Gordon County, Georgia
When Mike Reynolds transitioned back to civilian life after an 18-year career in the U.S. Army, he rediscovered his purpose in the company of a herd of cattle, a couple of tractors and a kind hearted farmer.
It was not easy for Mike to return home to Georgia after serving in the U.S. military. He said, “Being a soldier is hardwired. You can’t turn it on and off…If you don’t have something to do then everything that you used to do just eats you up inside.”
Rediscovering his place
The challenge was finding that “something” to do. Mike had suffered a severe brain injury in the Army and was not able to resume his pre-military jobs as a paramedic and firefighter. He was a hard worker with no work to do and didn’t know where to turn.
Mike said, “You get home and you know you’re broke, but you don’t know what’s broke.” That’s when he went to Eddie Brannon, a local pastor who also ran a small beef operation outside of Atlanta, to ask if he could come help out on the farm. Eddie hesitated because his small operation, 35-40 cattle, was not big enough to pay Mike.
“I got to find a purpose. I don’t have a purpose,” Mike said, as he persuaded Eddie, and so began a two year working relationship.
A mutually beneficial partnership
While Mike experienced most of the benefit in the beginning, so the men realized the collaboration was mutually beneficial. “My goodness, he [Mike] worked on the tractors, he delivered calves. You know, I started following him around, shadowing him because I learned a lot from him,” Eddie said of Mike’s knowledge and experience.
Mike, on the other hand, found a new mentor, career and lifestyle. He took what he gained on the farm and started his own operation, Reynolds Farms, with Eddie’s support. Mike said, “I didn’t come from a farming family. So I didn’t have much equipment. You can either afford to buy the farm or you can afford to buy the equipment. But you can’t afford to do both.” Mike chose to buy land for the farm and worked with Eddie to borrow the equipment he would need until he could afford to purchase it himself.
Helping others transition
Looking into the future, Eddie predicted that soon enough Mike would assume the role of mentor for another veteran looking to agriculture to help guide their transition out of the military. Eddie said, “It’s great to see those men, to hear the story of where they came from, how they’ve gotten into farming, how they’re so excited and how they have a purpose in life. It’s great to see them now at the point that they can give back to someone else and help them find their purpose.”
And that’s just what happened for Mike. He said, “You don’t want to walk around and say, ‘I’m Mike, the disabled veteran,’ or ‘I’m Mike that used to be the solder’ or “I’m Mike that used to be a paramedic,’ or ‘I’m Mike that used to be a fireman,’ or ‘I’m Mike who used to remember everybody in my little girl’s Sunday school class’s name.’ You want to be able to say, ‘I’m Mike something.’ Now I can say, ‘I’m Mike the farmer.”
Mike joined more than 30 veterans in Washington, D.C. at the Farm Credit Farmer Veteran Fly-In in July 2018. Farm Credit invited these veterans to Washington to help policymakers understand the importance of programs that enable returning service members to forge meaningful careers in agriculture. Mike also served as a panelist at the Senate Agriculture Committee, sharing his journey with policymakers.