From Air Force Pilot to Assisted Living Homeowner
Born Into this World – In India
I was a large 9.5 pound baby born in the American Embassy hospital in New Delhi, India. My Mom said there were ants crawling up her IV tube when she gave birth to me. It was definitely not a first world country back then.
We spent the first three years of my life in India. My Dad was a Foreign Service Officer at the Embassy and my Mom was a housewife. Right before we left India, my parents gave me a great baby brother. We moved to Connecticut in 1970 and I started school.
Hanging Out with My Grandparents
Both my parents lost their fathers when they were young kids – my Dad lost his Dad to lung cancer when he was four and my Mom’s father passed away in a car accident. My Dad’s mother passed away when I was very young. The grandparents I really knew were my maternal Grandmother, and my paternal Step-Grandfather. They seemed to be around me all the time.
My grandmother was tons of fun and she adored her grandkids. She showed me so much love and came with us on lots of vacations. We loved having her around. ‘Nana’ also owned an apartment building, and gave me my first introduction into owning real estate.
My Step-Grandfather was a genuine American hero. “Johnny” ran away from his farm in Iowa in the Great Depression and joined the Navy at age 15! Back then you could lie about your age to enlist. He served 28 years, seeing action in both World War II and the Korean War. He won three Navy Crosses, and earned a battlefield commission. He was asked to retire as a Navy Commander when he broke an Admiral’s jaw in a barroom brawl!
My Grandfather didn’t like to talk too much about his service because he saw a lot of bad things. But I was hooked on every story he was willing to share.
The Move to England
When I was in Junior High, my Dad was working for Mobil Oil. Mobil decided to transfer him to London and off we went. I went to an English ‘Public’ school (what we would call private in America) and learned how to play Cricket and Rugby.
Living in London meant lots of visitors. We loved seeing all my friends from Connecticut come over, but what I really loved was seeing my grandparents. I always thought Nana and Johnny knew so much about everything. It was great for me to turn the tables and show them around London. I felt like their tour guide. Both Grandparents were very good at pretending to be completely interested in what I had to say.
Back to the USA
Mobil decided to move my Dad back to Connecticut after three years abroad. It was my last year of Junior High and then on to High School.
I was your average high school kid – girls, football and wrestling were my top three priorities. In that order. I was definitely not the greatest athlete in the world, but I loved playing sports and hanging out with the guys on the team.
What Will I Do With my Life?
When it came time for picking colleges, my Grandfather had a huge influence on me. From seeing the shrapnel scars in his back, to hearing some of his stories, I always wanted to be like him. That’s why I quickly gave up looking at regular colleges and set my sites on the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO.
Many of my friends wondered why I would go in the military. Many of them had Dad’s that worked on Wall Street and they saw following that path as a sure way to wealth. Some of them are doing VERY well.
I guess I saw how proud my Grandfather was of his service. I wanted to be like that too. Although it wasn’t the Navy (and I had to listen to my Grandfather’s ribbing all the time – especially about being an Academy Grad), I could tell he was very proud of me.
Off to Pilot Training
Pretty much everyone who went to the Air Force Academy and was medically qualified attended flight school after graduation.
Flight school also gave me my first taste of Arizona. I was assigned to Williams Air Force Base for flight training. Williams later became Mesa Gateway Field in Chandler, AZ. I fell in love with the desert from my first day down here. The red rocks, breathtaking sunsets, and all the places to go nearby made me think I don’t want to live anywhere else.
There was an awful lot of testosterone flowing in flight training. We all wanted to be fighter pilots for the greatest Country on Earth! Alas for me it was not meant to be. My class started with about 35 students and only about 18 graduated. I was in the lower portion that graduated, and only the top 3 or 4 received assignments to fly fighter aircraft.
During flight school my grandfather passed away. It was a REALLY tough blow. I took some leave to go to his funeral at Arlington Military Cemetery in Maryland. The people at Arlington gave my Grandfather a beautiful ceremonial burial. My brother (an Army guy) and me both wore our uniforms to the funeral.
Back in flight school, it was time to select your aircraft. I knew I was not in the running for a fighter. So instead I wrote:
“I will fly anything, as long as I can stay in the United States”
In the infinite wisdom of the Air Force, they put me in a small twin-engine VIP transport plane based out of Okinawa, Japan. One of only 4 people in my class to go overseas.
Halfway Around the World
Little did I know flying a small plane around the Far East would be such an unbelievable experience. I flew into places like Vietnam, Hong Kong, The Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia. It was the experience of a lifetime.
I lived in an apartment on the beach and watched the sunset over the ocean every night out of my bedroom window. I taught Scuba Diving on the side and loved my life.
But there was one big hole in my life. Andrea, my girlfriend from college, was still back in the United States. She was the reason I wanted to stay in the US. The long distance relationship was incredibly tough. So was the phone bill in the days before the Internet.
Then one day she called me up and said she was coming out to see me for two weeks. The phone call was one of the happiest days of my life. A week after she arrived we were engaged.
Five months later we were married. We lived together on Okinawa for about four magical months before I was scheduled to rotate back to the US.
Welcome to the World of Special Operations
My next Air Force assignment was flying MC-130 airplanes for the Special Operations command. These were the planes that participated (unsuccessfully) in the Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission in 1980 and recently dropped the MOAB (Mother of All Bombs) on Afghanistan in 2017.
We lived near Pensacola, Florida for about 7 years, although I was on deployment for most of it – mostly to Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Kosovo and Turkey. I also spent some time in Africa.
Flying was a blast, but I sure missed my family. I was gone 4-6 months a year. During our time in Florida we were blessed with the birth of our beautiful daughter and wonderful son. My grandmother was also contracting Alzheimer’s and my mother was a saint for taking care of her. I was amazed at how much love my Mom showed taking care of Nana.
The final straw was when I came home from a 4-month deployment. I picked up my daughter when I stepped off the airplane back in Florida and she started screaming. She didn’t recognize her Daddy. The night before I left on deployment she started crawling. When I returned she was walking.
I needed another line of work.
Flying the Civilian Skies
After that last deployment, I submitted my application to the airlines. US Airways was the first to call. I interviewed and was hired. These were the days of 20%+ stock market returns and an overheated economy. Airlines could not hire pilots fast enough.
US Air based me out of Boston and we moved to New Hampshire. We enjoyed a much more relaxed lifestyle and I spent a lot of time with my kids. I still flew a bunch, but I was home a lot more than I was working.
I also joined the New Hampshire Air National Guard (NHANG) to continue working towards retirement. The NHANG flew KC-135’s, which refuel all the other Air Force planes in flight. Think of the military equivalent of the 707.
During this time, my Grandmother succumbed to her Alzheimer’s. I was devastated to lose her. Soon after she passed away, we also lost her cousin Lil. It was a very tough time. Lil was like another Grandmother to me.
9/11 Changes Everything
So many people’s lives were changed on that day in 2001. My family’s lives were no exception. The months after 9/11 were very tough for the airline industry. Thousands of airline employees were furloughed. My last day with US Air was in December, 2001.
The real trouble with being a pilot at that time was that all the airlines were furloughing people. That meant that nobody was hiring. And when they would start hiring, they were obligated to take back all the people they furloughed before they hired new people. My job prospects at the airlines were slim to none.
I came home to my wife with news of my layoff. She had news of her own. The conversation went something like this:
“Guess what – I just got laid off”
“Guess what – I’m pregnant”
Life was going to about to become very interesting.
The New Hampshire Air Guard took the opposite position of US Airways. They would not let me leave even if I wanted to quit. After 9/11, nobody was allowed to leave the military for a while. They called it ‘Stop Loss’.
While I was trying to figure out what I was going to do to support my family, the Air Force decided to send me to Altus, Oklahoma to learn to fly the KC-135. I spent four months there learning to fly the plane, while spending my free time trying to find a job.
After about 8 months I found a job in Minnesota. Andrea’s sister landed me an interview as an internal financial auditor with a large manufacturing company. I must have made a decent impression on my future boss, because I didn’t know squat about internal auditing.
Right after we made it to Minnesota, my third child and second son was born.
My boss decided to take a chance on me anyway. I spent two years travelling all over the world to the company’s plants and receiving an incredible financial education. The other auditors helped me get up to speed. Pretty soon people actually thought I knew what I was talking about.
Those two years were supposed to be an introduction to the company, and for different businesses to evaluate the auditors. One of the company’s subsidiaries in Minnesota offered me a position in their purchasing department. I spent two years working in purchasing for an industrial sheet metal plant.
Purchasing seemed like a great fit for me, but I missed aviation. The airlines were just starting to recover from 9/11 but were not ready to hire me back. If I couldn’t fly, I wanted to work around airplanes. So I started looking and found a job in purchasing for a large aerospace manufacturing plant.
I received several promotions working in my new company. By 2012 I was a Supply Chain Director in charge of $400 million in annual purchases. My career seemed to be moving along well, but it wasn’t fast enough for me.
In addition to work, I decided to try setting up my own little gig on the side. I started flipping homes and buying rental properties around Minneapolis back in 2006, especially for student housing around the University of Minnesota. I really enjoyed being my own boss and making a decent income on the side. I flipped 4 homes, built one and bought and sold 8 rental properties. I still have three of them.
Time to Take Charge
A very large Aerospace company bought our company in 2012, and I suddenly felt like a very small cog in a very large machine. Coincidentally a headhunter called me with a position to run a multi-million dollar aerospace machining plant in Minneapolis.
The changes at my current company, combined with my love for flipping homes and renting, made me jump at the chance to run a the aerospace plant. It was a huge challenge, and I worked long days, including weekends to make it happen. It helped that my boss, the VP of Operations for the division, had lots of experience running plants. He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes.
Together we took the plant from losing lots of money to breaking even and becoming slightly profitable. It was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. We worked at it for over 3 years until, once again, another large company purchased our company.
While I was running the plant, my kids were growing up. In 2014 my daughter was a senior in high school. Her senior year brought the winter of the ‘Polar Vortex’ where Minnesota had temperatures close to the surface of Mars. The local schools cancelled classes on multiple days not for snow – but for the temperature.
She proudly announced to us that she wanted to go to school “at the warmest college in the country.”
That meant Arizona State.
We were delighted. It meant she might eventually live in Phoenix and give us an excuse to move down there (besides in-state tuition rates). She started at ASU in 2015. As my son learned more about ASU, he became more and more interested as well.
The Winds of Change Were Blowing
I started looking for ways to move down to Phoenix, and learned about assisted living through my real estate investor network. I decided to fly down to Phoenix and take a class to learn more about it.
The more I learned, the more I liked what I saw. My grandparents had taken such good care of me, and I wanted to return the favor for other elderly people. This was a way to move my family down to Phoenix as well.
I took the plunge right around the same time my daughter moved down to ASU. I bought a 10-bed ALTCS (Medicaid) home in Mesa, close to ASU. It was running well, and did not need much day-to-day help from me. I could still do my Plant Manager job in Minnesota yet fly down to Phoenix once a month to check on things. Thanks to the internet, I could help run it virtually as well.
Pretty soon my realtor found a package of four assisted living homes to purchase in Surprise and Goodyear, AZ. These homes had the potential to support my family and me. I loved the idea of working with elderly people and their families, and jumped at the chance.
About the same time, another large company bought my Aerospace company back in Minnesota. A couple months after the purchase, they decided they wanted their management team to run our division, and laid off our entire management team, including me.
Everything was aligning for us to move down to Minnesota. Even my son had just been accepted at ASU. So in the summer of 2016, we moved out of Minnesota and into the warm desert of Arizona!
Time to Shake Up Assisted Living
As I was running my assisted living homes in 2016, I started to think ‘How could we do things better?’ It was wonderful meeting the families, providing activities for the residents, and making sure they received excellent care.
I still thought we could do more.
There was a trend. When residents first came to our homes, they would often say:
“I want to go home.”
It’s understandable. It doesn’t matter how nice the assisted living home is, people often like their own home better. It feels more comfortable.
After noodling on this a little, I thought:
‘Why couldn’t we try to help people go home?’
Why couldn’t we help people improve their condition, instead of just managing their decline? Let’s try to give them more years through healthy living, or improve the quality of the years they have left.
Obviously from my life story, I have no formal medical training. I just believe in a healthy lifestyle. So I looked around for someone who could help.
That’s when I found James McCullom from McCullom Health and Wellness. James is a personal trainer, specializing in fitness for people over 60. His wife is a nutritionist.
I brought James into the homes and he works with the residents, both one on one and in groups. We changed our meals around to provide more healthy choices for our residents.
So far the results are starting to show. You can see a testimonial video of one of our residents, Roy, on our home page. Roy was able to work hard enough that he came out of his wheelchair and walked to his car to go home.
We have other people regaining a range of motion for their arms and legs they have not had for years.
We believe our efforts are paying off. And we want to share the benefits. We’re starting to put videos on our website every Friday to give other older people ideas about how to live a healthy lifestyle. You can see them here.
Some diabetic resident’s insulin levels seem to be dropping significantly, thanks to the nutrition as well.
Please understand I am not trying to make any medical claims about what we are doing. We are just trying to improve people’s diets and exercise. Everything we do is under the supervision of Doctors and Nurses.
And of course we comply with all Arizona and Federal laws.
But I couldn’t be happier that our residents are enjoying the healthier lifestyles. Somehow I hope my Nana and Johnny are looking down on my and approving of what we are doing. I wish I could have helped them more when they were alive.
I also didn’t realize how many other people are so passionate about helping the elderly. It’s been a real honor to work with some of our business partners. You can check them out at our resource page here.
We would love to help you or your older family member with 24/7 care or even just some tips to improve their quality of life. If you are interested in seeing our homes or learning about how we can help, then please feel free to go here and send me a message.