By Paul Friedman
Alexandria, VA – It was a lightly rainy day in Del Ray when I jumped into Dolce and Bean for cover and met Mike Jason and his beautiful young daughter. As the only ones in that small shop on Mt. Vernon Avenue, we started chatting. I learned that Mike was a Colonel in the Army, lives with his wife Lara and daughter Chiara in Alexandria on King Street, and was having a retirement ceremony at the Pentagon on Thursday, May 23.
I also discovered that Mike cared about gun violence in America. In fact, by the time we finished talking, Mike had agreed to serve on the board of my new non-profit, Safer Country, which is dedicated to getting the names of violent criminals, those with misdemeanor crimes relating to guns and domestic violence and people found to be a danger to themselves or others, into the federal background check system for gun purchases. Remarkably, hundreds of thousands of such names are not being entered.
Mike welcomed me to his retirement ceremony, and I was excited to attend at the Pentagon and meet a special friend of his. Former ABC News Anchor Bob Woodruff looked sharp and without a care as he stood and watched his friend receive plaques and expressions of affection during the ceremony. He and Mike formed a friendship as a result of a horrific incident that Bob was lucky to survive.
A Moment That Changed Everything
January 29, 2006, is a day that will live in Mike Jason’s memory forever. Bob Woodruff can’t remember it. Mike was in charge of the convoy the day that Bob, who had come to Iraq to report on the war, and he and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, were severely injured by an explosion when they decided to do a stand-up report by literally standing up in their vehicle, an Iraqi MT-LB. Although dressed in protective gear, Bob suffered life-threatening brain trauma when an improvised explosive device exploded outside the vehicle, sending him into a coma for 36 days. Doug had a broken shoulder and required brain surgery. Fortunately, they both survived to report again and Bob started a foundation devoted to helping veterans, their families, and caregivers.
Born and raised n Florence, Italy, Mike’s family later moved to Sarasota, Florida. Mike’s career began though after he graduated from West Point in 1995 and was commissioned as a Cavalry officer. During his service, he deployed to Kuwait as a platoon leader; led a 300-soldier peacekeeping contingent in Kosovo; and then arrived in Iraq where he met Bob Woodruff. An emotional event, Mike dealt with it as he went on to return to Iraq in 2009 and where, in 2011, he took command of the 1st Battalion 30th Infantry Regiment. Mike played a unique role in that he reorganized the battalion and turned it into the first armored unit in the history of the Army to serve as a Special Operations task force in combat. His job wasn’t easy. It was to go into northern Afghanistan and stabilize villages. From there, Mike went on to co-author the National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism.
During his retirement speech, Mike spoke less of his accomplishments than he did of the people with whom he served, some of whom didn’t make it. He talked with his heart on his sleeve and choked up shortly after beginning. A number of his friends who had made it were in the room though and one lost his legs and inspired us by simply having a good time.
Mike also spoke with passion about press freedom and the threat against it in the world today. It wasn’t surprising, though, given he’s fluent in Italian and French, earned a Masters’ degree in policy management from Georgetown and another in global security studies (in Italian) from the University of of Rome “La Sapienza.” He’s also a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and the War College Fellowship program. Toward the end of his career, he was speechwriter for the 36th Chief of Staff to the Army and successfully managed the Army’s strategic communications program.
Now, as Mike charts a course for the next chapter in his life, and is considering quite a few options, this Alexandrian is thrilled that he and his family have chosen to live in our city.