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Olson: Man behind T-shirt has great story

Published: Saturday, March 2, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, March 28, 2013 1:04 a.m. CST
Caption
(Submitted photo)
Noah Currier of Poplar Grove started the company Oscar Mike, a company that donates part of its profits to a foundation that helps disabled veterans. The shirt Currier is wearing in the photo caused some controversy this week when a teacher at Genoa Middle School asked a student to turn it inside-out. School officials have apologized.

Noah Currier immediately recognized the T-shirt that 14-year-old Genoa Middle School student Michael McIntyre was made to turn inside-out this week.

Currier is a 30-year-old, quadriplegic Marine Corps veteran from Poplar Grove. The company he started in his garage in 2011, Oscar Mike, made the shirt.

“The reality is it was a Marines shirt, and everything the Marines do and stand for is about as patriotic as you can get,” Currier said.

Currier served in the Marine Corps from 2000 to 2004. He found himself deployed to Afghanistan soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. After almost a year there, he returned for a few months to Camp Pendleton, Calif., then was deployed to Kuwait in Dec. 2002. His unit was one of the first to cross the border March 19, 2003, at the start of the war in Iraq.

His deployment lasted only a few months longer before he returned to Camp Pendleton. Only a few days after returning, he was riding in a truck when the Marine driving it fell asleep behind the wheel. The vehicle rolled down a hill. Currier broke his neck.

The armed forces paid for his physical therapy, but when it ran out, he and other troops wanted to keep going. Currier and another injured Marine came up with the idea of making T-shirts, which they sold around their hometowns.

“We sold enough of those shirts to be able to go to another six months of physical therapy,” Currier said.

After he retired from the Marines in 2004, Currier returned to Poplar Grove. The adjustment was difficult, he said. He had been a 6-foot 1-inch Marine in his 20s. He had been active, fit, strong. Now he needed a wheelchair.

Then, some buddies talked him into attending the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic put on by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans in Colorado. He skied. It was transformative, he said.

“It really changed my life forever, because I got to do something I didn’t think I’d be able to do again, and I loved it,” Currier said. “Once I did that, after that I started doing all sorts of stuff, being involved in all sorts of sports, going skydiving, things that got the wind in your face again.”

Currier decided he wanted to help other vets in his situation. On Veterans’ Day 2011, he started Oscar Mike clothing company in his garage. Ten percent of the proceeds from T-shirt sales go to the Oscar Mike Foundation, which helps veterans participate in adaptive sporting events, he said.

“Oscar Mike” is radio jargon for “On the Move,” which is exactly what Currier and the company’s seven employees want to help veterans do. Five of those working for Oscar Mike are veterans, Currier said.

“Guys have to get to these events and it’s not cheap to buy plane tickets to Aspen and afford a week out there,” Currier said. “So where we feel we can pick up the slack is helping guys afford to get to these events.”

In January, the company moved from Currier’s garage to a new space in Marengo. They have expanded to offer almost 100 products. The clothing and other merchandise isn’t available at any local retailers yet, but you can order direct from them online at www.OscarMike.org.

I’d say that if there’s one good thing to come out of this story, it’s that Currier’s company will get some free publicity.

Better people buy their armed forces clothing from him, than some outfit that makes them in Indonesia, Cambodia, or wherever.

• • •

Meeting with McIntyres: On Thursday evening, Currier hosted Michael McIntyre and his father, Dan McIntyre, at Oscar Mike’s office in Marengo. There he talked with them about what happened and gave them some more shirts.

Dan McIntyre, 44, of Genoa, said he bought his son the shirt at the Boone County fair where he was gathering signatures on a concealed-carry petition. Dan McIntyre is the president of the DeKalb County Tea Party.

“It was amazing, [Currier] gave more to me than I could ever give back to him,” Dan McIntyre said. “He’s already served the country very well. He was very nice and showed us around the building a little bit and introduced us to some of his employees and he gave us a couple of shirts, so it was really nice.”

McIntyre said that he’s had no problem with any of his son’s teachers at the school, outside of this episode.

He said he posted on the Rockford Tea Party’s Facebook page “GENOA KINGSTON PUBLIC SCHOOL OUT OF CONTROL” with a photo of the shirt and an explanation of what had happened without talking to anyone from the school about it, and the next thing he knew, he was talking to Fox News.

McIntyre said his son only told him what happened after school had ended, and he didn’t think he’d be able to reach anyone when he found out.

His venting spread like wildfire around the internet, as stories that inspire righteous indignation often do.

• • •

Give school a break: I love the mission of Oscar Mike. I think it should be OK to wear a “Marines” T-shirt to school (I wore worse.)

But let’s take it easy on the teacher and the folks running the Genoa-Kingston schools, shall we? The school district, like all the others in our area, supports the armed forces and makes a point to honor them around Veteran’s Day.

District 424 Superintendent Joe Burgess has said the teacher made a mistake, and the district issued a statement apologizing. They didn’t know about the incident until it hit the news through social media.

I’m not naming the teacher in this column. She made a mistake, but there’s no evidence she hates our freedom. I’m told that there already have been threats made against her. I find that disgusting, and I won’t contribute to it.

Today in schools they conduct “lockdown” drills where they simulate a shooter running amok in the building. One Illinois school had deans firing blanks in the building. And the tools these despicable people use to commit these acts look a lot like the rifles displayed on the shirt.

That’s the environment in which this mistake was made.

Now, wouldn’t having a uniform-style dress code prevent these kinds of tempest-in-a-teapot battles for all time?

Oh, my, we have a bingo.

• • •

Worth considering: People in DeKalb said in a 2011 survey that they’d love it if they’d open an Olive Garden restaurant here.

The city of DeKalb told the operator of Olive Garden, Darden Restaurants, that it would loan them $900,000 to demolish the old Small’s Furniture City building on Sycamore Road and convert the site into something suitable for a restaurant. The money would be repaid with sales-tax proceeds, which means it really wouldn’t have come out of the company’s pocket at all unless they didn’t do a bustling business. (Considering the survey results, it seems likely they would have.)

This week, even though the city was willing to front them close to $1 million, Darden said no, thanks. The company has scaled back expansion plans and DeKalb didn’t make the cut.

Why? Probably because there aren’t enough people to make it appetizing, even with the city willing to spot them all that cash. (No matter who eventually does try to build something there, they’ll be looking for the same financial assistance, incidentally.)

In all likelihood, this was a decision made entirely based on numbers. And the population numbers here aren’t all that enticing.

This episode is worth thinking about the next time we question whether DeKalb “needs” more housing.

So long as the folks on city councils don’t approve just any collection of crackerboxes and make developers toe the line, making it appealing for more people to move to the area could be a help, not a hindrance.

Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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