Interview with a Veteran- Mitchel Durfee
An exclusive interview with Army Veteran, CEO and founder of Grunts Move Junk- Mitchel Durfee.
Q: What made you choose to enlist in the military?
A: Growing up, I came from a family that all served. My dad, my dad’s dad, my sister, and my uncles, so it was partially in my genetics and like many others that witnessed the attacks on 9/11 it gave me even more clarity, with my decision to join the Army. For me it was an opportunity for me to grow and protect our country on the highest level.
Q: What was your branch of service, rank and MOS?
A: I joined the US Army (Active) and my MOS was a 14R (M2A2 Bradley Linebacker Crewmember) I was an E4 (Specialist) after 3 years of active.
Q: Where did you serve?
A: I Deployed to Korea, right after I finished my AIT (advance individual training). Then from Korea, I deployed to Ramadi Iraq in August of 2004 – August 2005 Returning from Iraq I finished my active duty in Colorado Springs Colorado. In 2012 I contracted with Mantech International in Kuwait and Afghanistan.
Q: Tell me about your time at bootcamp: What was your first day like? What was the funniest or most memorable thing to happen during basic training?
A: I LOVED IT!! And I bet if you asked most they would say the same thing, there are times when I wish I could go back through the cycle, I was in the best shape of my life before I went in the Army, and it pushed me to climb to a new level! I shaved 3 1/2 minutes off my 2 mile run time by running with the best of the best! Mail time was the greatest! Seeing the faces of other soldiers when they received a letter or a care package. Although the funniest things were what the Drill Sergeants would say to mess with us! Comments like “that’s it you’re done, “D. U. N” Done!! or “when we’re finished here you’ll be hard as woodpecker lips”.
Q: What was the worst MRE meal you had to eat and what was the best? (if it is even possible to have one that was enjoyable to eat)
A: I lived off those bad boys for a year straight, the worst ones were definitely the things you’re use to eating fresh, like the (oops excuse me I just almost through up) the egg and cheese omelette….First of all, it’s a HUGE lie. It’s not a meal; It’s not ready; and you definitely can’t eat it. It’s should be called Meal Rarely Edible. If you get an omelet MRE, the best you can do is go around and collect hot sauce from your buddies and smoother it until your senses are overwhelmed by pepper! The best. And undisputed best is obviously chili mac, you know what you’re getting!
Q: What was your reaction when you found out you were being deployed?
A: Where’s the plane? When do we leave? I joined knowing that everyone was deploying so when they stood us in formation and gave us orders, for me I was proud to be chosen to serve and protect our county on the highest level!
Q: How old were you at the time?
A: 18 when I found out we were deploying, hit the sand when I was 19 and 1 Month (Yup 1 year later I was 20 years old and couldn’t even have a beer after spending a year in the desert).
Q: Tell me about your first experience landing in Iraq and getting to your base. Was it a total culture shock for you? Were the civilians friendly or hostile towards your unit?
A: My first reaction was HOLY CRAP it is hot here! I’ve never experienced heat like that coming from Vermont. The thing is there are good people in this world and there are bad people. Hurt people like to hurt others, so when you get into a country that has been through everything they have, it has to be expected that some will not love us upon arrival, but there were others that were so glad to have us. They would feed us, they would hang out and tell stories, we did a lot of gift drives where we supplied back packs, soccer balls, and other items.
Q: What were the living conditions like for you while stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea?
A:The worst, even worse, and mediocre haha! It’s hard to explain the conditions. In Iraq, I spent 12 plus hours a day living in a track vehicle (like a tank) with 3 to 5 guys (it gets up to 120 degrees in this thing when the engine is running). The other time I was living in a room that fit as many bunk beds as they could, with less than an arm’s length between the next bunk over. Afghanistan was the same, except it was one giant warehouse building with NO VENTILATION one person gets sick, it’s over!
Q: Did you ever get homesick? And what did you miss most about home and the United States?
A: It wasn’t until the end of the deployments that I really began getting home sick, the truth is you don’t think about it much when you’re working 84 to 100 hours a week. I missed the freedom to go and just relax. Both times after deployments the first thing I did was go and jump in the water and just swim.
Q: What did you do to keep yourself entertained?
A: That’s classified! Actually there are a couple things that have been declassified by now. The things that I enjoyed most were when my dad would mail me real estate magazines. I spent hours going through the catalogs just looking at homes and studying the prices, locations and designs. While my other friends were reading sport magazines, I was pulling pages out of houses that I wanted to buy. I kept asking myself what made this home worth this much and why is this other home not selling? I was so fascinated by real estate that I would loose track of time!
Q: What food did you crave the most?
A: YUM, GLAD YOU ASKED! A BIG FAT JUICY STEAK!
Q: On average, how much sleep did you get each night?
A: night? Oh zero, most of the missions ran at night and were run into the morning. You come back and get set up for the next run, so usually we’d get a couple 3 to 4 hours in during the day here, and there then squeeze a couple more minutes on the way to the gate before heading outside the wire. Then, depending on the mission, we’d try to rotate through a shift of sleep for a crew member while the others were on lookout.
Q: What was your primary weapon you carried with you?
A: I carried the SAW (Squad automatic weapon) M249.
Q: How much weight did you carry from wearing all of your protective gear?
A: Weight, let’s start with the Saw, weighing in around 22 Lbs, I carried it everywhere I went for the entire deployment. Along with that, I had 400 rounds of ammo on me for another 10 lbs and my 3 day backpack which weighed about 20 lbs depending on if I was carrying extra waters or ammo in it. We had our body armor which was around 30 more pounds alone and our ACH (Helmet) is 3 lbs so if my math is right… that’s….. A lot of pounds.. Ugh.
Q: Tell me about someone from your unit who helped or positively impacted you during your time overseas.
A: It was a brotherhood, I learned from every person I came in contact with. Shelton taught me to laugh more, Sanders taught me how important family is, and Rood taught me not to complain…
Q: Do you keep in contact with anyone you were stationed with?
A: We all went in 200 different ways, but it’s amazing that when the phone rings, and no matter where any of us are the world stops spinning, and they become the number 1 priority. Even if it’s just a hey how are things.
Q: What was it like transitioning from military life to civilian life? What was your biggest obstacle you faced?
A: For me the hardest thing was coming back and not having anyone there.
Going from spending every minute with thousands of people you know everything about, where you can sit down at any table and have a conversation with someone, to dropping in a town where all your friends moved on and left the town or are too busy to hang out. Having to rebuild a network of people wasn’t easy, and it almost made it hard to find work.
Q: How has your time spent in the Military affected your life? Did you gain skills and training that have helped benefit you in the business world?
A: The Military structure was no excuses, get it done. There is always a way and I live by the Army Values, not that I didn’t live by those principles before, but it polished the skills and really showed me what it meant to live with those values.
Q: What advice would you give to someone just entering the Military?
A: Network, network, network! and put your ego aside. I know when I went in, I was an 18 year old hard body, hair chested teen full of vinegar. Stay humble and learn from those around you. It’s not always going to be easy, but you didn’t join the Army for easy. You joined it to be pushed to experience new things.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is just getting out of the Military?
A: Make sure to take care of yourself, and surround yourself with a good quality network of people. Oh and I’d Suggest reading my book Serve 2 Win.
Q: What made you decide to start Grunts Move Junk, a junk removal and moving company with a goal of hiring Veterans?
A: The biggest thing for me was, I knew the pain of coming home and not having anyone there to catch me. I felt lost, I felt like I didn’t fit in, I had no place to go, and I just wanted to continue growing. So I built grunts for me, I wanted a place that if I came home from overseas or getting out of the service I would have a place to go to, and be able to work hard, and be surrounded by others with the same mindset.
Q: You are also a realtor, real estate investor and own multiple businesses. Many would agree that you are someone that Veterans can look up to. What would you say to a Veteran who came to you looking for advice on starting their own business?
A: I set out on all those different tasks to show veterans that it is possible! You want to be a real estate investor, it’s possible, You want to own your own business, it is possible! I’d first say, if you are comparing your 1st day back to someone’s 10th or your 1st year back to their 10th, don’t get discouraged. I designed Grunts so that those who wanted to own their own business and be surrounded by others with the same mindset and drive, would have a turn key solution, and by growing it into a national franchise, that meant more vets will have landing zones for when they come home scattered around the country!
Q: What does the American flag mean to you?
A: Purity, Innocence, Respect for all things, and of course pride. Pride because of the many American soldiers, men and women, who lost their lives for us.
To learn more about Mitch and reach out for a mentoring or coaching opportunity, check out his website!