Mary Harris, Eric Trujillo, Del Armijo
Mike Hanes is a Marine. A combat vet. After several years of personal struggle that included being homeless, Hanes is now self-employed and will soon have his very own brand of nutritional hot sauce for sale at a high end market.
Mike Hanes joined the Marines when he was 18 years old. He said he had something to prove to himself and the travel was an “added bonus.”
His first enlistment was as a field radio operator. Another enlistment involved diplomatic security. The came his third enlistment.
Hanes said this was an intense and humbling experience.
“I was in the most senior forced recon platoon in the entire Marine Corps at the time of the invasion in Iraq," Hanes said. "We had one of the first missions in Iraq which was to secure a hill on the border. And after that we pushed into Baghdad.”
Hanes speaks with a gentle voice even when speaking of the harsh details of war.
“I was a 50-caliber machine gunner. Standing on the back of a vehicle with this huge 50-cal machine gun, which demolishes like anything you unleash it on it. If we had a place to conduct raids, a few of us would jump out and stack up on the door and flow through the rooms like a SWAT team would.”
Combat changed this young man.
“Before the invasion I was contemplating staying in the military," Hanes said. "The invasion changed a lot of that for me.”
After years of service and sacrifice, Hanes returned stateside.
“When I got out I noticed I had I had a lot of really harsh anger issues. I did not fit in well with society at all. Not at all.”
The war had taken his marriage. He missed the birth of his daughter. He was without work and didn’t have the money – or even the desire - for a home.
“I would just go out in the woods and find some thick brush and crawl up in there and sleep and I felt safe,” he said
Hanes lived this way for almost two years, all the while he said he was trying to better himself.
“I was actually going to school during this time.”
Then Hanes met Karen Archipley. She and her husband Colin run Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training, (VSAT) which trains vets to work in agriculture.
Colin Archipley is also a Marine. He did three tours in Iraq. He understands vets.
“Mike spent nine years in the US Marines," Archipley said. "Half of that time is spent overseas in dangerous places. It’s unethical that Americans allow somebody like that to sleep on the streets. And if there’s anything we can do to support people like that then we’ll try.”
Hanes said the Archipleys really care for veterans and that their program is saving lives.
Part of the VSAT graduation criteria is to present a business plan to a group of potential investors. Hanes was encouraged to work on something he was passionate about.
“So I came up with a hot sauce," said Hanes. "It is an all-raw super food nutritional hot sauce.”
His face lights up when he talks about the hot sauce. The boy from Georgia is at his most animated when he explains the name.
“The hot sauce name is “Dang!!!” Not Dang with just one exclamation point cause that is like, dang. Or two exclamation points which is kinda like Dang, that’s all right. It’s got three exclamation points and is like DANG!!!! That is really good.”
Using his interest in raw foods Hanes created a red hot sauce using the super food maca.
“Maca is known to enhance sexual fertility, increases libido. It raises energy and stamina.”
Then there is a green hot sauce which uses spirulina, which he says is the highest source of protein in the plant world.
One of the investors sitting in the VSAT presentation the day Hanes presented was Diego Espinoza.
“I was blown away. When you listen to Mike talk about this hot sauce …you just want to go and buy a couple cases of it just on how healthy it is."
Espinoza invested in “Dang!!!” and soon it will be available for sale at Whole Foods Market.
Espinoza sees this as a real opportunity for vets and for markets.
“I think there are chains, retailers that are focusing more on niche products with a story behind them,” Espinoza said.
Mike Hanes is happy.
“To have that happen to me was, 'Wow'"
He sees the investment in his product as an investment in him. Hanes sees the impact for himself, and his daughter.
“I’ll be able to provide for her much better," said Hanes.
After experiences that few of us can imagine, Hanes is optimistic and hopes that the public will soon want to “Dang!!!” it up.
Back to Work: This story is one in a weeklong series focusing on jobs and employment in Southern California.