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Support our troops is an overused phrase, losing its meaning in a sea of soundbites and political correctness. Astoundingly, many employers in the private sector do not appreciate the true value and skill sets a military veteran bring to their business. This is exacerbated by short-sighted headhunters; who continue to hire based on current ability, and not potential; juxtaposed the military recruits based on potential, and trains abilities. With common-knowledge traits such as discipline, integrity, leadership, and respect of command structures, the United States armed forces are underrepresented in the private sector, as the military experience is seen in large part, as a “gap” in a resume. This is the story of Dan Anton, and how he was able to successfully transition from the military to the private sector as a civilian.
Accidentally Discovered a New Career Path
Like all veterans, Dan Anton experienced trials and tribulations, with a culminating event, a catalyst pre-empting his sink or swim entrance into the business world. As an Infantry Airborne Army Ranger Major, his expertise was seeking out and killing the enemy. Leadership and intangibles aside, Dan was fortunate enough to have a computer science background. In fact, his childhood origin would shape his career choice, nearly twenty years later. Dan, like most teenage boys in the 90s, played video games nonstop; he developed his first website in 1999, buying and selling hard to find, valuable, video games. He was earning thousands of dollars per month with little to no responsibilities. This would continue throughout college, where he graduated from Mount Clair State University with a major in Business and minor in Computer Science.
Then Everything Changed…We Were Attacked
Now 21 and living back with his parents, Dan continued to make thousands of dollars each month selling video game guides, physical games, and virtual items. He was living a carefree life and had no intentions to “grow up”. Even though the Anton family comes from a long line of military service dating back to the Civil War, Dan was never forced or even encouraged to join the armed forces by his father, Jim. All this would change when the towers in New York were pulverized on 9/11.
“After all, the ordinary hero hiding in each of us is often the most powerful catalyst for change.”
Suddenly the world wasn’t just warlocks, elves and pixels. The childhood fantasy crumbled in the rubble along with the towers. The new reality ossified, America was attacked. Dan, along with countless thousands of Americans, in a moment of true clarity and duty, signed up to join the military. Dan would enlist in the Army as an Infantryman, complete basic training and go on to OCS (Officer Candidate School) where he graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant. Stationed in Fort Benning Georgia, Dan was selected and successfully completed Ranger Training, and received his Airborne Wings.
Welcome to Iraq – Baptism by Fire
As an Infantry, Airborne Army Ranger 1st Lieutenant Dan had elite level training in the military and it was now time to put it to use on the battlefield. During his 1st deployment in Iraq, his unit was responsible for seeking out and destroying the enemy. These combat mission’s offensives were often layered in uncertain roads, random IEDs, and small arms fire ambushes down the wrong city streets. Instead of memorizing zones in EverQuest for his video game guides, Dan painstakingly studied Baghad streets and landmarks to mitigate risk and exposure. In war, no amount of preparation can ready you for the harsh reality – men die in war. Friend and SFC. Salie was hit by an IED, killing him on impact. The tour created brothers and hardened the men under Dan’s command. They would have hundreds of confirmed enemy kills before returning stateside, and have a book written about them, The Gods of Diyala.
An Old Passion Rekindled
Having survived his first deployment, over one-year active combat duty in Iraq, Dan made a concerted effort to live each day with passion and pursue his dreams, one which began to rekindle more intensely. In high school Dan earned more than most family bread-winners, selling video games and guides; in 2006 social networking began to explode with the birth of Reddit, rise of Myspace, Digg, and other community focused websites. Dan decided to take on an ambitious project, build the next social network only for video game players and their virtual characters. The website was bootstrapped as a part-time passion project. Matt Anton, Dan’s younger brother, was brought in to promote and manage the community. In early 2007 the website began to garner the attention of video game websites and soon had over 1000 active members logged on concurrently. In a perfect storm of entrepreneurial hindsight, the server fried, hackers injected code into the custom code, and the website became slow and unusable. With 100k invested as a passion project, and lacking additional funds from venture capitalists, the website was reluctantly shut down and abandoned.
An Accidental Learned Skilled Trade
Without understanding what online marketing was, Dan and Matt had unknowingly created a 23,000 email list of gamers, and ranked in Google for competitive phrases such as video games, gaming, mmorpg. The ability to drive traffic as it turned out, was a lucrative skillset for businesses, as marketing budgets began to shift from traditional print media to Google and internet marketing, known as SEO. A teenager playing video games wasn’t easily monetized, but someone who needed an emergency plumber or kitchen remodeling represented a valuable lead. This value led to businesses needing and fighting for positions in Google and Social Media. The brothers quickly grew their client base with consultations and services. With a background in computer science, Dan created custom marketing software to reduce time-intensive tasks previously only performed by humans. The failure of CharacterPlanet gave rise to the quick success of real world business clients. After consulting with Fortune 100 companies, Matt went on to become the online marketing manager of Liberty Travel, while Dan continued to create software to service the growing clients in Atlanta, Nationally and Worldwide. The business grew to over 1,000 clients in the first year. The explosive growth would soon come to a screeching halt.
Welcome Back to Iraq!
Dan was informed his unit would be flown back to Iraq for a second deployment. While oversees the internet connection was reminiscent of a 28k dial-up modem, which made growing an online business nearly impossible. Dan’s focus was needed in Iraq. In charge of the lives of men who served alongside him now as a Captain, the men looked to him for experience and mental strength. Known as “Achilles” by his men, Dan’s ability to push out everything else, including fear was an asset in the battlefield, but also a self-induced stagnation of his private sector growth. Both were mutually exclusive. The military, mission, and men came first while the private sector once again took a back seat. Towards the end of the 2nd deployment, his vehicle was hit by an IED, jolting Dan’s spine and injuring his vertebrate. The injury would linger, with his back going out for days at a time. After finding himself crawling on the floor one night, he realized his military career in the field was over. Not wanting to become a desk general, he was ready to join the private sector full-time. Dan retired as an Infantry Airborne Army Ranger Major, 2 bronze stars for his valor in combat during his 2 tours in Iraq.
MBA, Entrepreneur or Employee?
As a leader in the army, you need to know how to serve. Dan was contemplating going back to school for his MBA, or joining a business finance company in Atlanta or New York City as an employee. Because Dan had choices it made his transition easier. Veteran employment is trending in a positive direction, but the struggle is real for those seeking new skilled trades or hiring in a smaller city. His skillsets and existing customer base from his part-time efforts gave him a positive cashflow, along with Matt joining the company full time in late 2011. Dan is currently the CEO of his Atlanta SEO company which focuses on digital marketing services. The army has given Dan many skillsets and intangibles only possessed by the men and women who have put on the uniform. The United States is indebted to its veterans, as they represent the best traits of our nation and leaders in the private sector.