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Mike HanesEvery time Marine Corps veteran Mike Hanes got excited about a new recipe for his hot sauce, the chance to get it bottled or the plans to distribute the sauce through a food retailer, his exclamation was always the same,

“Dang!”

So it should come as no surprise that Dang!!! hot sauce is what customers can find on the label of Hanes new all-natural hot sauce.

“It’s a southern expression,” said Hanes, who was born in Marietta, Ga. “Sometimes it’s a curse, sometimes it is for joy.”

Lately, most of the “dangs” in Hanes life have been the good variety. The former recon Marine recently completed a nationwide rollout of his new hot sauce that included a Nov. 2011 kickoff in honor of the Marine Corps’ birthday.

A decorated combat veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Hanes is one of many success stories from the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) program in Escondido, California. And something about his journey from combat to homelessness to entrepreneur is uniquely American.

Hanes enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1994 and served four years as a communications operator, establishing field communications for war fighters.

He left the Marines for one year before re-enlisting in 2000, where he plied his radio work for 1st Force Recon out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.

But his elite-level military service didn’t prepare Hanes for transitioning out of the military service with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“A drill instructor shot himself in the head while I was in the pool doing swim qualification at (Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot) Parris Island, and I just had to push that down and move on,” Hanes said. “In the military, you carry a stigma if you complain about mental trauma. But years later in Iraq, I saw someone suffer a head wound, and it all came back to me.”

Shortly after getting out of the Marines in 2004, Hanes became a homeless college student.

“I went to college and studied in the computer lab at night,” Hanes recalled. “But I left school and curled up under a bush to sleep every night.”

Hanes said he hid his homelessness from his family, who had tried in many ways to help him cope with post-combat stress.

Hanes eventually found employment at a raw food store in southern California. While there, he developed a philosophy about health and nutrition that continues to influence him today.

“You are what you eat. We’ve all heard that one before,” Hanes said. “I try to eat foods that are more alive and wild.”

Once Hanes enrolled in the six-week VSAT program the last piece of the puzzle fell into place. He and the owners hit it off right away and trusted each other as only combat veterans and Marines can. With training and support from VSAT, Hanes was able to develop his passion for natural foods into a business plan.

For veterans like Hanes, the tuition for VSAT training can be too high. That’s where the DAV's Charitable Service Trust comes in.

Through a grant to support VSAT, the DAV Charitable Service Trust has paid the tuition of those veterans who otherwise would not have been able to afford this unique educational experience.

“The DAV’s Charitable Service Trust has stepped up in a big way to make an investment in not only the lives of these young men and women, but in the food safety and security of all Americans,” said VSAT’s instructor.

Hanes wasn’t surprised to learn that the DAV Charitable Service Trust has stepped in to help fund the VSAT program. He was assisted by DAV at a crucial time in his life.

“The DAV really came through for me when I had nowhere else to turn,” Hanes said. “I had spent a lot of time trying to figure out my benefits. I wish I’d known all along that it was as easy as turning to the DAV for help.”

© DAV Charitable Service Trust All rights reserved.


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