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Heroes Among Us: “Nobody can do it alone.” with Army Lt. Col. Jeremy Latchaw and Marco Dehry

Nobody can do it alone. In the military we call our partners our Battle Buddies. They are the comrades for whom we fight and die. My Battle Buddy is my wife, Molly. She started on the entrepreneur journey with me in 2013 when we opened a franchise — Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt — and risked our life savings to […]


Nobody can do it alone. In the military we call our partners our Battle Buddies. They are the comrades for whom we fight and die. My Battle Buddy is my wife, Molly. She started on the entrepreneur journey with me in 2013 when we opened a franchise — Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt — and risked our life savings to do it. Since then we work together to develop our small business. She’s the Chief Operating Officer. I take care of accounting, human resources and marketing. When her mom died, I picked up the slack. When I took heat rounds in the drone business from a terrible partner, she picked up the slack and cheered me on. We constantly tell each other, “We are in the fight together. You are on my team. I will not degrade you or fight you. Our fight is outside these walls, and we will win it.”

As a part of my series about “Life and Leadership Lessons Learned In The Military,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Army Lt. Col. Jeremy Latchaw. Lt. Col. Jeremy Latchaw guides public safety officials throughout the U.S. in designing state-of-the-art tactics, techniques and procedures with unmanned aerial vehicles. Prior to founding Macatawa Unmanned Systems, Jeremy served two tours in Iraq and started two franchise companies in West Michigan. He previously held various positions with Booz Allen Hamilton and currently serves as the Commander of the 3rd Battalion, 330th Infantry. An award-winning author, Jeremy is a business professor at Western Michigan University.


Thank you so much for taking the time to join us! Can you tell us a little about your childhood?

I’m from Charlotte, a small town in rural Michigan. My dad is a Vietnam veteran and worked in sales for much of his career. My mom was the local school secretary. Everything in my early life came hard for me. In third grade I was placed in remedial English classes because I struggled to read, but I studied hard enough to gain admittance into honors courses by the time I entered high school.

I applied to ten colleges, and all accepted my application except the one I wanted most, which was the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. I instead applied to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) and attended Hope College in Holland, Mich. I found my voice at Hope and performed OK — not great — as an ROTC cadet. I excelled once the Army commissioned me as a Second Lieutenant, receiving graduate honors in both my basic coursework and the Captain’s Career Course.

What are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies your unique work?

I own Macatawa Unmanned Systems, a company that integrates drones into public and private business operations, including state level departments of homeland security and transportation. The best part of my job is enabling public safety officials to save lives with drones. I received a message from a client recently on how a drone provided police with a better picture of armed and dangerous individuals hiding in wooded areas near a college campus. Without the technology, a SWAT team would have most likely directly engaged the suspects with force and exposed themselves to a potentially lethal situation.

Can you tell us about your military background?

In 2000 I was commissioned in the Army as an Air Defense Artillery Officer. I graduated at the top of my class in the Basic Officer Leader Course and was stationed in Fort Riley, Kan. I served one year as a Bradley Stinger Fighting Vehicle platoon leader, then two years as an executive officer for that battery. In 2003 I became the personnel officer for the 1–16 Infantry of the 1st Infantry Division when we deployed to Ramadi, Iraq. We were in the First Battle of Ramadi and the First Battle of Fallujah. I finished my active duty service in 2005, only to be recalled in 2007 as a strategic planner in Kuwait. After the final rotation I stayed on with the Army Reserves and currently serve as an Infantry Battalion Commander.

I’m interested in better understanding heros. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism during your military experience?

Two heros come to mind immediately. A good friend from my platoon leader days is Lonnie Moore. He lost a leg in combat and later became an original spokesman for the Wounded Warrior Project. He served on many high-ranking wounded warrior panels to support the mental and physical health of disabled veterans.

Without his gunner, however, Lonnie would have never survived. Gunner David Sterling was with Lonnie the day he lost his leg. David fended off insurgents and called for a medivac all without the use of an arm. The Rocket Propelled Grenade that took out Lonnie’s leg took David’s arm at the same time. Without David, Lonnie might not be here. Without Lonnie, who knows if the Wounded Warrior Project would have had the impact that it has? David received the Silver Star for saving Lonnie’s life, although I doubt either would call themselves a hero.

Based upon that story, how would you define a “hero?”

Heroes are everyday people like you and me. The difference is that they accept a gut-wrenching amount of risk to protect those who are more vulnerable. Both David and Lonnie are heroes. David gave everything he had to protect his lieutenant and crew, including risking of his own life. Lonnie needed to make hard life choices following his deployment, which involved sacrificing family and personal relationships to save the lives of those struggling after the loss of their limbs.

Does a person need to face a life-and-death situation to reach hero status?

Not necessarily, although they need to place themselves in a situation where nobody else will do what they’re about to do.

Based upon your military experience, can you share with our readers five leadership lessons that you learned?

  1. Remain loyal to the loyal. I’m extremely fortunate to still work with two of the founding partners of my company, Macatawa Unmanned Systems. These men remained loyal to the original vision of the company, even when it could have cost them thousands in expenses and risk. Surrounding myself with a trusted team kept the business thriving during the toughest of times.
  2. Read the manual. In the military there are hundreds of manuals that are often the most boring material imaginable but we must read them to survive. Leaders must learn from the mistakes and successes of those before them if they are to become effective.
  3. Practice tactical patience. Overreacting to a situation costs too much time and money. Special forces operators often practice slowing down their brains to make decisions in an overly stimulating environment. Fighter pilots call it OODA Loop. Sometimes we need to pause in the heat of battle to orient ourselves. If we allow emotions to completely take over, we often do not decide upon the best possible outcome.
  4. Practice change management. Rare is the organizational leader who ever truly becomes an expert at managing change. Every time they complete a new endeavor, they need to reflect on how it might have been communicated better inside and outside the organization to consistently improve.
  5. Determine your daily tasks and delegate. I was taught to ask myself daily, “What am I doing that I should not be doing, and what am I not doing that I should be doing?” Part of developing leaders is providing them with the authority to make decisions and complete tasks that you could probably do well on your own, but do not need to.

Did your time in the military prepare you for business?

Absolutely it did! The modern battlefield is extremely fluid, and the enemies of the United States are constantly adapting to our strengths and weaknesses. Operating in one of the newest industries, drones, I constantly adopt new approaches to meet my overall vision and objectives. I must think like I did on the battlefield, or I will lose.

As you know, some people become scarred for life by the military. How did you struggle after your deployments concluded? How have you adjusted and thrived in civilian life so that others may emulate your positive experiences?

Following both of my Middle East deployments, I looked at civilians angrily because I spent more than a year of my life protecting them while they had no clue, much less any gratitude. They all went about their daily lives as though nothing for them ever changed. I felt a lot of resentment.

After my first tour I spent time decompressing around my Army friends. I stayed near the Army installation from which I was discharged. I joined the American Legion and hung out with World War II veterans. They welcomed me warmly and became great mentors. They told their stories about WWII and asked about my service in Ramadi. It helped me immeasurably. I returned the favor by serving on their board and speaking at many of their events. It was a great opportunity to connect.

The second time coming home I returned to work immediately without such support. The company for which I worked moved me into a new position and new location. I started over in a town with no friends, no housing and no connection to the military. Though I could have joined the local American Legion/The Veterans of Foreign Wars, I did not. I felt bitter for all the change, not allowing for any decompression time between the deployment and returning to work. It all built up to where I caught myself yelling at my boss’ boss many times. I lasted one year.

Support groups are the biggest asset for veterans. Find those who have been there and done that. Become involved in the veteran community, volunteer and enjoy spending time with them.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am working on a children’s book series titled “Drone Pellers” to help young readers understand the science behind drones, and more importantly how to use them for good. The first book in the series is titled “The Search for Lincoln’s Lost Puppy” in which the drones find Lincoln’s puppy with a heat sensor. My first goal with the book is to assist elementary teachers in introducing STEM topics, including how to pilot drones to save the environment and human lives. My second goal is to ease fears over drones operated by police and fire departments by sharing how they are used as a positive force in the world.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their teams thrive?

Practice communicating your vision and intent so that it becomes clear and concise, and then allow your team to execute it. An ongoing challenge for me is to clearly communicate my intent so that the team may perform tasks in a flexible environment that rewards creativity. If the intent and objectives are not clear, your team will constantly ask questions instead of spending their energy on developing unique concepts. With a clearly communicated direction, the team will thrive by working toward the same goal through executing unique concepts that feed into your vision.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there someone to whom you are grateful for getting you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Nobody can do it alone. In the military we call our partners our Battle Buddies. They are the comrades for whom we fight and die. My Battle Buddy is my wife, Molly. She started on the entrepreneur journey with me in 2013 when we opened a franchise — Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt — and risked our life savings to do it. Since then we work together to develop our small business. She’s the Chief Operating Officer. I take care of accounting, human resources and marketing. When her mom died, I picked up the slack. When I took heat rounds in the drone business from a terrible partner, she picked up the slack and cheered me on. We constantly tell each other, “We are in the fight together. You are on my team. I will not degrade you or fight you. Our fight is outside these walls, and we will win it.”

How have you used your success to better the world?

Our frozen yogurt franchise raises tens of thousands of dollars to invest in our community. We hire ex-gang members and other high-risk employees whom others would never offer a second chance. We help them to reach their potential despite past mistakes. My wife, Molly, is an ordained pastor who mentors much of the staff mentally and spiritually. We also support nonprofits that fill voids in families and communities.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Hire more veterans. Many veteran resumes do not translate into corporate speak. However, the majority of them — regardless of their role in the military — offer the foundational skills and characteristics that every hiring manager needs. They are trainable, flexible and entrepreneurial. They are also experienced in working within diverse teams. Their basic values are of selfless service and teamwork with an aptitude for gaining new expertise.

Can you enlighten us with your favorite Life Lesson Quote? How did it become relevant to your life?

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” former President Ronald Reagan said. “We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

I serve my country because of this quote. Freedom is not free. We Americans need to fight to protect our freedoms because this entire experiment called a constitutional republic, in which we all participate, can vanish within one generation. It is not only for those of us serving in the military, it is also for those in business. Americans have always accepted risks to better themselves, their families and their communities. They explore opportunities to enhance freedom — through free enterprise — while maintaining the highest ethical standards. Maintaining freedom is more than a matter of defending it. We protect it and gift it to the next generation. I often ask myself whether I am handing down the concepts of freedom and free enterprise to my two children.

Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S., with whom you would love to enjoy a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

Phil Knight is my current entrepreneurial hero. His book, “Shoe Dog,” was like reading my startup story. Knight supported his family by serving as a reserve officer and taught adjunct courses in accounting at a local college while building Nike. I currently finance my entrepreneurial adventures by serving as an officer in the reserves and teaching adjunct courses in strategic business at a local university. He sold foreign shoes out of the trunk of his car. I sell foreign drones. According to Knight, he wrote “Shoe Dog” for those that might see some of themselves in his story, and there’s a lot of what I’m doing in his story.

Thank you so much for your amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.

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