He Wore the Medal

By Alex Quade

War Reporter & Honorary SFA Natl. Lifetime Member

The look on Richard Simonian’s face — SF Original, Chapter 78 Treasurer, former Chapter 78 Chaplain, and newly minted St.Philip Neri Award recipient — was like a kid’s face in a candy shop. This reporter chased him down — briefly blocking him as he was rushed away to his private jet after the SFACON 2022 Banquet — and finagled a photo to capture the moment. (The usual looks of annoyance at this reporter by some, was well worth it.) Richard Simonian beamed as though on a sugar high.

He had, after all, delivered an impromptu acceptance speech in which he not only thanked SFACON 2022 organizers, his Chapter 78 colleagues, and the Brotherhood — but also managed to expound upon — The Value of SF Training on His Career; Unconventional Warfare in Business Practice; and Unconventional Warfare in Business Isn’t For Everyone.

A smiling Richard Simonian, wearing his St. Philip Neri Award, stopped for a photo before leaving the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs, CO, on the evening of September 24, after attending the SFA National Convention where he was presented the award. (Photo by Alex Quade)

“I wore the medal all the way home,” he would tell me during our follow-up interview later.

Meanwhile, I reached out to two Green Berets who know him well, former Chapter 78 President John “Tilt” Meyer, and current Chapter 78 President Greg Horton — who, along with SFA National President Kevin Harry — delivered a terrific introduction.

“During the SFA banquet when Richard received his award, they failed to mention how he has helped fellow Green Berets over the last few decades, in addition to helping the SFA,” John Meyer said.

“Hey, I wasn’t supposed to do the intro because I thought Tilt was going to do it. I didn’t have any prepared notes and just shot from the hip,” Greg Horton said.

“Richard Simonian has been an inspiration to me and many other Green Berets over the years through his ‘Quiet Professional’ work ethic, his Christian bearings, and leadership qualities. I’ve had the privilege of working with Richard for more than 10-years through non-profits that helped veterans obtain affordable housing and many other benefits. He’s also quietly assisted dozens of Green Berets privately through counseling, work-related advice based on his 60+ years of being a successful businessman,” Meyer shared.

Left to right, SFA Chapter 78 President Greg Horton, Richard Simonian, and SFA National President Kevin Harry at the award presentation. (Photo by Jeremy Miller)

Greg Horton seconded that.

“When I first met Richard, like I said — a warm welcoming smile and very pleasant guy. Very low key. But then I was talking to another member and he started telling me about Richard, how he was one of the Original Green Berets, got out and became the CEO of a large network of affordable housing communities, was a major factor in helping Green Berets and other Vets, rescued Afghan Commandos and their families and on and on. But the thing that really struck me was the fact that Richard is the epitome of ‘The Quiet Professional’. Not once have I ever heard him brag about or take credit for all of the wonderful things he has done. And this just scratches the surface of what he has done for Special Forces, the Association, and Chapter 78. Richard is truly a man among men,” Horton added.

Well said, Gentlemen!

It took a time to work around Richard’s always busy schedule, but he kindly agreed to allow me to call him at home, for an official follow-up interview. I decided to share it, verbatim — so folks might learn a little more, glean a different insight, or just enjoy Richard in his own words:

Alex Quade: Congrats, Richard! Did you have any clue this St.Philip Neri Award was happening? Because the look on your face was priceless.

Richard Simonian: Actually, no. But I had a hint.

Alex Quade: A little bird perhaps, or because it was listed in the Banquet Program? Greg Horton, the current Chapter 78 President, mentioned that former Chapter 78 President Bruce Long put this honor in for you, before he passed away.

Richard Simonian: I didn’t know what he was doing or anything about it. I did find out later during Greg’s introduction, that Bruce had a lot to do with it, but I didn’t know that.

(Earlier, I’d asked Greg about the behind-the-scene process of Bruce submitting Richard for the award.

“It was a completely solo project, with no notice other than he [Bruce] was in the process of completing the paperwork by himself. He didn’t consult me at all, other than to say he was completing the paperwork by himself,” Greg confided.)

Alex Quade: Greg did a very nice introduction of you, and of this award. What does this award mean to you?

Richard Simonian: To tell you the truth, I started working for the chapter 30-years ago, or more, I can’t remember. And I worked for this chapter all those years to try to make it the best chapter that I could make it. And I think that I did that. I spent a lot of time and resources for the chapter, and for the SF guys that are in the chapter, to give them something that was way beyond what any other chapter could ever do for those SF guys.

Alex Quade: You’ve been very focused on that from the moment we met (at the 65th Anniversary of the Originals at 10SFG’s HQ, in 2017), and that’s a huge legacy.

But let’s switch gears for a moment, to the takeaway for the next generation of SF. Because you were standing up there at the podium, and you talked about the skill you learned in Special Forces training — of Unconventional Warfare. That this mentality of “thinking Unconventionally” — you wholeheartedly applied to your business life — and credited to much of your success.

Tell me about this “Unconventional mindset” and how it has helped you over the years.

Richard Simonian: Well, first of all, I have to give credit to SF training for what I was able to get out of it. So, when I was leaving Special Forces, I was put up in headquarters company and an assignment with a fellow named Floyd Todd, who was a building designer. I spent a month or two up in headquarters company before I was separated, and sent back to Fort Ord.

Then at a future time, when I wasn’t able to figure out what I was going to do for my life of employment, or what kind of industry I wanted to be in, I sought him (Floyd Todd) out. He was at a motel in Van Nuys, California. I got him cleaned up and brought him home. Brought him to live with me and my wife. We started a little business. He taught me how to draw buildings plans, which was the most important thing that could have ever happened.

In 2017, at the 65th Anniversary of the Originals, a week long series of events held at the 10th Group Headquarters in Ft. Carson, CO. Right to left, Alex Quade, Richard Simonian, Lonny Holmes, former Chapter 78 President 2010-2013, Rick Estes SOA President, John Meyer, former Chapter 78 President 2018-2019, an unidentified Veteran, Doris Chandler, 10SFG Executive Assistant (Photo courtesy Alex Quade)

Alex Quade: You and I have talked about this “Unconventional mindset” over the years — that you have tried to surround yourself with people who think unconventionally — the translation of doing what it takes, to get the job done. Complete the mission, get it done.

Richard Simonian: Right.

Alex Quade: Because you talked a little bit about that “Unconventional thinking,” while you were standing up there at the podium. How important is that, in business success — as well as the importance of mentoring others?

Richard Simonian: The first job I got offered when I was working in the small business with Floyd Todd as a building designer, and I was selling those plans to builders. One day, the builder showed up and offered me a job. Well, I’d never had a job before. So, I took that job and I went to work for them. And in 6-months, I was able to learn all the talking skills — the lingo of the construction business — until the day that he found out that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and fired me. But I took the skills that I learned from there, and I was able to get a very, very, very good job in the same industry at the highest caliber.

Now that is what you call Unconventional Warfare — when you take something that you don’t know anything about, and then you make it into something that conquers the entire situation. That’s part of the unconventional part of what I did, from that point on. And, and there are more, more to that, unconventionally — hiring people that didn’t know their skills, and I was able to teach them those skills, in order to replicate myself. When I had people coming to work who couldn’t understand that, all they could think about was going forward and they didn’t know what was going on behind them. That was part of those skills that I’m talking about. And I use that, from that day forward, clear up until today, where I still use it today.

Alex Quade: Terrific, because you’ve also mentored a lot of people…

Richard Simonian: I tried to do that. And sometimes I’m not able to make them understand what Unconventional Warfare is. And I have to let them go. It’s only those people that know how to do those kinds of things, that can be successful in the business world. Especially in the world where you’re having to buy land, you’re having to get the cities and counties to go along with you. All those things that have to be done by various agencies. So, all those things count — and I get people to understand that. And once they understand it, they know what to do, and if they have questions, they always can come to me. I’ve had people that work for me that were Airborne-trained — and were not able to conquer the concept of unconventional thinking.

Alex Quade: Last two questions… Again, what does this St.Philip Neri Award mean to you — since it’s the SF community honoring you — and your commitment to the Brotherhood, and all that you have done — and putting you up as an example for all? 

Richard Simonian: Well, first of all, it means a lot. It really does. But more than that, when we were at the convention, and we sat in that room where it was standing room only, with these 4-people that were the only Originals that are left — I was surprised that there was so much interest in that. I just thought it would be something like what happened at the Las Vegas Convention. But this was way more than that. I was really surprised — at the way Mitch handled that and the way the audience handled that. 

And then afterwards, what really surprised me more than anything else, was the fact that they put us in a room, and you were in there. People were asking me for my autograph. Can you imagine that somebody is asking me for an autograph, which I have never done before in my entire life? So that was absolutely amazing. And again, in the convention (Originals Panel), with the applause that took place after I spoke for a few minutes — was something that I could never imagine. Never happened before, and probably will never happen again to this 90-year-old SF soldier. So yes, it meant a lot, a very lot.

Alex Quade: That really hits home, just how much this entire SFACON 2022 experience meant to you. Very well said about LTC (ret) Mitch Utterback — it wasn’t people just popping in and out — everyone attending was genuinely interested, genuinely wanting to hear the stories of all y’all Originals. You’ve played a big part in the SF legacy and teaching folks for the future.

St. Philip Neri Award presentation at the Banquet. (Photo by Alex Quade)

Standing ovation for Richard Simonian's award. (Photo by Alex Quade)

Richard Simonian: I just want you to know that I wore the medal all the way home.

Alex Quade: I know you did! Because when I chased you down after the Banquet at the front desk, when Tilt was trying to get you to your private jet — and I stopped you to take a photo to capture that moment — you had it hanging around your neck, over your polo shirt. I’d noticed you’d changed out of your Banquet suit, and put your St. Neri Award back on — which just made me happy. What did your pilot and crew say — and your wife, when you got home?

Richard Simonian: They were astounded! My wife — I’m sure she’s proud of me. But you know what? It was SF, and she’s her own woman. She was, I think she was very proud — yeah.

Alex Quade: I know she was. I’m sure your whole family is. You get the last word on all of this.

Richard Simonian: All of those people that were a part of Chapter 78 — Lonny Holmes and John Joyce — are the ones also that made it what it was — not just me. I provided whatever I could and financially, to make them do it. And Debra with the Sentinel. And, Bruce Long. You know, I sat with him for 45-minutes, a day before he decided to die at 3:00pm. And I didn’t know then, that he had anything at all to do with this Award. So, I give him a lot a lot of credit for nominating me, or whatever process they go through. So yeah, it was very good.

Alex Quade: Nicely put. You’re correct regarding Ms. Debra Holm, and how far the Sentinel has come since 2017. She’s been absolutely on the ball from the get-go. Same with your different editors. It’s been “Teamwork,” as I always like to say. You done good, Richard. So, congratulations again, on your St. Philip Neri Award!

Richard Simonian: Thank you. Thank you.

View the short video above, or at this link, of SFA National President Kevin Harry’s introductory speech at the presentation of the St. Philip Neri to Richard Simonian.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Award-winning War Reporter and Filmmaker Alex Quade has written stories focusing on the GWOT Special Forces generation, and next generation of SF for the Sentinel since 2017.

For more info or to contact Alex: http://alexquade.com/