Every time Marine Corps veteran
Mike Hanes got excited about a new recipe for his hot sauce, the chance to get it
bottled or the plans to distribute the sauce through a food retailer, his exclamation
was always the same,
So it should come as no surprise that Dang!!! hot sauce is what customers can find
on the label of Hanes new all-natural hot sauce.
“It’s a southern expression,” said Hanes, who was born in Marietta, Ga. “Sometimes
it’s a curse, sometimes it is for joy.”
Lately, most of the “dangs” in Hanes life have been the good variety. The former
recon Marine recently completed a nationwide rollout of his new hot sauce that included
a Nov. 2011 kickoff in honor of the Marine Corps’ birthday.
A decorated combat veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Hanes is one of
many success stories from the Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) program
in Escondido, California. And something about his journey from combat to homelessness
to entrepreneur is uniquely American.
Hanes enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1994 and served four years as a communications
operator, establishing field communications for war fighters.
He left the Marines for one year before re-enlisting in 2000, where he plied his
radio work for 1st Force Recon out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.
But his elite-level military service didn’t prepare Hanes for transitioning out
of the military service with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“A drill instructor shot himself in the head while I was in the pool doing swim
qualification at (Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot) Parris Island, and I just
had to push that down and move on,” Hanes said. “In the military, you carry a stigma
if you complain about mental trauma. But years later in Iraq, I saw someone suffer
a head wound, and it all came back to me.”
Shortly after getting out of the Marines in 2004, Hanes became a homeless college
“I went to college and studied in the computer lab at night,” Hanes recalled. “But
I left school and curled up under a bush to sleep every night.”
Hanes said he hid his homelessness from his family, who had tried in many ways to
help him cope with post-combat stress.
Hanes eventually found employment at a raw food store in southern California. While
there, he developed a philosophy about health and nutrition that continues to influence
“You are what you eat. We’ve all heard that one before,” Hanes said. “I try to eat
foods that are more alive and wild.”
Once Hanes enrolled in the six-week VSAT program the last piece of the puzzle fell
into place. He and the owners hit it off right away and trusted each other as only
combat veterans and Marines can. With training and support from VSAT, Hanes was
able to develop his passion for natural foods into a business plan.
For veterans like Hanes, the tuition for VSAT training can be too high. That’s where
the DAV's Charitable Service Trust comes in.
Through a grant to support VSAT, the DAV Charitable Service Trust has paid the tuition
of those veterans who otherwise would not have been able to afford this unique educational
“The DAV’s Charitable Service Trust has stepped up in a big way to make an investment
in not only the lives of these young men and women, but in the food safety and security
of all Americans,” said VSAT’s instructor.
Hanes wasn’t surprised to learn that the DAV Charitable Service Trust has stepped
in to help fund the VSAT program. He was assisted by DAV at a crucial time in his
“The DAV really came through for me when I had nowhere else to turn,” Hanes said.
“I had spent a lot of time trying to figure out my benefits. I wish I’d known all
along that it was as easy as turning to the DAV for help.”