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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

1. Preserve Price.

Tim Brick, owner of Brick Wheels, a successful independent bike retailer in Traverse City, Michigan told me years ago: “Never discount. You will only go out of business slower.”

Price preservation and the perception of what a product is worth has been destroyed by weak-kneed and undercapitalized bike retailers who give discounts too easily.

Sometimes they give discounts in the hopes of attracting more business, but discounted business is bad business, and it only earns the retailer a reputation for being a sucker to customers who drive a hard bargain. And soon they all drive a hard bargain.

Retailers also give discounts just to keep the lights on. Don’t do that. Just close the business, declare bankruptcy and get a job. The entire industry has been dragged down by incestuous and incessant discounting that has destroyed price integrity, brand identity and even alienated customers who don’t want to negotiate.

If there is one malignant cancer that pervades the entire retail bicycle industry, it is rampant discounting. The problem is so bad most retailers who do it are in total denial of it.

Bike industry, take one tip from a guy who has both succeeded and failed for four decades in this business: Stop Discounting.

2. Don’t Play Favorites: No Sponsored Athletes, No Club Discounts. 

When retailers play favorites with some highly visible athletes and groups through “sponsorships” and discounts, they alienate the rank n’ file average customer who subsidizes the cool girl and guy by paying full price. They train the consumership that through performance and visibility they earn special pricing.

This sends a clear message: Some people are more special than others and price is flexible.

Most importantly, there is no consistent, empirical business metric in small bicycle retail that quantifies how many full-margin additional sales are added to the bottom line by sponsoring anyone. And if you can’t accurately measure a sales promotion, you shouldn’t do it.

Sponsorships of athletes and clubs sends a message of favoritism and exclusion, rewarding persistence in driving pricing down.

Even if a sports marketing campaign were run correctly, as it is at the brand level (not by retail stores) it is extremely time consuming and expensive to manage. One beverage industry metric stated that for every $1 spent on sponsorship to automotive racing, the company budgeted $10 talking about the sponsorship in paid media. No bike retailer can afford the money or time for that. And if they could, they should start a beer brand and sponsor a NASCAR driver.

The most recognizable engagement ring brand, Tiffany’s, has never given a free or discounted sparkler to a Kardashian in exchange for publicity. Instead, news media reports, “Kardashian’s Tiffany Sparkler Was $25M!”. That preserves the perception of value and makes the brand aspirational.

3. Don’t Have Too Much Inventory. 

The worst thing about the bike business is bikes, and bike brands ram inventory down retailers’ throats with a vengeance. Bike shops: less is more. It is better to have money in the bank than bikes on the floor.

Bicycle inventory is like fruit, the second it lands it begins to spoil. Something newer, cooler and better is already under development and months away from release. And with the evolution in media the word about upcoming innovations doesn’t spread fast, it spreads instantly. As soon as something new is announced, what is suddenly old (but current only hours before) is suddenly devalued.

Customers will buy new, relevant bikes sight-unseen if the retailer’s sales process is optimized to facilitate that purchase format. That preserves capital, maintains freshness and keeps prices up. It also provides customers with more options and better integrity in the purchase.

Bike shops with a lot of inventory on the floor, and a lot of invoices on their desk, are compelled to “sell what we’ve got” and that leads to an ugly paradigm of putting customers on the wrong size bike with the wrong equipment rather than ordering the right bike and adding another invoice to the pile.

Consumers should be wary of bike shops with too many bikes on the floor, they’re going to try to ram something they have in stock down your throat just to make an invoice due date instead of getting you the bike you should really have.

4. Do Have Lots of Capital.

Nearly every bicycle retailer is undercapitalized and over leveraged financially. The reason is simple: When you have $500K to invest in something, does opening a bike shop provide the highest return on that investment? No, it doesn’t. You could take that $500K to an Edward Jones office and earn a better return on it the next day with no work than if you did the heavy lifting and ditch-digging of opening, promoting and running a bicycle retail store. As a result, most bike retailers try to start a business with about $50-200K and make a go of it.

If they don’t own their own real estate free and clear, have to pay rent or a mortgage, pay at least one employee payroll (and mandatory withholding taxes and health insurance) then the math doesn’t work.

To make bike retail profitable you have to have deep pockets and a deeper work ethic. You have to love hard work and business, not bikes and bike rides.

In its current iteration, the bicycle retail business model is a rotten investment. But, a new, emerging business model long on service and profit margin and short on inventory and overhead is promising and will be the bike shop of tomorrow.

5. Manage Costs.

This doesn’t mean go cheap. If your biggest overhead item is marketing then you are doing it right. If your customers arrive at your store and consistently say, “I thought this place would be a lot bigger”, you’re doing it right.

If you’re biggest overhead item is inventory, you are already in trouble.

Starting and maintaining a bike shop can be done very cheaply. Never buy new fixtures, so many used fixtures from other retailers that have been closed are available they can be had for pennies on the dollar. Never pay for extraneous and non-paying expenses like alarm systems (they won’t prevent or deter theft anyway) and subscriptions to POS software systems. Those don’t add to the bottom line.

Use low-cost, streamlined, highly adaptive and simple systems to combat the asymmetrical retail war the little bike shop has to fight against the big box e-commerce giants. Think of how the Afghan Guerillas used crude weapons to bring the Soviet Union to its knees, and still give the Americans fits in rural Afghanistan. Be a retail guerilla, a retail Taliban. Keep your costs low, adaptable and maintain a large amount of liquid capital.

6. Invest in Star Employees.

The online retailer you compete against is a faceless enemy. You can defeat him with a friendly face. If you have a star employee whom customers consistently ask for, reward them before anything else. Give them raises before you buy more bikes, pay them first and well and craft a set of “golden handcuffs” that makes it tough for them to go anywhere else. They are your brand, and if you lose them, you will have to rebuild your brand around another star employee. Worse yet, if you lose your star employee to another bicycle retailer across town or if your star opens their own shop, guess what happens, their customers follow them.

For a small bicycle retailer, the star employee is the single most important business tool. Develop them, value them, reward them, retain them.

7. Participate in the Sport. 

Instead of sponsoring the local hotshot, be the local hotshot. This doesn’t mean you have to do a nine-hour Ironman (but it helps) it just means you have to be present at events and participate credibly. This is a part of your business. It is work.

Set up the hours of your store so you can train. Close on key race weekends so you can be where the action is, as a part of the action. Ride the nicest bike you sell and show it off everywhere. Be an aspirational figurehead so when people see you on social media and in the store you have become “That Guy who Knows Everything and is Everywhere”.

If you build your hours correctly and manage your staff correctly the time you spend in the sport will directly and measurably bring full-price buyers into your store and keep them offline.

8. Differentiate Yourself. 

Build a voice, a brand and an identity. If your identity is so lifeless and generic that people confuse your business with others, you haven’t done that.

Understand that you will not please everyone. Nor is that the goal. If you talk about a donation to a wounded veteran’s charity in social media an anti-war activist may stop shopping with you. Fine. You can’t be everything to everyone.

Build your brand with clear vision and narrow focus. Don’t be generic. Don’t appeal to the masses. Keep your brand message narrow, unique and focused and be true to who you are.

If you are gay, fly the rainbow flag in front of your store and sponsor “Pride Rides”. If you are a veteran, have benefits for veteran’s organizations. If you are an animal rights activist, broadcast your donations to the local animal shelter and host an adoption day at your store. If you are an environmentalist, show your commitment to renewable energy and talk about how bikes preserve the environment.

Have the courage and identity to stand for something, be someone different and special. Brand yourself visibly and distinctly.

9. Be Highly Adaptive.

 Small bicycle retail is asymmetrical warfare: A small opponent taking on a much larger, better capitalized foe. Take a page from the teachings of Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Osama Bin Laden’s play book: Never fight fair.

Change your floorplan frequently. Bring in small, low-priced, easily purchased new products first. Seek out niche brands the big-box guys don’t have and use the equalizing power of social media to partner with the brand to promote them.

Build a reputation as a brutal buyer who torments sales reps and sales managers with non-adherence to “program” buying. If the biggest brands’ credit manager loves you but the sales manager hates you, you are doing it right.

Within your brand identity continue to change and adapt. Use every social media platform. Embrace new media. Use video. Never stop changing, evolving and promoting. There are two types of businesses on the retail battlefield: the quick and the dead. Improvise, adapt, overcome.

10. Have An Exit Strategy.

One day, this will all end. What will you have to show for it? Did you squirrel away money in an offshore account? Did you buy real estate? Is your brand developed enough to have some sales value? And, if you begin to fail, and chances are overwhelming that you will, do you have a viable safety net?

It’s a pipe dream to sell a small bicycle retail business. Frankly, they aren’t worth anything. The inventory is usually older than six months, the fixtures are stale, the employees may not come with the deal and rest can be reinvented elsewhere better and cheaper. As a result, you have to have a viable exit strategy.

What is yours? What is your end game? When do you cry “Uncle” and walk away? Know those answers in advance and you can sleep more soundly at night as a bike retailer.

All Photos and Story By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

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The day before the tragic Dallas police shooting on Thursday, July 7, 2016, where five policemen were killed and nine other persons injured, I was invited to embed with a Dearborn Police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) training operation by SWAT Team officer Sergeant [name withheld for operational security].

I did not know the techniques employed by Dearborn Police SWAT would be showcased in international headlines 24 hours later in Dallas.

The Dearborn Police simulation a day before the Dallas shootings was hauntingly similar. What is it like to be a Police SWAT Team operator entering a building with a deadly shooter barricaded inside? Come inside a SWAT team operation and find out…

0830 HRS. Wednesday, 6 July, 2016: Joint Dearborn Police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team, FBI, U.S. Army Training Operation; Ford Research and Innovation Building (RIC), Village Road, Dearborn, Michigan.

John David Smith is dangerous.

Anxiety, depression, paranoia and substance abuse. Coworkers reported his angry outbursts to managers. They counseled him, offering help on three occasions. Today he must be separated from the company.

Smith knows this, and he is irate. He puts a hunting shotgun and a homemade pipe bomb in a garment bag and drives to work.

0843 HRS. Wednesday, 6 July 2016: SWAT Training Simulation; Ford Research and Innovation Building (RIC), Room 2155.

The Ford Research and Innovation Building is where vehicles of the next decade are engineered today. PhD engineers keep Ford Motor Company at the top of market share with innovation for 2020 and beyond.

The Ford RIC building is a modern facility in the center of a large complex across from The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village and next to the luxurious Dearborn Inn. It is a safe place to work, with OSHA compliant safety placards and employees certified in safe work practices. A massive decade-long rebuilding of the complex was announced earlier this year. This is one of few buildings modern enough to remain as building the new complex begins.

Workers in Room 2155 see John Smith storming toward their office. He is bent over at the waist; head down, carrying a stiff garment bag. Smith has always been standoffish, but staff is trained to engage with dissatisfied employees and make conversation to lighten the atmosphere.

Smith responds by pulling a pump action shotgun from his garment bag and shooting them.

A mass shooting from a mentally disturbed assailant has begun at the Ford RIC complex.

0851 HRS. Wednesday, 6 July, 2016: SWAT Training Simulation; South Parking Lot, Ford Research and Innovation Building (RIC).

 I am embedded with the Dearborn Police Special Operations, Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Unit. I will move as part of the team, “stacked up” in the line with their rescue and assault element. The special police officers carry advanced first aid equipment, breaching and rescue gear, bulletproof shields, surveillance equipment, and an array of cell phones and tactical radios. They are also armed with M4 rifles with holographic sights, handguns, smoke, tear gas and stun grenades.

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In the training scenario an explosion of 911 calls arrives at Dearborn Police Dispatch miles away on Michigan Avenue in east Dearborn.

“Someone is shooting!” “We hear screaming.” “It sounds like bookshelves fell over and people are running up the hallway.” There is no clear picture.

Through the confusion dispatch officers trained to make order of chaos alert the SWAT team. Regular officers and Ford Security have cordoned off the building with an expedient security perimeter. SWAT positions their vehicles inside the secure perimeter at a concealed location in the south parking lot. The team is gearing up and getting their briefing. It only takes minutes.

By most comparative metrics Dearborn has one of the best law enforcement units in the United States. The department is modern and practices advanced training around the U.S. and the world. Its Special Operations SWAT Team is made up of officers with diverse backgrounds and extensive training, most with military experience, some with combat tours. But this is a civilian setting, vastly different- and more complex- than a battlefield.

The SWAT team leader is one of the older operators. His name is withheld here for security reasons. With his team in a tight circle around him the team leader briefs his men in calm tones:

“One shooter. Our objective is to get to him as fast as possible and neutralize the threat.” He shares the intelligence gathered from 911 calls, Ford Security and from cell phone communications with employees still inside the building being evacuated.

This is a near worst-case scenario: a shooter inside a massive building a city block in size. It’s an ant-maze of cubicles, engineering spaces, workshops, laboratories and vehicle service bays. There are flammable chemicals, explosive gases and high vantage points. Hundreds of places for a gunman to take hostages and barricade himself for a standoff that could end in the loss of innocent lives. The shooter can move with impunity and has demonstrated that he is willing to kill.

While hundreds of people are running out of the building, these men in black uniforms with Spartan patches on their body armor are running in.

We quietly cross an open zone behind ballistic shields and make entry. Fire alarms are blaring. The emergency exits are flung open by escaping employees. It is impossible to communicate above the din.

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The team enters against a rushing tide of fleeing, panicked employees. They jam up in an emergency exit. The SWAT operators calmly establish order and clear the evacuees to open the exit. They do it without a word, quickly searching the evacuees and signaling them to raise their hands. The shooter could be concealed among them. Fast action by the team insures he is not. Police outside secure the evacuees and move them to a safe assembly point.

Once inside the team separates into two elements without a word. They are each lined up, or “stacked” behind a thick bullet-resistant shield wielded by point men. If they come around a corner and find the shooter, the operator holding the ballistic shield will stop the incoming bullets at point-blank range while his teammates neutralize the target.

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We split the team. One assault element moves to an area where there may be hostages. They operate on sketchy intelligence gleaned from 911 calls that keep coming in, keep changing. The second element, the element I am with, moves immediately to the top floor. We begin a top-down clearing of the building, room by room, in case the first team cannot locate the shooter.

The fire alarm stops blaring. It falls deathly silent in the building. And it is getting hot. The team’s intelligence support unit operating in a large black van outside the building has disabled phones, Internet and air-conditioning. It is critical the suspect shooter does not have access to media. He could use it to watch live video about police response.

First problem: Research equipment in the building is interfering with the team’s tactical radios. The team leader commandeers the radios from Ford Security that are still working. They do a communications check on cell phones and radios. Within seconds new communications are improvised and tested. Problem solved. Forty seconds.

We are sweating now. I carry three heavy cameras and some extra equipment and wear a similar uniform as the SWAT operators. They carry 6-pound rifles, wear heavy body armor, and have on large backpacks with first aid gear, crowbars and door breaching tools. Each man has at least 40 pounds of gear on his back in addition to his ballistic helmet and eye protection. They wear special lightweight tactical boots that make no noise on the floors as they move and provide traction on wet floors. Each one wears hard-shell kneepads in case they must kneel or dive to the prone position.

I’ve done Ironman triathlons and can barely keep up with the team on the stairs with only half their load. These men are in superb condition. When we reach the top of the stairs the only sound is my breathing.

Element 1, the team moving to the possible assailant location, has located an “IED”, an improvised explosive device. A bomb. The U.S. Army and other law enforcement/intelligence units are here for the exercise to provide support and to learn from the operation. I am not allowed to photograph the techniques used to disable the bomb.

In only minutes the EOD team announces “clear”. The bomb is disarmed. There are two (simulated) casualties. SWAT operators use marking pens to write a letter on the casualties’ hands coding their condition for triage by EMT’s once the building is safe.

Our team silently rounds another corner in the systematic sweep of endless corridors.

There is carnage.

The floor is slick with (simulated) blood. There are… 10, 12… 14 casualties down in the hallway. Some dead. Some wounded. Some dying. Some screaming.

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It has gone from a hostage situation to a mass shooting, and a small tactical team in a huge building with limited emergency medical capability must make an instant, and agonizing decision: stop and render aid to victims or continue the search for the shooter- who may be creating more victims elsewhere in the building at this moment.

This is a test. A test of the team’s training in decision-making and prioritization. Like most decisions made under extreme circumstances there is no perfect outcome, only a “least bad” choice. Training and mission dictate that choice, and it is made instantly and without hesitation.

The team leader radios the first element. They move to link-up with our team in under two minutes. Instead of briefing the first team members when they arrive, which would take valuable seconds, the team leader briefs them over the radio while en route to our position in the casualty hallway. Seconds are everything.

Wounded people see us. They are screaming for help now. They may be rigged with explosives, one may be the shooter, the shooter may be in any of the doorways emptying into the hallway.

This is a kill zone filled with casualties and the team must manage the conflicting priorities of saving lives and avoiding becoming another victim. The first rule of rescuers: don’t create new victims.

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We split again, assault element sweeping to the front of the hallway, our medic moving behind us while the assaulters secure the hallway in front of us. None of the victims are rigged with explosives. None of our victims match the description of the shooter. In seconds the team has swept an adjacent office, secured it, checked the casualties for explosives and weapons and begun treating them. Regular Dearborn Police are pressed into service to help evacuate the wounded. Several victims are dead. We leave them behind. There is a (simulated) bloody bandage stuck to my boot.

After the shock of seeing shooting victims it’s hard to get back into stealth mode. It’s hard to calm my breathing. I look at the operators around me; their faces are neutral with focus.

We enter a meeting room. One operator sweeps left, one right, without a word, skirting the walls of the room with their M4 rifles in the ready position, weapon moving as one with their eyes. They avoid the fatal “funnel” inside the doorway where a shotgun blast from the shooter could cut the team down.

I’m momentarily puzzled when one man scans above us for disturbed ceiling tiles. The other checks a large waste container. The shooter could be anywhere- hiding in trash, concealed in the drop ceiling.

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Top floor. We have cleared the entire upper building. The shooter has moved and intelligence suggests there may be hostages since the count of employees rescued, the wounded in the hallway and the number of people who are supposed to be in the building does not match.

Intelligence and training suggest the shooter has moved down to a place where he can secure his hostages and remain defensive. It is rapidly evolving to a standoff hostage situation.

That situation must be avoided.

From the top floor both elements move quietly and quickly to the bottom floor engineering spaces. In total with have covered more than a mile of hallways and stairs. The Ford Security workers show signs of stress, their uniforms soaked through with sweat. I could use water. The building continues to get hotter.

The lower floors are not office cubicles. They are shop spaces and laboratories. Hundreds of places to hide. Flammable chemicals. Gasoline. We enter a large garage area with shiny, new F150 pick-ups hooked to test equipment. The team leader looks in the cab of each truck. Another team member checks the bed of the truck.

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There is a voice. Shouting.

At the end of the garage, through a high, clear garage door we make contact with the shooter. It’s the first time we’ve seen him. He is a big man, face contorted in a mix of anger and fear. It occurs to me that the role player simulating a deranged mass shooter must have experience with real shooters like this. His performance is convincing. There are several members of the simulation team I am not allowed to photograph for security reasons. He is one.

The team forms up behind their ballistic shields. They remain quiet. The shooter is shouting something, muffled by the clear garage door that separates us. One team member, our sniper, speaks quietly:

“I have a shot”.

Our team leader must make a decision: Let our sniper take the shot or advance closer in an attempt to assault the garage where the shooter is, potentially apprehending him alive and securing the hostages.

“Move up.” The team leader directs.

We advance along the wall out of sight of the shooter.

There is no hesitation. A concussion grenade cracks blinding light. The team pours into the room, flowing along the walls, weapons tracking the shooter who is now stunned by the deafening noise of the flash-bang grenade. His next flinch decides his fate, and it is a fatal one. He begins to raise his shotgun.

Two shots. Center mass. It is over.

I’m soaked in sweat, my hair is wet. My back hurts from the tension. The team begins an immediate, systematic search of the hostages. There could be an accomplice. It is too soon for “Stockholm Syndrome”, a psychological phenomenon when hostages empathize- and even defend- their assailant. There is an additional search for explosive devices.

More than anything else the team demonstrated their training enabled them to keep the momentum of their search high enough to end the standoff quickly. There are no easy choices when a life may be taken, and that is weighed against innocent lives being saved. The weight of that decision balances on a delicate fulcrum played out in the court of public opinion and the media days, weeks and months after a real incident takes place.

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Drenched in sweat and looking for a cold drink I set down my cameras and loosen my boots. The operators converse in measured tones, attentively critiquing the exercise. The outcome of this exercise will be evaluated for months and even years as a way to assess and modify doctrine against evolving threats. If the situation that happened in Texas ever comes to Dearborn our own SWAT Team is more than ready; they are trained, proficient and experienced in meeting the challenge optimally.


tomdemerlyembedded

 

Writer/photojournalist Tom Demerly is a former Army Long Range Surveillance team member and has written for numerous military, aviation and specialty publications while traveling to all seven continents, including Antarctica. He is from Dearborn, Michigan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly.

ironman history 70s 1

On the beach at the 1979 Ironman start on Oahu before the race moved to Kona. Interestingly, this swim was cancelled too, and moved to the next day due to bad weather.

With the swim cancellation at Ironman Florida this past weekend an obvious question reemerges: Has the Ironman Triathlon become too easy? Too “homogenized”? Is it a watered down event that panders to the business of sponsorship deals in an attempt to satisfy a financial relationship with Providence Equity Partners?

You could say Ironman has changed. But it would be more correct to say Ironman has grown. And with growth, change is inherent. The value judgment is whether Ironman is a better series of events than it was before World Triathlon Corporation and Providence Equity Partners.

I say yes.

Ironman is a better series of events now than it has ever been, and its future is brighter and more promising than ever.

With the move toward greater general participation in Ironman there comes a greater responsibility for race organizers to provide a safe, well-monitored and responsible event. Sometimes that means cancelling a swim.

World Triathlon Corporation has shouldered the responsibility for safer events well, consistently producing a growing number of high quality events around the world in different markets while improving the experience of athletes in their World Championship events as well. WTC has added value across the entire spectrum of the athlete experience. Show me any other company in this industry that has done the same.

Behind the scenes WTC has subverted exposure to scandals that have compromised pro cycling and the Tour de France. To understand the importance of this stewardship for the integrity of triathlon one need only compare U.S.A. Cycling membership numbers over the last decade to U.S.A. Triathlon membership numbers. Competitive cycling participation numbers sank in the post-Armstrong era. Triathlon numbers have boomed.

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We may believe that entering Ironman puts us on the frontier of human endurance. Right up there with climbers on Mt. Everest, sailors racing alone around the world and other extreme athletes. That is partially true. Ironman pushes personal boundaries, but lies within the limits of human boundaries. Because of that the sport has evolved from being fringe to mainstream.

Recall that the Olympics prevented women from doing endurance running events as recently as the 1970’s and that women were barred from big marathons as recently as four decades ago because of concerns it may be bad for their health. Ironman was once considered to be at the outer limits of human endurance. We’ve since learned it is a doable event for the citizen athlete.  Now both are fixtures in endurance sports.

Ironman is also a transitional event in a person’s life, moving them from the status of big sports spectator to big sports participant. That doesn’t make Ironman an easy event. Ironman will never be easy. It will never be homogenized. The ruthless arbiters of time and distance have absolute rule over that.

So for those who say Ironman has gotten somehow “too easy” on its competitors, I say one thing to you: Then go faster.

Within Ironman lies layers of personal challenge that are enormous. Finished before the cut-off? Excellent. Come back next year and go under 15 hours. Then go under 13… then… Ironman provides a palate against which Anything is Possible, and that means personal growth, achieving new goals, setting a P.R. and even having a swim cancelled for safety reasons. As with life, Anything really is Possible at Ironman, but at Ironman you have 17 hours to get it all done. It is literally life packed into one long day. And like any experience in life there are ups and downs and the first goal is to get to the end of the day alive.

Author Tom Demerly has done endurance races on all seven continents. He has done the Ironman World Championships, way back in 1986, when some would say the race still had “soul”. He’s raced triathlons, Ironman, ultra-distance running races and adventures races around the world, from Africa to Vietnam, from Antarctica to British Columbia, from New Zealand to Thailand. Demerly did Mark Burnett’s Discovery Channel Eco Challenge and the Raid Gauloises. He has competed in races people died in. Demerly has also climbed the highest mountains on three continents and served in the U.S. military in a long-range surveillance unit.

By Tom Demerly

jack-ryan-shadow-recruit

The greatest fear I had going into Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was that it would be a sad eulogy to Tom Clancy’s genius. I’m pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

Director Kenneth Branagh did his homework and borrowed subtle and successful elements from each of the Jason Bourne, James Bond, Mission Impossible and Tom Clancy franchises to weave a surprisingly good story thread that is visually well done.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is a tight and snappy spy thriller. It’s well written, tightly shown and quickly paced. Camera, sound and production techniques are tasteful and pay homage to its influences. Very little is over blown. Even the sets are well dressed and chosen.

Writers David Koepp and Adam Cozad used Tom Clancy’s character Jack Ryan with reverence for Clancy’s original vision of Dr. Ryan, the nerdy analyst turned reluctant but capable action hero.

Jack Ryan gets his first kill James Bond style, in a bathroom.

Jack Ryan gets his first kill James Bond style, in a bathroom.

Chris Pine as Jack Ryan is fantastic as is Kevin Costner as Thomas Harper, his CIA boss. And because no great spy film is a success without great villains, it is a pleasure to have Kenneth Branagh as the dangerous Russian, Viktor Cherevin.

The plot hits ominously close to home, literally and figuratively, with a story line that weaves into the little known world of economic warfare. Villains originate from Dearborn, Michigan in the shadow of Ford World Headquarters. The plan is to crash the stock market in a combined terror and economic attack; a scenario everyone hopes will remain fiction.

But Tom Clancy’s fiction has an ominous way of weaving its way into the headlines.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit never sags and builds well to a strong climax. There are a few corny moments but remember, this isn’t a strict Clancy plot. It weaves influences from every corner of the spy thriller genre, and does it with respect and tribute to each. While these stories do become somewhat cookie-cutter this one is flavored uniquely and with enough craft to make it a snappy 105-minutes. And yes, there is a sequel planned that hopefully continues with this fine cast in the upcoming Without Remorse.

Tom Clancy would have loved Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. It is tight, quick and nice looking. This is a pleasant surprise after the painful loss of a great author and storyteller who created these characters. That new writers are able to execute on Clancy’s vision confirms their talent and reverence for his mastery.

Taking to the streets with a nod to Bourne franchise in "Shadow Recruit".

Taking to the streets with a nod to Bourne franchise in “Shadow Recruit”.

By Tom Demerly.

Cmdr. Brian W. Sebenaler, commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command (BTC) speaks to members and guests during an establishment ceremony for the command held at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. BTC reports to the Naval Special Warfare Center and is charged with the basic training of all naval special warfare forces, including both Navy SEAL and special warfare combatant-craft crewman (SWCC) basic training programs, which include the BUD/S course and SEAL qualification training for SEAL candidates, and basic crewmen training and crewmen qualification training for SWCC candidates. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin S. Beauchamp/Released)

Cmdr. Brian W. Sebenaler, commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare Basic Training Command (BTC) speaks at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin S. Beauchamp)

52 years ago today President John F. Kennedy signed into law the formation of a new special operations unit called the U.S. Navy SEa, Air and Land” or “SE.A.L Teams”; the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Teams, the Navy SEALs.

No military unit is more misunderstood, misrepresented or misquoted. The Naval Special Warfare Teams are also justifiably celebrated as one of the most vigorous, capable and successful combat units in the entire U.S. arsenal.

Over the past 30 years I’ve been occasionally privileged to work and socialize with members of the Naval Special Warfare community. I’ve never failed to be impressed by their internal standards, training and capabilities. And by their humility.

The history books tell you the Naval Special Warfare Teams were born from the Underwater Demolition Teams, the “Frogmen”. Since then their mission and capabilities have expanded to include intelligence gathering, direct action, rescue, security, reconnaissance, technical and operational development and a host of other missions so diverse it has presented major challenges to these units.

(left) Athletes participate in the Navy SEAL Fitness Challenge in Dearborn, Michigan. (right) Naval Special Warfare Operator Mitch Hall wins the annual SuperSEAL triathlon in Coronado, California. (Photos by Tom Demerly).

(left) Athletes participate in the Navy SEAL Fitness Challenge in Dearborn, Michigan. (right) Naval Special Warfare Operator Mitch Hall wins the annual SuperSEAL triathlon in Coronado, California. (Photos by Tom Demerly).

Another great challenge facing the Naval Special Warfare community is the media’s love affair with them. Officially and unofficially the Navy has fed into this, with everything from support of Hollywood film projects to unsanctioned technical support of computer games and thousands of books.  In 2008 and 2009 Naval Special Warfare promoted a national fitness competition called the “Navy SEAL Fitness Challenge”. Naval Special Warfare has supported an annual triathlon called “SuperSEAL” and “Superfrog”.  Naval Special Warfare also sponsored the Ironman World Championship along with several triathletes who are active members of The Teams.  Next week a new Hollywood movie, “Lone Survivor”, joins over 40 popular movies featuring Naval Special Warfare operators as diverse as “G.I. Jane”, “Transformers” and “Act of Valor” that featured cast members from the Naval Special Warfare teams.

In the past decade there has been tremendous growth in the Naval Special Warfare community.  The last time I visited the Phil Bucklew Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, California during 2007 there was a construction project underway to house new Basic Underwater Demolition School students and expanded administration activities.

Naval Special Warfare has also seen its share of controversy.  In 2010 a west coast Naval Special Warfare operator and instructor was arrested for trafficking weapons smuggled from Afghanistan and sentenced to over 17 years in prison.  In 2013 Esquire magazine ran a feature story alleged to be an interview with a Naval Special Warfare Operator who claimed to have killed Osama bin Laden during a U.S. raid on Pakistan. The interview was sharply critical of treatment of Naval Special Warfare veterans.

What I’ve learned from the Naval Special Warfare Teams and their members is that they are human. While they are exceptionally dedicated, incredibly well trained and maintain an impressive level of proficiency in a vast array of skill sets they still suffer the fallibilities of the common man. They have difficulty in personal relationships like the rest of us and struggle with divorce and emotional challenges.

(left) At the Phil H. Bucklew Naval Special Warfare Center for SuperSEAL triathlon. (center) On board an 11-meter RIB off Coronado Island. (right) With Naval Special Warfare Development Group original member and author Chuck Pfarrer

(left) At the Phil H. Bucklew Naval Special Warfare Center for SuperSEAL triathlon. (center) On board an 11-meter RIB off Coronado Island. (right) With Naval Special Warfare Development Group original member and author Chuck Pfarrer.

One of many things that makes them exceptional is they do all this set against the backdrop of a necessity to maintain operational security and rarely disclose their true challenges among non-military relationships. This makes their tremendous burden even greater.

Naval Special Warfare is a community worthy of effusive praise and recognition. They have shouldered a mighty share of the burden of the Vietnam Conflict, numerous “peace time” actions, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Global War on Terror and other conflicts while maintaining a level of inter-unit quality almost unmatched in the world.  On their 52nd birthday it’s worth acknowledging their contribution.

Authors Note: If you are a fan of books about the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Teams you may find my review for MILTECHREV.com of Greg E. Mathieson Sr. and David Gatley’s impressive new book, Naval Special Warfare here of interest. It is the definitive work on Naval Special Warfare available to the public:

seals10

2014 New Year's fireworks on the Burj Khalifa, Dhubai.

2014 New Year’s fireworks on the Burj Khalifa, Dhubai.

1. You do not know when you will die.

2. It will be sooner than you expect.

3. There will be things you wish you had done.

4. Not fearing death makes you more alive.

5. You will fail in life. Try again. Don’t give up.

6. Don’t fear failure. Instead, fear not trying.

7. Happiness is a balance of striving for new and being content with now. Do both.

8. True friends are one of the most important things.

9. Understand what you can control and control it vigorously. Let the rest go.

10. Plan for later but live for now

By Tom Demerly.

cali

I survived the collapse of Detroit, the Middle East after 9/11 and watched East Germans through binoculars while dodging spies. I’ve never had a sense of looming change like California. The ground beneath your feet is unstable, and it’s not just geology.

California is ruled by silent fear. The culture is collectively grasping the dead image of the California dream.

It must be similar to sailing on the RMS Titanic in 1912 or being on Wall Street on 9/10. Everything seems fine, but there is a tectonic uneasiness. Consider that both the Titanic tragedy and the 9/11 attacks happened by the slightest of circumstances. California is vulnerable to a similar flutter of the butterfly’s wings. It is a culture perched on the fulcrum of the American dream, or nightmare. It can so easily go either way.

I lived in Mission Viejo, California for a year. The neighborhood was idyllic with soaring palms, manicured landscaping, and artificial lakes. Traffic jams of BMW’s delivered perfectly coiffed teenagers to the local high school in what looked like a cattle call for an Abercrombie catalog shoot. If nothing else, Californians are beautiful.

When I arrived in California I walked around a corner to discover two 40-ish females hefting their breasts in comparison. “Oh!” The woman remarked when she noticed me, “We’re sorry… we just got these.” Californians eat natural foods but have artificial breasts. They are afraid of the inevitability of aging and spend enormous amounts in a losing battle to avoid it. There is a cultural aversion to dressing your age in California.

California is crowded. So crowded that I lived inside a massive, sprawling strip mall. The expanse of strip malls is like a skin-eating disease on the terrain. The lesions have connected with each other across the tissue of the landscape to engulf the corporate housing boxes of consumers. We were caged there between purchases and labor shifts.  It resembled an above ground ant nest with nice landscaping. The ants drove Benzs instead of following scent trails.

My cell between the strip malls in California had 2 windows, 2 rooms and cost about $1600 a month. Now I live in a house with 17 windows, 9 rooms and it is $800 a month. I also have a massive yard. In California I slept with my head 9 feet from the front bumpers of cars parked outside. And their constantly bleating alarms. I did have a nice pool though.

Southern California is fragile. One morning on my five-mile commute to work a traffic light went out. One traffic light. The ripple effect throughout Orange County was bizarre. Nearly the entire distance of my five-mile route was delayed or stopped because of one traffic light failure. One. What would happen if there were power failures here like the East Coast power failure of 2003?

California works (now) because of a little known but real principle of space management called the “chicken coop” theory: When there are too many chickens in the coop to all sit on the floor at once you must continually bang on the side of the coop to keep some chickens in the air. The result is an unsustainable society of increasingly collective fatigue. If every Californian had to drive somewhere at once the roads could not handle the number of vehicles. If too many Californians flush their toilets at once…

You may ask, “What about the authentic surf culture? The liberal, progressive attitude and the tolerant society?” Those are the depictions of California we see in themed mall stores, music videos and media. The reality has shifted to an industry of depicting those things. Instead of being California, California is in the business of selling California to the rest of the world, or at least what they think California is. Or was.

What was most embarrassing is that many Californians were very up-tight about being laid-back. They were incapable of poking fun at themselves. When they made fun of me for calling a carbonated beverage “pop” I would reply, “Sorry dude, it’s totally soda man, that was so lame of me…” they would stare at me blankly, as if I had just taken the laid back Dude-God’s name in vein. The reality is that the California surfer dude is simply a hillbilly with a trust fund. Sorry to totally harsh on your scene dudes.

Mostly, Californians are lonely and afraid, and I was one of them. I asked a close friend who was moving if he needed help. He said, in all seriousness, “I don’t want you to help me because you might need me to help you.” That was California in a nutshell.

I went to the same pretty little check out girl at the grocery store every time for a year. The last week I lived there the girl asked, “Why do you always come through my line?”

“I think you are pretty.” I told her. She told me she was taking her break at six and asked if I wanted to have coffee with her next door at Starbucks.

“No,” I said. “I am moving back to Detroit tomorrow.”

By Tom Demerly.ap_twinkies_comeback_jt_130623_wgOwn it.

Before you can change it, you have to own it. Owning your failures is the first part in not repeating them. Understand that owning your failures may be different from fixing them. Some failures can’t be fixed, they can only be owned. The difference is taking a hard look in the mirror and understanding what you did to fail in the first place so you never repeat it. Making excuses and blaming others doesn’t work.

Dissect it.

Once you own your failure you can examine it in a forensic manner. What did you do wrong? Hindsight is 20/20. A detailed accounting of what got you into failure is the second step in climbing out of it and, most importantly, avoiding it again.

One warning: Avoid the paralysis of analysis. Once you dissect your failure and own it you must have control over it. It can’t own you through fear. The perspective of friends and associates can help with this. Understand what things are inside your “sphere of influence” (Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People) and what lies outside it. Control what you can control and let the rest go.

Get to Work.

There is only one way back from failure: Hard work. This means work without pay, work without sleep, work without adequate food, work without convenient transportation and work without the things that make work easy. It’s just ditch digging. You may need to work in an austere environment and not make excuses while doing it. Accept that. In fact, embrace it. This is the filter through which you must pass to achieve success again and the reason why few people do. They simply aren’t tough enough.

No excuses, no shortcuts. Hard work, measured risk and good decisions led to the only American to ever win the Tour de France, Greg LeMond's, spectacular victory in 1989.

No excuses, no shortcuts. Hard work, measured risk and good decisions led to the only American to ever win the Tour de France, Greg LeMond’s, spectacular victory in 1989.

Except in dire need (such as feeding children), avoid government social programs to assist you. They are time consuming to apply for and laden with bureaucracy. You are better served working a minimum wage job. This is part of the axiom in any survival situation that following the crowd will make you a refuge. Refuges don’t have control of their future. They are victims. The real danger of reliance on social programs is that once you get on them it could be hard to get off.

Don’t Compare Your Situation to Others.

When you own your situation you don’t look at other people and feel sorry for yourself. Instead, you celebrate the successes of others and take inspiration and hope from them. They are a source of strength. Be focused on your own life and goals. Don’t permit distractions. Maintain a “glass half full” mentality that author Stephen Covey called the “abundance mentality”.

Network.

While it’s tempting to crawl into a hole and hide when you fail, resist that temptation. Instead, show others how proactive and vigorous you are. Instead of just asking for help, ask to help them. You always have something to offer even if it is shoveling snow or listening to someone’s problems. Helping others boosts your self worth and keeps you positive. Remember that no job is beneath you. Even if you were the owner of a million dollar company and you land a job cleaning toilets treat those toilets as your business and a reflection of yourself. Make them the cleanest, best toilets you know how and find ways to improve on that. Always strive. Never settle.

By Tom Demerly.

tomhome20

I am, finally, home.

After four laps of the globe, trips to every continent, living on three continents, six countries and five states and not even remembering everywhere I’ve been, I’m back to the place I started from, my favorite place on earth; Dearborn, Michigan in the United States. It is and always has been home. And this has been a very long trip.

I will tell you stories about beautiful beaches and exotic places, about high mountains and vast deserts, war torn countries and hopeful sunrises. Success and failure. I will bore you to tears with esoteric facts and improbable stories, all true, mind you, if modified by time and memory. But I will never tell you there is a place better than Dearborn. So I am home.

Dearborn is the hometown of Henry Ford, the place where Ford Motor Company is headquartered and a suburb of the beleaguered and rebounding City of Detroit. We have one of the largest Arab-American populations in the world outside of the Middle East. Through the dark and light of our history we’ve been known for industry, recession and racism, Orville Hubbard and Greenfield Village. We have a campus of the University of Michigan and one of the best community colleges in the country named after Henry Ford. We also design and build cars here so good that when the entire U.S. auto industry needed a government bailout, we didn’t take it. Ford stock was about a dollar a share then. Today it is sixteen times that. And climbing.

So I’m home.

I learned something about home during the time I was away. Home is made of the history you’ve lived, the people you love and who love you. It is built of the precise map of your hometown built into your head so you never need Google Maps or a GPS in your car. You know every street, alley, sidewalk, and every shortcut.

But mostly, home is friends. Friends who share your history of triumph and failure, promise and forgiveness. Home is the girl you walked to school with in 7th grade and then take on a date 37 years later. And she still looks the same to you.  Home is the place where friends give you their old furniture and know your cats’ names.

Home is where you made your mistakes, took your licks, learned your game and gone on to things you thought were bigger and better only to discover there is a world of people searching for the same thing. But never really finding it. Because it is back home.

Home is also where you discover you really aren’t all that and that you have to take all these big lessons, experiences and adventures and cram them back into a little box and get back to work. Because you are only as good as the outcome of your next game. And whatever you may or may not have accomplished out there in the big world, home doesn’t care much. Home only cares that you carry on doing the things that make made this place… home.

I am so happy to be home.

By Tom Demerly.

pearlharbor-flash

06:14, Hawaii-Aleutian Time Zone (UTC-10:00), 7 December, 1941; 221 miles north of Oahu in the Pacific Ocean.

Navigating through the dark, Pacific morning under strict radio silence the Japanese aircraft carriers Zuikaku, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and task force flagship flagship Akagi came about into the wind on mild seas. Deck crews stood ready at the wheel chocks of idling attack aircraft with exhaust flame flickering from their cowlings. Dawn would break in minutes.  Communications officers on the high decks changed signal flags to indicate the attack was underway.

Chocks were pulled and throttles advanced as 50 Nakajima Kate dive bombers began their short take off rolls from the carrier decks. They were laden with massive 1,760-pound armor-piercing bombs. Another 40 Kates carrying top-secret long-finned, shallow water torpedoes thundered forward on the flight deck, drowning out the cries of “Bonzai! Bonzai!” from the deck crew.

Secret Operation Z was under way. The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor remains one of the most successful combat operations in history. Achieved with total surprise after maintaining strict security a massive naval armada of over 60 total Japanese vessels crossed 3000+ miles to stage near simultaneous attacks on multiple targets with miraculous precision and minor losses. The American naval capability was compromised to such a degree that it would take months to mount a tangible offensive in the Pacific. That more Americans did not die at Pearl Harbor is likely a function of the attack coming early on a Sunday morning.

Days earlier on November 26 the secret task force had left the covert naval installation at Etorofu Island and sailed over 2100 miles to its “initial point”. On December 2nd they were assembled stealthily under cover of bad weather to begin their final attack run toward the aircraft launch area north of Oahu. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, back on mainland Japan, issued a coded radio message via morse, “新高を登る!” or “Climb Mount Niitaka!”. This signaled the attack was to proceed as planned.

A new U.S. Army SCR-270 mobile radar array mounted high up Opana Point on Oahu detected the Japanese attack force 70 miles away but believed they were friendly aircraft. At 07:40 local the Japanese attack force spotted the Hawaiian coast at Kakuku Point. They had navigated partially by following the radio transmissions of music from the island.

Flight Officer 1st Class Shinpei Sano launches from the flight deck of the Akagi in an A6M2 model 21 Zero after sunrise in the second attack wave. Sano died in the Battle of Midway in June, 1942.

Flight Officer 1st Class Shinpei Sano launches from the flight deck of the Akagi in an A6M2 model 21 Zero after sunrise in the second attack wave on Pearl Harbor. Sano died in the Battle of Midway in June, 1942.

The attack began with total surprise and withering precision. Air superiority over Pearl Harbor was quickly established by lightweight, highly maneuverable Japanese A6M2 Zero fighters, the equivalent of today’s F-16. The Americans were unable to mount an effective air defense. As a result, air-attack commander Mitsuo Fuchida transmitted a famous morse radio message in the clear, “トラ,トラ,トラ…” or “To-ra, to-ra, to-ra!”.

Fuchida’s torpedo and dive bombers destroyed their targets with impunity as the Americans attempted to mount a defense with anti-aircraft guns. Two ships, the USS Nevada and USS Aylwin were able to start their boilers and run for the channel toward open ocean. Only the Aylwin, staffed by four new junior officersmade it to sea. The Nevada ran aground intentionally in Pearl Harbor after its commander was seriously wounded.

My mother, Velma Demerly, was in Lafayette, Indiana on December 7th, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. She is 92 now. The video above is a brief interview of her recollections of hearing the news that day. Her response typified the American misunderstanding of the gravity of the attack and the U.S. isolationism at the time.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was an incredible tactical and strategic success for the Japanese. It put the Americans on the back foot at the beginning of WWII. There were 2,402 Americans killed in the attack. By comparison 2,977 people in the U.S. died in the 9/11 terror attacks.

The social effects of the Pearl Harbor attack touched every American for decades. The Pearl Harbor attack lead to the first and only operational use of nuclear weapons five years later when the U.S. launched nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those attacks combined with a protracted and bloody island hopping, sea battle and air campaign across the Pacific finally brought WWII in the Pacific to an end five years later on August 15, 1945.

Remembering the Pearl Harbor attack is critical to our current political and military doctrine. The Pearl Harbor attack along with the 9/11 terror attacks stand as examples of why the U.S. must maintain strategic defensive capabilities and constant surveillance miles from our borders. It has been 72 years ago today since the first bomb fell on Pearl Harbor. The lessons learned from that tragic attack remain as relevant now as today’s headlines. Unless we remember we are condemned to repeat the past.