“I’ve been surrounded by heroes my whole life,” began Michael Cutler ’21. At the moment, he was surrounded by empty pizza boxes, a classroom packed full of his peers, and one hero in particular.
Army Specialist Tim Taylor greeted the room of students just days after Veterans Day to help kick off the inaugural event for a new club at De Smet Jesuit, Spartans for Heroes.
“You can ask me anything,” said Mr. Taylor. “Some of what I say may be hard for you to hear. Just deal with it. We’re going to have a good time.”
The upfront ease and transparent honesty resonated with students, who spent the next hour asking Mr. Taylor about his basic training, PTSD, what made a good platoon leader, and did he actually use math beyond high school.
“Yes, we used math in the field; 13 Delta were our ‘bright childs’—artillery geniuses,” he explained. “They would calculate windage, which told us to use a certain amount of powder to shoot certain distances.”
As a self-described “combat zone Uber driver,” Mr. Taylor spent time in Iraq where he and his unit conducted convoy escorts for groups such as the Department of Justice and the Department of Treasury. He recounted numerous stories for the students, including tales of repairing broken Humvees, eating MREs, sleeping in the dirt, and surviving the unexpected but overwhelming impact of IEDs. The improvised explosive devices were something his unit dealt with repeatedly as one of the most hit units in the war, and something he is reminded of daily after an injury that resulted in the loss of part of his left hand.
“The worst things that happen to you make the best stories,” he said, advising students that having a sense of humor and surrounding yourself with positive people is important to success in life. “That’s one reason I’ve been able to stay as stable as I am. You’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself. My strength is laughing things off.”
Within 11 months of the tragic events of 9-11, Mr. Taylor had joined the army at age 17 for a change in his environment and a chance to serve his country. “I couldn’t help but think the whole nation is going to turn and look for someone to help,” he said. “I really thought I could make a difference, so I joined. By the time I was 19, I was in Iraq making grown choices. You felt like you were part of something. You felt like the world needed you.”
Mr. Taylor now works as a Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist and helps people with disabilities. Upon returning to America and civilian life, he surrounded himself with quality people and began to network diligently to go back to school and find a career. “Job opportunities are difficult when you get out,” he cautioned. “It takes a whole community, and you’ve got to be resourceful.
Your life is like chess—you’ve got to move the pieces around to help yourself win.”
In addition to the importance of networking and a having a good sense of humor, Mr. Taylor also advised the students to value sleep, speak respectfully to veterans, and master the skill of how to write a good resume. As for his resume, the military experience listed there and the decision he made at 17 to join the Army has completely shaped him. “It has molded every minute of my adult life,” he explained to the room full of teenage boys.
“You never know what’s going to happen in the world tomorrow,” he concluded. “It could be you having to go out and make those decisions. This isn’t like Black Hawk Down. This isn’t like Call of Duty. This has a higher calling.”
Michael Cutler ’21 started Spartans for Heroes, a new club at De Smet Jesuit, because, in his own words, “I had grown up around injured veterans through my dad's charity, the Joshua Chamberlain Society, and heard the amazing stories of first responders and active duty military personnel. These heroes constantly put their lives on the line for our safety and protection, and I knew that I needed to do something for them at De Smet Jesuit. The club will serve these heroes by raising awareness of their duties and the challenges they face through events like hosting periodic speakers. Spartans for Heroes also hopes to raise money and collect items for these heroes through different fundraisers and drives throughout the year, and for years to come.”