Lo, they do call to me, they bid me take my place among them, in the halls of Valhalla, where the brave may live forever.
I was making my way from Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan to Kandahar International Airport, Afghanistan via a C-130. It was January 29, 2002. The C-130 approached Kandahar at 10,000 feet. Once we were directly over the airfield, the wings dipped and we spiraled in. I'm told this dramatic landing was a standard procedure to avoid any Stinger missiles we'd given the Afghans during the Soviet occupation.
It was 0300 local time. As the engines wound down, the rear door opened into complete blackness. It was freezing cold.
I spent the next six months shuttling back and forth between the airfield and the Governor's mansion. Driving through the city was an experience. We were greeted with joy. People were flying kites and listening to music on 1980s style boom-boxes. They played the music so loud it seemed like the speakers were almost about to pop out. Both of these activities had been banned by the Taliban.
Everybody who was anybody sported a beard back then. I joined the fray and fit right in. I even met the Governor at the time, Gul Agha Shirzai. He'd taken a liking to my Benelli 12-gauge and bandolier, which stood out in a sea of M4 carbines. Or maybe it was my Doc Marten's?
Eight years later it was time to go back. So much for a quick, decisive victory over the Taliban. This time I ended up in Ghazni, Afghanistan, as a liaison to Jednostka Wojskowa GROM. The GROM compound was referred to as the 'Vatican', and their Commander was considered the Pope. Oh, and their XO was the spitting image of U2 front man, Bono.
It was here I got my first exposure to Valhalla. Nearly every operator you could throw a stick at, including the JPATs, talked about dying in glorious battle and entering the hallowed halls of Valhalla. Quite a few of them had Viking/Valhalla tattoos as well.
For all the badassery of GROM, it was well know to local Taliban that the Polish Mil Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships deployed to Ghazni didn't carry ammunition on patrol. Yes, you're right, that does totally defeat the purpose of a helicopter gunship. I'm not an international lawyer though, so who am I to second guess whatever rules of engagement they were operating under at the time?
One day, a nearly 200-member strong Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) was ambushed returning to FOB Ghazni. As the battle raged, an Mi-24 Hind flew overhead. It had no deterrent effect. Then through the chaos, a familiar whup-whup-whup could be heard coming closer. I don't have to tell you the most beautiful sight for troops in contact is two American AH-64 Apache attack helicopters showing up on station. The Taliban broke contact and fled.
In 2012, I found myself in Africa. No, I didn't have a farm, but I did travel to Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya. I discovered Ethiopian coffee, which is quite delicious. Most of my time there was spent in Djibouti City though. It's a wonderful city with a population of about 530,000. It was a stark contrast to Kandahar and Ghazni. It was the kind of place you wouldn't mind coming back to as a tourist.
Fast forward to 2014, and I found myself back in Kandahar, Afghanistan. I did liaison work with the Australians. 12 years is a lifetime, and this time Kandahar was very different. When we rode from the airfield to the city, kids who weren't even alive during 9/11 were cursing at us, throwing rocks at us, and giving us the middle finger. The rules of engagement were so twisted even Houdini couldn't wiggle his way around them.
I returned home in late 2014 and decided to keep the beard forever. Moving into 2015, I met my wife when I was out with an Australian friend whom I'd met in Kandahar. He'd come to the states for a visit. Later in 2015, I was out at a restaurant with my wife; our waiter had the most glorious beard I'd ever seen. So, I asked him how he did it. He told me the secret was beard oil.
The next day, I promptly drove to my local Whole Foods and grabbed a bottle of beard oil. It was ok, but I thought I could do better. This wasn't rocket surgery after all. My wife agreed. Considering all the bad asses I knew with beards, Valhalla seemed like a pretty good brand name for a beard care company. That was the easy part. Finding a good source with all natural ingredients and the ability to craft amazing scents was a little harder.
But the hardest part was the whole e-commerce thing. I can barely program a TV remote, and it turns out E-commerce for Dummies is a little too advance for me as well. I didn't know a shopping cart from a shopify. Online marketing? Forget about it!
It's been quite a learning experience since launching in December of 2015. I've turned a few customers into fans. I don't view Valhalla as a beard care or grooming business though. My business is to make you look and smell good. I believe when you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, good things happen to you and those around you.
Thank you to everyone who's helped me on this incredible journey.