Celebrating ACE Military Veterans On July 4th


It’s time for cookouts, bonfires and sparklers!

Yes, July 4th is around the corner, and here at ACE, we’re all amped up for a great weekend on the river. But, before the weekend arrives, I’d like to dedicate this blog as a giant “thank you” to all those who’ve served our country, making it possible for us to enjoy this weekend.

There’s a stereotype that all river guides are crazy liberal hippies who hate “The Man,” but it’s simply not true. What you may not know is that some of your favorite river guides are veterans of several different international conflicts.

Scott Olive, who most of us all know (and love!), is a Desert Storm veteran. As a Specialist E-4 in the Army, Scott participated in the very first chemical decontamination in the history of American warfare.

For his work and dedication, he was awarded a Bronze Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster. When I asked him about his best experience while in the Army, he mentioned the sense of pride he received from helping the underdog – the country and people of Kuwait.

“We helped ‘the little guy’ from being picked on by a bully (the Iraqi military). It made me feel really good to help get those bullies out and help rebuild Kuwait. The country was destroyed by the time we got there. If you’d seen it … it was just something else.”

As a veteran of the Vietnam War, river guide and ACE’s resident electrician extraordinaire, Butch Burgess spent his time in the Navy on a submarine, hanging out in the murky depths for months at a time.

“To me, being on a submarine wasn’t something a lot of people did since you had to volunteer. It was out of the ordinary; not a lot of people go on a submarine or have the opportunity to be on a submarine for 105 days underwater at a time.”

For Butch, one of the coolest parts of his active duty was the necessity of knowing all the in-depth details of the submarine.

“You had to know about 90 percent of the submarine because in case you were someplace you didn’t work and something happened, you had to be able to react. It was a life and death situation if they didn’t react quickly. That made you feel special.”

The excitement and energy of military service is something Dave Runyon also enjoyed as a corporal in the Marines.

“You felt like you lived every moment. Your existence had purpose. As a Marine, our purpose was to defend the people who couldn’t defend themselves. Everything had reason.”

That purpose and reason came to fruition while Dave was in Panama in 1989, during the U.S. invasion and coup to remove General Manuel Noriega from power.

Now, Dave credits his experience in the Marines with strengthening his raft guiding skills.

“All of the things I learned about being a Marine allow me to be a better raft guide. After 20 years, it’s great to take people down the river to do things they can’t do without us. It’s about taking people through challenging things and bringing them further than they thought they could by themselves, so leadership is very important.

“It’s taking people a little bit further mentally and even a little spiritually then they’ve ever been before.”

While most of us will only watch and never fully comprehend movies like Black Hawk Down, former Army Ranger and current raft guide Tim Smith understands what those soldiers went through first-hand. Tim’s military experience meant he trained as a paratrooper, going through Jump School, and participating in counter-insurgency exercises while overseas.

When asked about his missions, Tim wasn’t able to tell me any specific details, due to their classified nature. He was able to tell me about what his experiences taught him about life.

“We’d go into these villages that had been ravaged by enemy forces, and you’d see these kids playing with a ball and a stick, happy as all get out. We’d come in, and they knew we were friendly soldiers, despite being fully decked out in camo, with huge knives on our belts, faces painted.

“You’d sit down and half of them would try to crawl in your lap to get a little slice of a pear or peach from your rations. They managed to be happy, despite the fact that they knew their homes and lives could be destroyed any day. I learned to appreciate the small stuff, and the joy of it. I learned not to sweat the small stuff.”

One of ACE’s newest additions to the river staff is Drew Smith, who did two tours on the U.S.S. Truman in Iraq as part of the Navy. His experience helps him every day he’s out on the river.

“I definitely can tell that I can make decisions faster than somebody else will. I don’t freak out very often, and I think the Navy had something to do with that. Being in the military on active duty, you see lots of sketchy things and after a time, you learn to recognize it and how to make a decision about it.”

He credits his time in the military with giving him a better and more positive outlook on life.

“I saw a lot of the world and I got to grow up a little bit differently than everyone else. You were deployed for eight to nine months at a time, so being away from your family and friends and every single thing you love doing, then going through this repetitiveness in the military every day just forces you to appreciate the things you have.”

So to all of those who have served our country, I want to say thank you for making it possible for all of us to be able to celebrate this holiday weekend.

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