor businesses. Entrepreneurs are vital to our economy, but they, like the individuals who make up our military, rely on collective effort. This is a lesson I have had to learn, time and again.
I am here to tell you, as a startup founder and former member of the United States Army, you can put together the greatest mission in the world, and when boots touch the ground, perfectly plotted plans change. I'd venture a guess that Vail founder Pete Seibert, Aspen Ski School co-founders Freidl Pfeifer and John Litchfield and Colorado Ski Country USA co-founder Bob Parker — all members of the 10th Mountain Division — would agree. You must improvise.
After transitioning out of the Army at the end of 2007, I traded Fort Riley, Kansas, for Colorado Springs. The high desert, sparse rain and surplus of sunshine kept me outside more than not. From Colorado Springs to Denver, a deep pool of military members and access to inspiring natural landscapes provided me therapeutic camaraderie and healing vistas along the road back to civilian life.
By 2013, I met my match — in business, that is — and we combined his smart, mobile know-how with my tech savvy to create HyprLoco, a reactive intelligence software platform. We started up trying to fit the ocean into a fishbowl, but learned quickly and narrowed our field of play, completing market and customer discovery to hone our strategy. Within a year, our product was ready to take to market.
Rooting my business and my home in Colorado post-service was no accident — I am grateful everyday for the security and freedom this sanctuary provides. Outdoor recreation has the potential to provide fertile ground for veterans recovering from PTSD to heal without medical interference.
There's a "legacy we need to honor and a history we cherish in Colorado," said Sen. Michael Bennet, in an interview about his yet-to-be introduced bill to protect Camp Hale. The legislation expands on Rep. Jared Polis' Continental Divide Wilderness and Recreation Act, a proposal to grow Colorado's wilderness in the central Rockies and enhance a range of recreational uses and amenities. Moreover, Rep. Polis encourages the veteran community to get outside — citing studies that illustrate the extensive benefits associated with employing veterans in public service and outdoor engagement. He has devised targeted measures, legislation and used his foundation as a platform to provide transitional assistance to separating service members through an employment model dating back to the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s.
As I look to the future, the network of veterans here continues to play a vital and vibrant role, and as I look back, I am emboldened, because the story of modern veterans in Colorado may not be all that different from that of the 10th Mountain Division members who returned to Colorado to marry work and play. It was a commitment, companionship and a rugged collectivism that incited me once to serve and protect my home and today, compels me to do the same.
Thus, I would hope that we continue to put in the elbow grease and collaboratively preserve the very landscapes that both trained and supported military personnel as they prepared for war and that today, nourish us — mind, body and spirit.
Nic Gray is the founder and CEO of Hyprloco, a location-based intelligence company in Denver.