Defending Ukraine

I’ve proudly given time and resources to help Ukraine, founding Ghosts of Liberty in February 2022, and completing three trips and two months in the country. It was a rewarding yet moving experience. The men I trained on my first trip were good people with no military background whose futures and lives were upended – not only because of the invasion, but because they chose to fight. They were not fighters; they were photographers, real estate investors, doctors, dentists, artists. Weeks earlier, they did not expect to fight, but they rose to the occasion.


Some have been captured (one released), wounded, and sadly, killed in action. I am humbled and grateful for their service and sacrifices, but am saddened and angered by the injustice and suffering they endure, as I have gotten to know many of them and remain in contact. One of the men I supported was personally awarded the Hero of Ukraine by President Zelensky. The brother of one of the medics I trained, who later became a medic, was supplied with my night vision and sent to evacuate and treat wounded fighting in Soledar as it was falling. He saved many but lost his leg in the process. Learning of their losses leaves me frustrated by the slow and restrained pace of aid to Ukraine.


I was also moved by a veteran of the 2014 conflict who had a bounty on his head from Russia. Like the men we trained, he too was a civilian who abruptly volunteered to fight a Russian invasion. One day, he got the news that one of his friends he served with was killed. Two days later, he received news that another close friend was killed by a grenade. Each time he shared this news, he showed a photo with them, and I could see his pain as it felt that a part of him died each time he lost a friend.

Russian t-72 outside Kupiansk


I met a commander of Alpha SBU who attended the Soviet Naval Academy in St Petersburg. His close friend at the academy later became the head of the Black Sea Fleet and stopped talking to him in 2014 when Russia first invaded Ukraine. The commander told stories about how Ukrainians attending the academy were treated as second-class citizens in the Soviet system and would receive less favorable posts and opportunities because of their ethnicity.

My good friend (whom I’ve known for over ten years) is from Sevastopol, the capital of Crimea. While he was fighting Russians, his sister who remained on the peninsula also remained supportive of Russia’s war – a war that nearly took the life of her brother who was fighting on the front lines to stop it as his unit was surrounded outside the power station in Donetsk, and mostly destroyed as it fought to rejoin Ukrainian lines.

I learned the long history of Ukraine and its struggles for independence; and how much of the war seemed to me to be history repeating. Ukraine has a long, gruesome, and recent history of fighting across territory that changed hands over a dozen times since the 20th century – not accounting for the two centuries that preceded it.

Its red and black resistance flag originated from partisans over a century ago and remains a symbol of sacrifice flown throughout the country. Its red and black colors represent a blood-stained blue and yellow Ukrainian flag from its first fight for independence.

Since Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, I’ve read about how Vladimir Putin has dismantled free press, established several security services to terrorize the population who opposed his rule, assassinated or jailed his rivals, consolidated power, falsified “elections”, engaged in massive cyber psychological warfare (to include “troll farms”) to influence elections and populations both in Russia and abroad (including in the US), and clearly stated his view for a new world order which includes something that resembles a new, seemingly fascist, Russian Empire. Hearing stories on the news is one thing, but it became more real when people I knew were impacted by the decisions of a tyrant.

A Ukrainian friend from college was a Maidan protestor in Kyiv in 2013-2014 and shared stories of what they experienced. One night a year later, I was invited to an event at the Ukrainian Embassy in DC, where I met the ambassador and learned more about Ukraine and what was happening there from their perspective.

With Ambassador Oleksandr Motsyk who has pleaded for defensive weapons since 2014 –

A classmate and friend I graduated from business school with in 2012, who is Ukrainian, was living in Kyiv with his wife and kids, enjoying his blossoming career as a real estate developer until Russia invaded on February 24. He volunteered to fight. He asked for help, and I came to join him and 80 men in his group, along with body armor, first aid supplies, night vision scopes, plate carriers and vests, and more supplies for the group.

Homemade body armor in the early days of the invasion. Ukrainians have shown to be adaptable and inventive

The intentional deception and misdirection of Putin’s regime can make it difficult for the common citizen with their own daily concerns to understand what’s really happening, and what’s at stake.

Putin has given many reasons to justify his campaign:

  • To prevent Ukraine from joining NATO (he also said NATO should be pushed back to Germany as a condition for not invading Ukraine).
  • To defend Russian citizens who were being attacked by Ukraine. A similar excuse he gave for both the 2008 invasion of Georgia and first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, where unmarked military forces entered the country and seized Crimea and key cities in the east under the guise of “local militia” which were Russian forces directed, funded, and led by the Putin regime.
  • To protect Russia, a nuclear state, from invasion by NATO, a defensive alliance
  • To “de-nazify” Ukraine, claiming that the regime is run by Nazis. A ridiculous claim considering that President Zelensky is Jewish and lost family members in the holocaust.
  • Putin claimed that the 2014 Maidan Revolution was a coup, backed by “the west” to delegalize Ukraine’s independence and suggest that its own citizens have no agency.

Putin also said he doesn’t recognize Ukraine as a sovereign state or people. No, he views Ukraine and its people as vassals of Russia. As property. And as an angry child, he’ll break Ukraine if he can’t have it. He routinely rewrites history and engages in wild rants to justify brutal, unforgivable acts of inhumanity not only against those outside Russia’s borders but against his own people. Putin is a corrupt, criminal, psychopathic dictator with no empathy or respect for human life, who steals from his own people. He ignored international treaties Russia signed that guaranteed Ukraine’s protection and sovereignty, like the Budapest Memorandum in which Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees from Russia, the US, and the UK.

Putin’s goal is simple: The pursuit of power and territorial expansion through fear and conquest, and of course, self-preservation for himself and his corrupt and brutal regime. He would also like to split the US/EU/NATO alliance.

It’s worth noting that Putin swore to the world publicly that Russia would never invade Ukraine, but the history of his actions speaks louder than words and shows that deceit, false flags, brutality, fear, manipulation, and lies are the principal tools employed by the Russian state.


Alpha GRU

The Ukraine conflict to me resembles America’s war for independence, but with the brutality and senseless savagery of World War I and the Civil War. For hundreds of years, the people of Ukraine have fought for their independence and paid dearly. This is their time to cement their independence and protect the future of their culture, language, and entire identity. Make no mistake- the Ukrainian people are fighting for nothing less than their right to exist.

And Ukraine isn’t simply fighting a war against Russia, as daunting as it is on its own. No, Ukraine is fighting five wars at once and will continue to do so for the remainder of the conflict. In some cases, long after. Every nation faces internal challenges, including the US, and Ukraine is no different. It is not our place to judge them, but rather to support them on the path to a brighter future for the people of Ukraine, and the democratic world.

Ukraine’s five simultaneous wars:

  1. Russia’s invasion
  2. Financial (Ukraine needs $5B infusion of cash per month to stay solvent)
  3. Corruption
  4. Spies and saboteurs
  5. Public opinion


Body armor sent to troops in the south near Mykolaiv

In total, I spent about two months in Ukraine on three trips. My mission was not and is not to hurt Russians- it is and has always been to save Ukrainians. I have grown up with Russian friends and still have Russian friends. The enemy is the Russian state that has manipulated and oppressed its people for over two decades.

Ukrainian civilians have been killed and targeted in a campaign of terror, rape, murder, and torture from which innocent women, the elderly, and children cannot escape. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children and citizens have been forcibly deported to Russia – a mass kidnapping that remains underreported. Imagine a gang of brutes breaking into your home, trying to steal it and all you own, and raping, killing, and kidnapping your family. Would you expect your neighbors to help you? Would you help your neighbors if you knew they were under such evils? Could you look at yourself in the mirror if you didn’t?

Short of Russian withdrawal from Ukraine, the only acceptable path forward is a Ukrainian victory on the battlefield. To this end, allied aid to Ukraine needs to be expanded and accelerated without hesitation.

First Trip

  • Provided night vision optics for machineguns and rifles for Alpha GRU (Spetsnaz)
  • Provided bipods for rifles and machineguns
  • Trained 80 Ukrainian Army and Territorial Defense on defense, assault, patrolling, ambushes, urban combat, close-quarters battle, first aid, hand/arm signals, weapons handling, squad/platoon organization and leadership, fire and movement, boobytraps, strengths/weaknesses of various vehicles, and more.
  • Equipped 80 of those trained with plate carriers, magazine pouches, and more
  • Provided body armor to soldiers in the south
  • Provided first aid supplies and kits

Second Trip

  • Supplied encrypted radios to allow defenders around Bakhmut to communicate
  • Provided night vision and thermal devices
  • Tripwires
  • Motion sensor alarms
  • Various long-range binoculars
  • Camouflage, uniforms, ghillie suits

Third Trip

  • 30 fire-resistant, cold-weather flight suits for helicopter pilots
  • Advanced drone with thermal imaging
  • Attack drones
  • GPS trackers
  • Night vision
  • Long-range binoculars and optics

Fourth – Supply Run

  • Secure radios
  • Generators for aviation units


In addition, I continue to support other groups operating in Ukraine.

One of the things I’ve learned is that despite the foreign aid you hear in the news, most of the war is crowdfunded. That is understandable in the early days of the war, but it is unacceptable. Many front-line troops still don’t have critical items like first-aid kits, tourniquets, radios or communication, night vision, electronic warfare support, and binoculars.

The requests their commands make to senior levels are lost somewhere in the process. It’s not simply a matter of “it’s a lot” or any other unacceptable excuses that need to be measured in treasured lives. I believe the problem is corrupt or incompetent individuals within the government, and they must be rooted out. In time, I believe they will, but not fast enough.

Still, Ukrainians have emptied their savings to send vital supplies to their loved ones fighting along a massive and unforgiving front line. I have the luxury to return to the US and leave the country when I wish. They can’t escape from the nightmare that is their life, a nightmare with no clear end date or promise they’ll survive it. Those who are in fortunate enough positions and have the resources to make a difference must do so.

Ukraine is under extreme financial pressure and cannot sustain the war and its economy alone. This is nothing like Afghanistan or Iraq, this is a total war of survival for the Ukrainian people, and it will determine their future and the prospects for democracy everywhere, and peace in the 21st century.

Russia and China publicly stated their desire to forge a new world order: one of fear, overwhelming and unquestionable power of the state, which is ruled by a powerful few, the subjugation of all people under its dominion, no justice, no human rights, no democracy, and one in which might makes right. A sick order ruled by despots with nuclear weapons must be resisted. It’s not simply the right thing to do, it’s necessary.

Russian assets should be frozen and used to pay for the damage and harm inflicted on Ukraine A new, global free trade and collective defense organization should be formed among nations committed to the principles of liberty. If the republics of the world do not stand together this century, they will certainly hang separately.

What matters is not where a people were born, but their values. The Ukrainians I’ve met are honorable, courageous, and kind. True warriors, who defend the weak against the strong. As Ukraine fights desperately for its right to exist, we must continue to support them. I will.



America’s Greatest Tragedy


Growing up in Southern California, I didn’t see any Civil War statues or Confederate flags. I didn’t understand why there were still contentious debates about flags and statues. Sure, I learned about the Civil War and slavery in High School, but the arguments presented by the “lost cause” crowd muddied the truth. It was about states’ rights, they argued. But I never understood why people 150 years later felt the need to defend the Confederacy or justify its actions, regardless of what they claimed the war was fought for. I didn’t understand it, nor did I give it much thought until I wrote my senior economics seminar on the ratings of higher education in different parts of the United States. I noticed that most of the prestigious Universities (according to US News and World Report) were not in the south and wanted to understand why.

What started as a look into the different ratings of Universities led me down a completely different path. I started my economics research by looking at the motivations for the colonization of North America.

The evils of slavery, and the evils that followed it, weakened the United States tremendously both before and after the Civil War – in addition to the war itself. More Americans were killed and most of its territory destroyed by the Confederacy than any other enemy force in history. The territory of the nation would undoubtedly be larger if manifest destiny had not been tempered by the struggle to restrict slave state representation in Congress. The United States would be more populous and more prosperous today if we hadn’t embraced slavery or continued beating down our fellow countrymen and human beings in the decades that followed. We spent too much time fighting ourselves when we could have been working together to build a better America for all.

What’s more, it was all done for one single purpose: to preserve slavery. Anyone who believes the Confederacy was formed for any reason other than to preserve slavery is either ignorant or a fool. I admit I was once ignorant. It’s ok to be ignorant, but it is not ok to be a fool who would think it acceptable to justify slavery or the injustice of other men, or the lynching of men, women, and children in its aftermath.

Hundreds of thousands of southerners, many poor, were duped into believing they were fighting for their homes or their “way of life” by obscenely rich slaveholders who owned the media, government, and economics in the south, and didn’t care for the pawns they set off to war. As added insurance, many southern churches and the elite used religion to reinforce the belief that God approved of the enslavement of blacks. Others were forced to fight against their will or executed if they refused.

The planter elite who started the war certainly didn’t send their own sons off to die in a war they started, for the singular purpose of preserving their right to enslave. They could have sold their slaves to the government and remained ridiculously wealthy. They didn’t.

They could have chosen a peaceful path to respect democracy and the will of the people; instead, they chose the destruction of their own people and nation so that they could continue slavery. The confederates murdered unarmed American soldiers who had surrendered because of the color of their skin, and they refused to exchange black soldiers for white confederate soldiers. The planter elite cared more about enslaving African-Americans and keeping them as their property than they did about the white men fighting for them, many of whom would die in prisoner of war camps because the Confederacy refused to exchange a soldier for a soldier, regardless of color. This is but one example of how their deeply ingrained ignorance, greed, and hate led to unnecessary loss.

Monuments and flags of traitors and to those who fought for the enslavement of their own species should not stand as if they ever possessed a shred of honor or dignity, which they denied to those of a different color. Preserving history is no excuse; we can read about history in a book. Hitler and Stalin are part of history, but we don’t erect monuments of history to them. If we want to display our history, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, and many other true warriors and honorable people like them deserve to be recognized in place of traitors, slavers, and enemies of the United States and the values of liberty and freedom.

But what does that have to do with higher education? Well, I was surprised to learn that my alma mater, the College of William and Mary, invested its entire endowment into Confederate Bonds to finance the war, while 68 of its 70 students and its entire faculty joined the Confederate Army. Its endowment was lost at the end of the war along with most of the college campus. Who knows what that money could have built in the following 150 years.

If you’re not bored yet, I’ll share the rest of what I discovered on the education topic. Data suggest a significant disparity between the concentration of well-endowed and prestigious universities in the south compared to the north. Three main factors set the south’s higher education system behind that of the other American institutions. The history of the south’s formation, its economy, and its planter-dominated political system made higher education a low priority. Slavery exacerbated the problem, creating disincentives for investment in human capital and restricting the south’s demand for education.

The Civil War crippled southern universities by eliminating college endowments, depleting institutions of their students and faculty, and destroying educational infrastructure. The postbellum south improved its tertiary education system, but its discriminatory leanings repelled the contribution of many qualified academics.

Cultural history, slavery, and the Civil War suffocated both the south’s demand and supply for higher education, resulting in the disparity between southern tertiary education relative to tertiary education in other areas of the US.

Cultural History and Colonization

When English merchants established the first American settlement at Jamestown in 1608, they strived to expand the British crown’s economic power. Most early American settlers, particularly those in the south, were not driven by a desire for religious freedom, but rather to become rich. The south quickly developed a plantation economy centered on highly profitable cotton and tobacco ruled by a small number of elite planters, creating a stratified social structure. Southern farms were massive and plantations were widely dispersed from one another. As a result, the southern population was dispersed throughout rural areas. Consequently, the high fixed costs of establishing a university did not justify the perceived benefits, particularly since the social and economic exclusion of the majority of the south’s population prevented any such institution to capitalize on economies of scale. In addition, the planters had little incentive to invest in public education because of the high opportunity costs of diverting resources away from southern cash crops, instead, they invested most of their resources in acquiring land and slaves.

On the contrary, Puritans arrived in New England with a strong conviction for education, evident by John Winthrop, who proclaimed the colony would set an example for the rest of the world in his “City upon a Hill” sermon. To achieve this goal, all Puritans were to be educated, as reading sermons was a necessary component of becoming holy. Six years later, Harvard College was founded. In 1647, the Massachusetts colony required all towns to finance a schoolmaster to teach children to read and write. By the 1670s, all New England colonies with the exception of Rhode Island had legal provisions requiring literacy for children. The northern population was more urbanized as the Puritan settlers created socially tight-knit communities where the people lived in close proximity, allowing educational institutions to capitalize on economies of scale. The social constructs established by settlers of Jamestown and Massachusetts Bay Colonies laid the foundations for both education and the development of tertiary institutions.

While the Puritan economy in the north was based on the efforts of individual farmers, who produced a variety of crops to consume and trade, the south failed to develop a diversified economy and produced mainly cotton and tobacco. New England became an important mercantile and shipbuilding center, often serving as a trading hub. Increases in northern manufacturing and technical jobs required a more educated workforce, stimulating demand for education. Early mills and factories in New England often devoted a floor to serve as a schoolhouse. Thus, human capital did not develop in the south as it had in the north. The south had neither the supply nor the demand for higher education, particularly for the masses.

The southern plantation economy lacked a middle class and created an extremely stratified social structure. Without a middle class, the south did not have a demand for goods and services other than those that the wealthy could afford. This only served to exacerbate the southern economy’s concentration on its cash crops, resulting in a weak industrial sector and failure to provide an incentive for investment in tertiary institutions.

Formal education was common in New England but virtually nonexistent in the south. Early Puritan settlers believed it was necessary to study the Bible, and they taught their children to read at an early age, whereas southern Anglicans placed less importance on religion. Northern colonies also required each town to pay for primary school. By 1750, nearly all of New England’s men and approximately 90% of its women could read and write–rates nearly twice as high as in the south. Group schooling was prevalent in the north because it was convenient for families to send their children to a single institution in close proximity.

In contrast, southern children were homeschooled or sent to exclusive private schools, typically with a focus on agriculture. Most southerners did not believe that education had a place in the public arena and opposed public financing for educational institutions. Antebellum efforts to establish education for the common man in the south were derailed by the planter elite. They argued that in all traditional societies, the most important education one receives is in the home and that schools could never be more successful than families at educating a child. The Prussian model for education prevalent in the north was condemned by planter elites as “autocratic” and it became a patriotic duty for southerners to oppose public education, which was viewed as a threat to the southern way of life.

Southerners placed emphasis on creating a college-bred elite in order to preserve the southern way of life and to pass southern traditions to successive generations. It was common for wealthy southerners to send their children to existing institutions in the north and England, rather than invest in creating additional southern institutions, and most southern students attended private institutions. The southern majority, composed of white yeomen farmers and slaves, did not have access to higher education. In reality, elites opposed public education in order to maintain their power over the southern social and economic system; they prevented the spread of democratic principles, just as they also restricted voter eligibility. Wealthy plantation owners dominated southern politics and government revenues which could have financed education. Elite planters used their wealth to dominate the poorer whites and at election time, assumed control of local legislatures by promising to lower taxes and giving the small farmers gifts of rum. As a result, the south established a fraction of the colleges founded in the north and a small number of the southern population was educated.

Southern proponents of public education sought to follow Massachusetts’s example and consulted Horace Mann, the first secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, established in 1837. During his correspondence with southern supporters of public education, Mann addressed southern opposition to public education, stating that “…colleges and academies never will act downward to raise the mass of people by education; but, on the contrary, common schools will feed and sustain the academies and colleges. Heat ascends, and it will warm upwards, but it will not warm downwards.”

While state-funded public institutions sprung up in the northern and Midwestern states in the 1840s, the south did not establish public schools “which shall be open to all without distinction of race or color, to the end that where suffrage is universal, education may be universal also, and the new governments find support in the intelligence of the people.”Although the first state universities in the US were founded in the south, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and University of Georgia (UG), they were neither supported by strong legal provisions for state funding nor free and universal. As a result, southern society remained highly stratified, uneducated, and lacked educational infrastructure from colonization to the postbellum years, while other areas of the US enjoyed an educated populace and numerous, vibrant educational institutions.


While cultural history retarded the southern supply of tertiary education, slavery had a profound impact on mitigating southern demand for higher education. Slavery was a highly profitable component of the southern economy and shaped economic preferences in a manner that provided little incentive to invest in human capital. Although slavery ended nearly 150 years ago, the institution of slavery and its negative impacts on tertiary education is still present. Many of today’s highest-ranked southern educational institutions used slaves in their construction, operation, and maintenance. Slavery created a massive divide between those for and those against slavery, which was “in all hearts, in all minds, on all tongues,” and “pervaded all meetings.”

Academia was not exempt from the passionate debate over slavery, which raged among and within academic institutions, including the University of Virginia, which “was created, was sustained, was energized by the institution of slavery — in its physical construction and also in its intellectual climate.” Faculty at many southern institutions demanded textbooks that reflected “southern values” and no trace of criticism of slavery.

In 1834, more than one-third of students at Amherst College in Massachusetts and several faculty and townspeople were active members of the college’s Anti-Slavery Society. While colleges in the north like Dartmouth, Harvard, and Yale eventually openly united against slavery, faculty at southern institutions who voiced even a slight opposition to slavery were fiercely denounced, blacklisted, and fired. Although there were few anti-slavery academics in the antebellum south, their punishment was rarely made public, and even fewer were published in recorded documents.

For example, in August of 1856 Professor Hedrick of UNC was attacked in the Raleigh Standard, when he acknowledged his support for the North Carolinian Republican Presidential Candidate John Frémont, the first candidate of a major party to openly oppose slavery. The article, anonymously signed “An Alumnus,” charged Hedrick with being a “black Republican” and recommended that those with “black Republican opinions” at schools be “driven out.” In his defense, and against the advice of his academic colleagues, Hedrick wrote an editorial in September, proclaiming his support for Frémont and the economic rationale for opposing slavery.

The Raleigh Standard swiftly attacked Hedrick’s article, stating that “The expression of black Republican opinions in our midst is incompatible with our honor and safety as a people…we take it for granted that Prof. Hedrick will be properly removed.” Professor Hedrick, who graduated from UNC at the top of his class in 1851 and rose to the position of Chair of UNC’s analytical and agricultural chemistry, was promptly fired by the University on October 11 on the ground that his anti-slavery views made him “unfit to be an instructor of youth.” Even after Hedrick’s removal, locals denounced him and attempted to tar and feather him outside an educational convention. Professor Hedrick promptly moved to New York and he remained in the north until his death in 1886, except for two brief visits to North Carolina. The UNC example represents a prevalent trend throughout southern institutions which lost talented academics to intolerance.

The New York Times remarked that “now an arrogant and unrelenting ostracism is applied, not only to all express themselves against slavery, but to every man who is unwilling to be the menial of slavery.” A New York Times article written in 1902 remarked that “Slavery was primarily responsible” for the south’s “unnatural burden of inherited illiteracy.” Accordingly, few northern academics chose to venture into the south for fear of similar repercussions. Clearly, intolerance over the slavery debate limited the south’s pool of qualified labor, made southern universities less diverse, and cut off a significant stream of academic capital.

Slavery also shaped the southern economic landscape and with it the south’s preferences for higher education. Slavery was concentrated in the south, largely due to the factor price intensities required for the production of cotton and tobacco, in which the south enjoyed a comparative advantage. Since nearly 60 percent of the south’s agricultural wealth was in slaves- highly mobile factors of production- there was little economic incentive to invest in manufacturing and schools that increased the value of immovable capital. The north, invested in immovable factors of production (land and factories), enjoyed a vibrant manufacturing sector and middle class which spurred demand for education. The north’s visible return on investment from human capital was not shared by the southern elites who controlled most of the wealth and invested in cotton production, which produced a highly visible return on their investment. In effect, the south’s dependency on slavery reduced its demand for education. The institution retarded the development of southern manufacturing and punished educators with conflicting beliefs, thereby facilitating an intellectual depletion and maiming the southern demand for higher education.

The Civil War

The Civil War devastated the south and flipped tertiary institutions on their heads. The southern economy was ravaged and its infrastructure demolished. Although the Civil War is typically characterized as a military conflict, it affected every aspect of American life. Colleges and universities in the north and south were called upon to contribute to the war effort. Southern institutions lost their Confederate bond invested endowments after the war, were damaged during the war’s execution and suffered from the death of a significant portion of the student body and faculty. Every southern institution either closed its doors entirely or significantly curtailed its academic activities as admission rates plunged and college-aged men filled the ranks of the Confederate and Union forces. Colleges throughout America formed their own military units, or College Companies, led by faculty and staffed by students.

At the College of William and Mary (WM) in Virginia, the south’s first institution of higher learning, most of the student body enlisted in the Confederate Armed Forces by May 1, 1861. Shortly afterward, college President Benjamin Ewell became an officer in the Confederate Army. The college ceased academic operations in October and served as a hospital and barracks for Confederate forces. This trend was common for most tertiary institutions in the south, including Emory and Henry College, UNC, UG, and the universities of South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi. Although most students volunteered to fight for the Confederacy in the spring of 1861, many more were forced to serve when the Confederate government passed conscription laws in 1862. More than 2,000 students at the University of Virginia fought for the confederacy, accounting for approximately 80 percent of its student body. At VMI, 94 percent of its students left their studies to serve the Confederacy, and UNC’s attendance dropped from 456 students in 1859 to 60 students in 1865. Tens of thousands of southern college students and faculty were wounded or killed during the war. Students returned to find many of their buildings in ruin, including areas of VMI, WM and Duke that were destroyed by Union forces. President Ewell returned to William and Mary in 1865 to find the school in ruin and disrepair, the main building burned to the ground and minuscule resources with which to resume operations, notwithstanding the funds required to repair the campus.

The Civil War’s impact on southern higher education would have been relatively milder if only the southern institutions had endowments left to cover reconstruction expenses and sizeable student bodies. Many southern institutions, including William and Mary, Duke, and UNC, invested their endowments in Confederate War Bonds, currency, and southern banks.  When federal forces triumphed over the south, the Union chose not to assume the south’s massive debt that it accumulated to finance its war against the Union, absolutely devastating southern institutions. Some colleges closed permanently and students at many institutions paid little or no tuition. Many professors left southern academia as most colleges could not afford to pay a decent salary, resulting in either an exodus from academics or relocation to financially healthy northern institutions.

With the exception of UVA, southern institutions were slow to recover from their wartime losses. Davidson College in North Carolina, which prided itself on a $234,293 endowment in 1862, the largest of any institution south of Princeton, lost $95,100 from failed banks and worthless Confederate bonds in 1865. In 1867 Davidson suffered from a $10,000 budget shortfall that it addressed by canceling scholarships and soliciting the public for loans. The College of William and Mary was so devastated by the financial collapse that it finally resumed operations limping on a financial prosthetic in the 1870s, only to falter and suspend operations in 1881 with doubts that the institution would reopen.

Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement

Many historians greatly underestimate the tremendous importance of the civil rights movement and reconstruction effort in reforming higher education in the south. If cultural history, slavery, and the Civil War established southern tertiary education during the first 175 years, the reconstruction era and civil rights movement revolutionized it. For a short period following the Civil War, blacks gained political influence in the south which they first used to finance, construct, and staff schools. The southern blacks allied with Radical Republicans in Congress and others in Southern constitutional conventions to create a new framework for education. These constitutional frameworks established education as a basic right for all races and created new methods for the finance and governance of public education. W.E.B. Du Bois remarked that “the first great mass movement for public education at the expense of the state, in the south, came from negroes.” The Reconstruction conventions and state legislatures, guided by the black-Republican alliance, were responsible for establishing universal public education in the south. As a precondition for their readmission into the Union, former confederate states had to establish “public schools which shall be open to all without distinction of race or color, to the end that where suffrage is universal, education may be universal also.”

While pre-war constitutions contained vague clauses regarding education, if any, reconstruction provisions included definitive shall declarations. Most contained language requiring schools to stay open for a minimum amount of time or forfeit state aid, specified sources and levels of taxation, and specified systems of educational governance. As a result, illiteracy among African-Americans plunged from 79.9 percent in 1870 to 44.5 percent in 1990 and enrollment increased from 91,000 in 1866 to 572,000 in 1877.

These reforms increased demand for higher education in the south, which spurred an increase in the southern supply of academic institutions. As blacks became free and more blacks became literate, they demanded access to higher education. The demand was met and black colleges and universities sprung up across the south. The constitutional provisions also benefited the majority of the white population, who finally received a basic education and had greater access to college. In 1873 Cornelius Vanderbilt donated $1 Million to rescue war-ravaged Central University, which became Vanderbilt University, in hopes of healing the wounds inflicted by the Civil War, although he had never traveled to the south. However, reform efforts within reconstruction governments were short-lived, stalled by the return of weakened but powerful elite planters in the 1870s. Reconstruction failed to reform the south’s political economy. Statutes and state constitutions, once a source of hope for reconstructing the south’s social structure and education system, quickly became a method for repression and segregation. Although massive disparities emerged between white and black institutions, principle provisions regarding educational finance and the provision of universal education remained in the constitutions.

On the contrary, legal segregation was banned in South Carolina and Louisiana but remained throughout the south. The free exchange of academic talent between the south and other areas of the US remained tarnished by racism. As with Professor Hedrick, it was not socially acceptable to openly support equal rights for blacks. Black counties received little funding for education as local white officials ruled over state funding for education in black counties. A 1916 report on the funding of southern black schools found that in counties with a black student population of 75 percent or more, blacks received $1.78 per capita compared with $22.22 for whites. Accordingly, these practices also cheated poor whites outside black communities because planters from black areas fought to keep school taxes low. These provisions had a negative impact on higher education in the south, once again restricting the development of academic ability for large segments of the population and reducing demand for southern tertiary education and institutions.

The civil rights movements in the 1950s and 1960s damaged the reputation of southern universities. Many southern administrations were divided on segregation and struggled to address questions of race. Southern states opposed federal regulations mandating the end of segregation at all American institutions. In 1957 Arkansas Governor Orvall Faubus refused to admit nine black students into an all-white school, going so far as to deploy the National Guard to block their admission. Faubus was overpowered when President Dwight Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and deployed the 101st Airborne Division to protect the nine black students and integration efforts.

The combined efforts of civil rights leaders, civil rights legislation and enforcement dissipated much of the barriers restricting the demand for higher education. With integrated primary and secondary education systems, the south generated more consumers of higher education, facilitating growth in the number and quality of southern institutions. A vast portion of the southern population – blacks and whites- was finally able to flourish in a peaceful academic environment and granted access to institutions that would prepare them to enter the tertiary system. In effect, civil rights efforts removed many of the barriers to the south’s supply, demand, and development of tertiary education.


Southern cultural history, slavery, the Civil War, and the reconstruction and Civil Rights eras played an integral role in the health of today’s southern institutions and do much to explain the current geographical distribution of highly ranked tertiary institutions away from the south. Cultural history served to shape both economic and social preferences for higher education in the south. The high fixed costs of establishing an additional tertiary institution and an inability to capitalize on economies of scale due to the exclusion of vast segments of the southern population—yeomen farmers, slaves, and blacks—did not provide an incentive for the elite to expand the supply of tertiary education when they could send their children to existing institutions in the north or overseas. As a result, there was weak demand for higher educated in the south because social and economic considerations inherent in the south greatly reduced the potential consumers of tertiary education. Since demand for higher education never materialized in the south as it had in the north, a supply in the south failed to materialize and the market for higher education in the south remained weak while it prospered in the north.

Further, slavery and the south’s plantation economy created a disincentive for the ruling elite to invest in universal and public tertiary institutions that represented a threat to the posterity of their dominance over the south’s political economy. Additionally, the absence of a middle class and a subsequent market for consumer goods in the south retarded the development of its industrial sector, which created a demand for higher education in the north. In contrast to the north, the south did not need to invest in human capital to operate, maintain, and repair complex machinery in highly immovable factors of production. Rather, the planter elite was comfortable in their plantation economy and experienced a greater rate of return in expanding their cotton and tobacco operations through continued investment in highly moveable factors of production—slaves—rather than investing additional funds in southern institutions. Slavery also poisoned the heart of academic discourse and academic administrations, punishing faculty whose beliefs opposed slavery and mitigating the free exchange of academic talent and thought. The Civil War completely shattered southern institutions’ financial and physical foundations, liquidating endowments and eradicating enrollments.

Although the south’s higher education has suffered a tragic and volatile history, its prospects are stronger than ever. Thanks to reconstruction and civil rights reform efforts, southern institutions like UVA, WM, Duke, and UNC have developed into higher-quality institutions, embracing qualified persons of all races. The south has indeed risen, as its colleges and universities have emerged into competitive institutions. There is no doubt southern tertiary education will continue to flourish into the 21st century.

And there is no doubt that slavery and racism are cancer to the United States, its history, and democracy. We must never forget this dishonor and despicable aspect of America so that we may work to never repeat it or anything like it in our future.

History is free wisdom passed to us by the mistakes of those who came before us. All we have to do is listen, and act.

The Story of Flory & Felix: The Holocaust & Resistance

For a few years in Middle School and High School, I worked a part-time job for a Synagogue, Temple Isaiah in Newport Beach, California, which held its services at a Christian church that let them store their supplies and use the church for its services on Friday evenings and on special occasions. My immediate impression was that it was great to see different religions working together.

I worked there with my mother. We brought out their ark with the Torahs, place the star of David over the cross, and prepared food and dining areas. I was not Jewish and was not familiar with the customs but enjoyed learning about this new culture that I’d never been exposed to before. When my mother was mad at me and wanted help getting through to me, she would have the Rabbi speak to me. It was awkward, but he was wise, listened, and I respected him.

In addition to working at the church, it often became a place to sleep for my mother and I during homeless bouts. It was a welcome alternative to the van, frequently visited by police waking us up by knocking on the windows and forcing us to relocate at least once in the middle of the night. This didn’t make for a good night’s sleep, as if sleeping in a dirty van was easy enough. This lifestyle was stressful and made it very difficult to sleep well. To make things worse, I often didn’t eat enough, and the combination of these things made keeping up in school challenging.

The highlight of my time working for the Temple was the privilege of getting to know the Temple’s co-founders, Flory (from Holland) and Felix (from Germany) Van Beek, who had been together for 60 years. They were generous, paying us well and tipping about as much as they paid. They were kind, helping to shelter us. Most notable was the inspiration of the stories they told. Not simply a story, but the story of their lives in Europe in World War II.

In 1939, Flory Cohen and her fiancé Felix Levi fled Holland to Chile on a passenger ship, the SS Simon Bolivar. The ship was destroyed by a German mine on their way to England, the first neutral ship destroyed by the Nazis. Over 100 passengers were killed. Felix and Flory were severely wounded, but survived and were rescued in the English Channel by a British Destroyer and brought to England.

After recovering from their wounds over several months, they returned to Holland, returning to the same place they were trying to flee. Upon their return, they were hidden in the homes of three different Christian families during the occupation, aware of what Nazis would do to them for being Jewish as their friends and family were rounded up and disappeared. Flory’s mother, 34 at the time, was taken to the Sobibor or Auschwitz concentration camps in Poland. She did not return. Her siblings and nearly all of her relatives were also murdered.

Flory was next. In June 1942, she was summoned to board a train that would take her to a concentration camp. On her way to the station, she was stopped by a Christian resistance member, Piet, who offered to hide her in his home. He hid both her and Felix in his home with his wife and four children and gave them falsified identities. They were married in secret in his home.

False papers of Felix and Flory provided by the dutch resistance

From 1942 to 1945, the couple worked with the Dutch resistance “Het Parool”, meaning Watch Word, to fight the Nazis (Audrey Hepburn was also involved with the Dutch resistance). Felix passed as a German Soldier, wearing a counterfeit uniform. Flory died her hair blonde and distributed resistance news notes when riding her bicycle.

Piet was captured in January 1944, and Felix and Flory evaded capture in the attic when the Gestapo searched his house. They found a new hiding place with the resistance – but they never gave up. Less than five percent of Holland’s Jewish population survived the holocaust.

The documents and photos Flory saved and later brought with her to the US in 1948 make up one of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.’s largest collections from the Netherlands, which can be viewed online.

When I left the military and started college, I reconnected with her after five years, and she sent me a signed copy of her book so I could learn the rest of her and Felix’s story of love and triumph through adversity. Her book, Survival in the Valley of Death, can be purchased here.

Their kindness, compassion, perseverance, generosity, and other virtues were humbling and inspiring. Their stories made my experience of homelessness seem trivial. When a police officer knocked on our windows, we wouldn’t be sent to our death. Hardship was quickly redefined, and I had much to be thankful for.

I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to know them and hear some of their stories. I’ll forever see Flory and Felix whenever I hear stories of others who struggle against destruction because of how they were born… in a world that has neglected to eliminate intolerance and genocide.

Flory’s story gives us hope in a world of darkness and uncertainty. I encourage you to read her story.

Costs of Higher Education & Student Loans

Student loan forgiveness and the cost of higher education has been a hot political topic for the past several decades. It has become more contentious over the years as graduates have been burdened with a significantly higher debt burden to income – assuming one secures a job after graduation – especially following the great recession, of which I was the graduating class.

When I was an economics student at William and Mary in my senior year, I took a seminar class (a high level class typically reserved for seniors in small class sizes in the low teens) on the costs of higher education. The professor at the time, Robert Archibald, was working on a book with another professor, David Feldman, called Why Does College Cost So Much?

Of course there isn’t one reason, but in summary, the issues include:

  • Supply and demand. As more students pursue higher education, they outpace the finite living arrangements and physical infrastructure of campus. A rapid increase in international students, which is a valuable and welcome addition to campuses, adds to this. As a result, prices increase. A massive online that allows educating more students with less cost inputs is a solution.
  • Universities compete against the private sector for talent – professors. Keeping great talent means offering competitive salaries and benefits to match or exceed big spenders in industry. We could discuss tenure, preferences for teaching versus research, or a number of other factors, but in the end the competition for talent is real. Labor costs for specialized talent have risen, and the rising costs of education follows that trend closely.
  • Bureaucracy and Wasteful Perks. A common argument some like to make is inefficiencies in academic institutions, which are highly bureaucratic and viewed as inefficient. However, the book concludes that this is not a major driver of increased cost.
  • In short, the book blames economic growth as the cause of increased costs.

How did we get here culturally? Marketing.

The most powerful marketing changes our culture and perception of reality for multiple generations. Cigarette companies and Apple are great examples of the power of effective ads, but none of them come close to the success of DeBeers Diamond Company. Specifically, engagement rings. This fun clip from Adam Ruins Everything explains it brilliantly. In the late 1800s, DeBeers needed to monopolize diamond prices and stabilize the market by controlling the supply and demand of diamonds. While engagement rings can trace their origins back to the 15th century, they did not originally have diamonds and were more for elites who could afford the tokens. DeBeers diamond company launched a marketing campaign in the late 1930s focusing on the diamond.

The campaign peddled the notion that diamonds were extremely rare and precious (they’re not) and in the 1940s that “A diamond is forever”, which remains true when sold to a pawn shop after a divorce. But the social pressure from DeBeers made it inconceivable for a man to propose or wed without a diamond ring. It became expected by women, and an accepted norm by both sexes.

In many of the same respects, academic institutions have collectively pushed society to the notion that one cannot have a bright future or succeed in life without a college education. This is impressed upon kids leading up to their decision, in movies, tv, and reinforced by parents- both those who attended college, and those who didn’t. Somehow, somewhere in our recent history, a person who didn’t graduate from a four-year college was somehow less. Of course, that’s wrong, but the marketing works.

Of course, this thinking has led to a dramatic increase in demand while alternative paths have been pushed to the sideline, like trade jobs. Companies like MajorClarity do a great job at helping high school students explore different options after graduation. They can see video interviews of people in various career fields (many of which do not require a 4-year degree), trades, military, and more. They can apply for internship opportunities and take a personality and strengths test to see what might make them happiest. It’s an amazing tool because it helps remove the pigeonhole idea that college is the best or only acceptable choice for a young adult leaving high school.

Changing policy is difficult enough; changing culture is extremely difficult and takes generations. Many politicians talk about the issue, but their solutions rarely address the root causes of the problem.

To start, I think there are two policy issues to address on the supply and demand side:

  1. The Bedfellow Trio: Banks, US Government, and Academic Institutions.

Remember when the US Government backed mortgages from banks, to people who couldn’t really afford to buy overpriced houses? And when the house of cards collapsed, some banks were too big to fail? A similar relationship exists between academic institutions, many of which are recognized as non-profits, banks, and Government Policy.

Total economic debt from student loans is nearly $2 Trillion in the US; second only to mortgage debt. If you had to declare bankruptcy to absolve yourself of student debt, you couldn’t, and it would survive your death. You can’t escape it.

Banks and academic institutions should not bear all rewards from student loans, while shifting all of the risks to the student they profit from.

Colleges and those in the industry can continue to increase the costs of education (books, tuition, room/board, fees) while continuing to fail to tie a student’s chosen path to a measurable result, while banks allow students to borrow whatever they need regardless of major. It doesn’t have to be tied to their potential earning income or any other factor based on reality, because Uncle Sam backs the loans and helps protects the banks against their risk.

Something is wrong when an 18-year-old can borrow $100,000 or more for four years of college education for the potential of making enough money to pay off such debt over a decade or more, yet they can’t take out a $10,000 loan to start a business.

  1. Transparency. Disclose the Value of Education and Alternatives

Federal laws recently passed required hospitals to disclose their prices. Menus have to display their prices and calorie content. Nutrition labels and ingredients are required with packaged food.

So why do we not require disclosures for student loans, especially when they are backed federally by public money and sold mostly to young people who see college as the only – or best – path to pursue their American Dream?

Each university should have to disclose the salary averages and ranges for each major; and the graduation rates. A link to non-college alternatives should accompany this, as well as to a site that lists comparable figures at other universities in the country, as well as any grants or benefits available to low-income students. This should be disclosed and not simply left for them to figure out and decide. It shouldn’t be a challenge for the average person to get this information when making their decisions.

Going to school for basket weaving and looking to take out a $100,000 loan? If you see that your chances of being saddled with debt for the next 20 years is high and that’s explained to you, you’re not as likely to do it. Moreover, if the bank knows that their chance of seeing a return is diminished because you can declare bankruptcy because you were sold on a bad deal, they’re less likely to put you in that position. But if you still want to do it because that’s what you really want to do, then the bank and university may lower the cost of that major to be in line with the market because there’s something to tie it to. If not, there would be more suitable alternatives for the student to learn basket weaving that don’t cost $100,000, like a working internship or apprenticeship, alternatives that should be communicated to the student.

What won’t work

  • Passing the bill to someone else. “Serve in the military” just passes the excess costs on to taxpayers and doesn’t address the root issues.
  • Forgiving outstanding student debt.
    Someone still pays for it, and it will be the taxpayer. Economics 101: There is no free lunch.

    If student loan forgiveness is done, banks, colleges, and the fed should take an equal hit along with the individual to repay in ¼ shares. This should happen after policy reform, and never without. It is not fair to those who have sacrificed to pay off their loans, but there are ways to do it.

What do I think are some solutions?

  • A student may escape a student loan by declaring bankruptcy
  • The US Government to stop backing banks in the student loan department, and place some risk and responsibility on the academic institutions and banks
  • Require all academic institutions to apply a value to cost number for all majors so all prospective students have transparency on the costs of education and their likely return on investment.
  • Education of alternate options from middle school through high school
  • Partial student loan forgiveness by way of tax credits for debt carriers; with remaining shares paid for by academic institutions and banks.

Yes, many want the college experience, whether it’s for fun or in-class learning and building relationships. But future generations should not be allowed to fall into a financial trap without exit options, full transparency, and shared risk among both educational institutions and the banks that back them.

Heavy student debt inhibits creation of families, home ownership, disposable income, and other invisible impacts. Saddling large numbers of our future citizens with heavy debt while pursuing the American Dream that’s been sold to them will continue to create harmful social impacts, damage capitalism, and constrain our republic.

Floating With No Direction

I had no direction until a few years ago. In fact, I still feel that way sometimes. When I left the military, I was eager to start a new chapter in life. I didn’t need direction- all that mattered was that I was out and moving forward. I wasn’t sure what that would be, but I wanted to learn, and college seemed like the best place for that. I had no idea what to major in. Because I was in the military, I chose international relations and government, but a graduating veteran mentor and an economics professor convinced me to swap government for economics. That’s great, but a course of study doesn’t help someone find themself or determine a happy career path. It doesn’t really give you any clarity.

After graduation, I had completed an internship at Booz Allen Hamilton and had a job lined up with Oracle, but I still didn’t know myself or what I wanted to do for a living, even though I thought I did (I thought I knew everything until I was humbled during my startup journey). But, I was convinced that law school was my next step. I was convinced I going to be a lawyer, but I didn’t really know why. It just felt like a next step. After spending the summer foregoing fun to study for the LSAT and completing a Kaplan study course, I was three days away from taking the LSAT in Georgetown. A physician at the VA hospital misdiagnosed my sore throat and gave me a flu shot and some medicine. I woke up the next morning terribly sick and dehydrated, not able to keep water down. I was hospitalized for several days with pneumonia and an accompanying 104.5 fever and missed the LSAT.

During my recovery, I had peace and quiet to reflect on what I wanted to do next. Did I want to wait three months to take the next test and wait longer to apply to schools? Did I really want to take on so much debt and take three years of intense law school right after finishing three years at an intense undergraduate program at William and Mary? The more I thought about it, the question of why I wanted to go became more important.

I started thinking about what I enjoyed doing as a kid when I didn’t have the pressures of real life. I never liked following the rules and usually questioned them. I had the most fun creating things, which I sometimes sold, and a couple of small businesses like a lemonade stand one summer in 4th grade. It’s cliché, I know, and I never thought of it as a business. But I remembered what I did, the names of the drinks, how I priced them to determine a profit, how I sold them, and where I decided was the best location. I hired a friend, and we each made $15/hr profit selling lemonade. Not bad for 4th graders in 1995. I was good at it, I could use creative energy, it was competitive, I made money to buy toys or comics, and I liked it! I later enjoyed investing my earnings in stocks or bank CDs and watching my savings grow.

This is when I arrived at the epiphany that business school would probably be the best fit. In my arrogance and ignorance, I thought business school was a place for stuck-up people who only care about money. Maybe it was my upbringing and perception, but I challenged why I thought that way when I could take a business degree and its learnings and do whatever I wanted. But it was clearer that I would be miserable both in law school and in a career in law, and would probably enjoy business more.

I didn’t have to be a corporate person, and even if I did, so what? I decided to attend business school and was accepted. I enjoyed both school and the career path, especially many (but not all) aspects of entrepreneurship that I found to be liberating, exciting, challenging, and a field of constant learning and growth.

That wasn’t all it took to “find myself” and of course, there’s more to a person’s journey than their area of study or work.

But I think if we look carefully back to times when we were kids and free to be ourselves, we can find a translation to our passion and interests if we keep an open mind and are willing to change our perception and position.

What were some accomplishments or activities you were proud of or good at?

Comic Books and the Value of Storytelling

Growing up as an only child with separated parents, I had to find ways to occupy my time and entertain myself when I wasn’t out with other kids or a parent. I enjoyed legos, drawing, watching baseball and collecting cards, and playing video games, but my favorite was reading comic books. It was the one activity that outlasted the rest, from 2nd grade through high school. My favorites were Spiderman and the X-Men. I attended the San Diego Comic Convention, where I met Stan Lee and talked to him for a few minutes. He sat alone at a booth with no line of people waiting. He was the creator of my favorite characters, and I asked him how he got into comics. The more I listened, the more I wanted to know more about the person who created these stories that both inspired and entertained me. After chatting, he signed some things of mine and I left. Looking back, I would trade those signatures for a photo, but one thing that I’ll keep is the memories of reading his stories and having the privilege of meeting him.

In the 1950s, the government wanted to regulate comic books because they were seen as poisoning the youth. In 1954, the Comic Code was introduced out of fear of censorship. But the same issue persisted in the 90s with comics, music, and television.

I always thought that was strange because I thought comics had the opposite effect. And of course, they’re fun, otherwise, no one would want to read them!

As vehicles of both storytelling and art, comic books can:

  • Teach us that we will be called on to make sacrifices for others, and for things that are greater than ourselves.
  • Show us that we don’t have to have special powers or abilities to make a difference.
  • Inspire us to do good and help others.
  • Tell us that it’s ok to fail and suffer loss, and to find the strength to persevere.
  • Reinforce and illustrate virtues and values.
  • Grant us the courage to stand up and speak out against injustice and to help the less fortunate.
  • Encourage us to be compassionate and honorable.
  • Instill values in ways that aren’t done in school or at home.
  • Show us that we have a responsibility to do what good we can, with the power we have.
  • Help us think differently, and to understand that the world isn’t black and white. Sometimes there is a reason why people are villains, and sometimes they’re the ones that need help the most to be shown a better future.

The best stories don’t just entertain us. They inspire and challenge us to better ourselves and the world around us. Comic books are one vehicle to do that, and they can be effective because they are entertaining, easy to digest, and done privately.

Lance’s History

Growing Up

Lance was born in Glendora, California, in Los Angeles County, where he spent his first seven years. After his parents split at age 7, he took to the road with his mother who moved and spent the rest of his childhood living in Orange County. However, his mother’s poor financial situation meant that Lance found himself moving from odd living situation to odd living situation with even stranger people, and often finding themselves homeless many times, where they would stay in churches, his mom’s van, or in hotels. It was this experience of instability that gave Zaal an appreciation for many of the things commonly taken for granted, like having enough to eat and a home.

Since age 9, Zaal spent much of his summers and many weekends with his father, with whom he would frequently join in working construction through his sole-proprietorship, often getting up at 4am and working 12 hour days to install phone and data lines starting at $1/hr. This experience influenced Lance deeply, as his father taught him work ethic, and the value of a dollar. Lance saved every dollar he made and began saving and investing at an early age. This, combined with the experience of living in poverty conditions with his mother gave him the drive to work hard and to change his life, to never find himself in that situation again.

Military Service

During his final year in high school, Zaal enlisted in the Marine Corps on September 11th, 2001, upon witnessing the tragic attacks of that day. Lance chose to serve in the infantry, and the following year he attended boot camp in San Diego followed by the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, California. He was later stationed in Virginia as one of the founding members of the 3rd Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team, or FAST, and then Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, as an infantry squad leader in the First Battalion, Second Marine Regiment.

He completed three deployments: the first to Baghdad, Iraq in 2004; the second to Cuba and Chile from 2004-2005 where he trained with Chilean Marines and Commandos; and the third a return to Iraq in Al-Anbar province and the city of Hit with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) from 2005-2006. He left the Marine Corps in 2006 at the rank of E-5 (Sergeant), and was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, six letters of commendation, Iraq Campaign Medal, and others.

Zaal describes his first deployment as being witness to history, as his platoon stayed in one of Sadam Hussein’s palaces and met several key figures, including the first prime minister of Iraq, General Petraeus, Colin Powell, leading generals, ambassadors, and others. His unit in Baghdad faced daily attacks and had to operate on only a few hours of sleep a night for months at a time, as they were often attacked through all hours of the day.

The things Zaal witnessed overseas and the several friends he lost in Iraq made it clear how terrible war was. It reinforced how fragile and precious life is, and he never wanted to take it for granted again.

When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Lance took 10 days of leave he planned to use for vacation and joined a local church group and headed to Slidell County and New Orleans to assist with relief efforts. There, he helped in the soup kitchen, taught locals how to use MREs, and worked on a tree removal team clearing trees from houses. Lance was actively involved in volunteering during his time in the service, as he volunteered at local schools, his church, a local children’s hospital, among others.

His second deployment led him to further his training in South America with Chilean Marines. This was the first time that Zaal felt he truly experienced another country’s culture outside of war. He was impressed with what he learned about the culture, history, and people of Chile and Latin America, which fueled his curiosity to learn more about the world and the people in it, which led him to study Latin America in college and embark on several trips abroad.


Lance applied to The College of William & Mary in 2006, weeks after returning from his third deployment in Iraq and attending summer school at the College. With poor grades from High School, he had an uphill battle to gain acceptance. To prove himself to admissions, he had to earn straight A’s in both their summer program and completing a 19-credit semester at the local community college.

He was admitted to William and Mary in 2007, where he studied International Relations and Economics, graduating Cum Laude in three years. His studies led him to Michoacan, Mexico, where he observed the Gubernatorial elections with his professor, George Grayson, a mentor to Lance and renowned expert on Mexico and Latin America who advised the US government, including US Secretaries of State. He also traveled to Chile and Argentina for fun, to improve his proficiency of the Spanish language, and to reconnect with some of the military members he had befriended two years earlier.

As a student, Zaal created a 501(c)19 non-profit veterans organization that sent care packages to troops overseas, helped new veterans transition into civilian and college life, successfully lobbied the university to reform its aid policy for veterans, and raised awareness in the administration and student body of veteran issues.

During his final summer in college, he interned at Booz Allen, serving as a consultant with their economic and business analysis team. This experience introduced him to the business of technology applications through work on many different projects, and took him to places like Penn State University’s Applied Research Laboratories and Camp Pendleton. Lance proved to be a valuable contribution to the projects at Booz Allen, so he continued to work for them remotely during his final year in college.
After graduation, Lance worked for Oracle Corporation for six months in business development before being accepted into William and Mary’s Flex MBA program in 2010. For the next three years, Lance worked full time while attending business classes at night. The most memorable experiences during this time were the three trips he took to study business overseas. These two-week long trips took him to India, China, and several countries in Latin America, where his class met with several businesses and learned about business there.

During this time, Zaal felt that William and Mary’s program was lacking in a few important areas, so he earned his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification, a Certified Six Sigma Green Belt (CSSGB) from Villanova University, and attended a class on Internet Marketing through Harvard University, which he credits as the most influential and useful class. In business school, he started his first small business as part of an independent study on entrepreneurship, Taste of Williamsburg, in 2011.

During his final year in grad school, he was hired by Mythics Inc. from Booz Allen Hamilton as a Program Manager. During this time, he improved processes and policies to increase the profitability of projects from an average of 5% to more than 30%. Lance earned his MBA from William and Mary in May 2012, graduating Beta Gamma Sigma (top 20% of the class).

In the final months of his studies at William and Mary, he was laid off from Mythics and found himself unemployed. While Zaal was confident he would quickly find meaningful employment elsewhere, for the next two years he was unable to find work. Actively job searching wasn’t enough for Zaal, who decided to try and make the most of the unfortunate situation by investing his life savings into launching and selling his app, ITourMobile, in 2013.


However, despite his efforts, by spring 2014 he was broke, in debt, and still unemployed despite his efforts. He was suddenly reminded of the unusability of his youth and feared he may never recover. At the point of surrender, his businesses began to pick up. His app was getting more traction along with his tourist businesses. His situation rapidly improved that year, and 2015 put him in a place he would never be in working for another firm. The freedom of creating and turning ideas into real businesses was highly fulfilling, and Lance was finally able to make it highly rewarding financially.

Currently, Zaal balances managing his businesses and starting new projects while helping mentor other through Ignition Center, the non-profit he founded in 2016. He spends his time between residences in Williamsburg and Richmond, Virginia; and southern California during visits with his family.

His most recent projects include Mandela Coffee and the Junket software and application.