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Navy SEAL veteran to speak at Veterans Day program

Navy SEAL veteran to speak at Veterans Day program

Ritland encourages involvement in greater issues

Navy SEAL veteran and Waterloo native Mike Ritland has been invited to be the keynote speaker at Wednesday’s Veterans Day program, to be hosted at 10:15 a.m. in the Charles City High School gymnasium.

Ritland served as a SEAL for 12 years and three months. While in the service and overseas, Ritland became interested in the working relationship between soldiers and service dogs. He became involved as a multipurpose K9 trainer for the Navy SEALS.

Deciding to leave the service was not an easy decision, citing two main reasons for choosing to leave. One, he no longer felt he could perform the job to the standards that was required due to a fungal disease he contracted while in the desert that took 40 percent of his lung capacity.

The second reason was related to his post active duty choices. When considering his next career move Ritland was presented with two options.

“I was offered a position of handler and stay in (the service), or start my own company,” Ritland said. Ultimately, Ritland thought he could provide a greater service by leaving the military and starting Trikos International — a specialized protection dog training company.

After 9/11 there was a high demand for specialized K9 units, Ritland said.

“I got with friends of mine from the special operations company,” Ritland said. “It seemed a good synergistic fit.” Through their special operations and military dog training experience and contacts Trikos International trainers were able to land the protection dog training contract for the West Coast training unit in 2012.

Ritland is a passionate dog trainer and enjoys being able to supply dogs to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S.Customs, Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration, the Department of Defense and even to private individuals. Although enjoying his post Navy SEAL career, Ritland says nothing quite compares to life during active duty.

“It certainly took some time (acclimating to civilian life),” he said.

Relatability is one major aspect that makes leaving the military so difficult.

“For most Veterans it’s the lack of things in common,” Ritland said. Many things a veteran experiences a civilian will never be able to relate too. According to Ritland the opposite is also true in that veterans have difficulty relating to the average experiences of a civilian.

“The (lack of) adrenaline, excitement — we have a pretty specific skill set that we hone and…that doesn’t translate,” Ritland said.

His Veterans Day speech works to close the gap between veteran and civilian experiences. Ritland does not necessarily do this by painting explicit pictures of what life was like as a SEAL, instead he encourages audience members — most often high school students — to become interested and educated in world issues.

“What I like to talk about is what the cost of freedom is, value of freedom,” Ritland said.

Growing up in Waterloo, Ritland said he knows what it’s like to live a comfortable life that is easily taken for granted.

“I know what it’s like to be sheltered,” he said.

His goal when he speaks at public events is to entice audience members to learn about the greater world around them. This understanding of the issues that directly impacts our daily lives is important, especially at the high school age. Ritland notes that eventually the high school students he speaks to will be responsible for making the important decisions that will guide the future of the country.

By Amie Johansen [email protected]

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