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End Goal: Save Lives

Local nonprofit strives to enhance military, police training


IMG_5617 (1)The group of about 18 young men and women – most with a goal of military service, the remainder already serving – gathered on the swimming pool deck at the Pattonville High aquatic center and went through a series of stretching exercises.

Leading the efforts was civilian Keath Hausher, a Des Peres resident and owner of Shark Fitness Training. Hausher’s crisp, rapid-fire instructions evoked the popular image of a drill sergeant, albeit one not prone to using salty language.

With everyone stretched and warm, Hausher reassured the assembled group.

“No one is going to drown here today. Some of you may think that, but it’s not going to happen. Just remember: the water is your friend. Don’t fear it and don’t fight it. If you do, you will drown. But not here today! Okay, everyone in the pool and gimme four [laps].”

Except for one young man, everyone started toward the other end of the pool.

“What’s the problem, son?” Hausher asked.

“I can’t swim, sir,” came the reply.

“Pat, get over here. I’ve got a job for you,” Hausher called out to Patrick Barry, a U.S. Navy airman whose duties include being a rescue swimmer.

After about 15 minutes of Barry’s tutelage, the young man was making his way in his first lap, not fast, not flashy, but unaided, save for pointers and encouragement from the rescue swimmer who glided through the water a few feet away.

The incident is not unusual.

Hausher conducts a variety of free training programs for St. Louis area men and women bound for, or already attending, one of the country’s service academies, a military school, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) or Officer Candidate School. Enlisted personnel planning to join one of the military’s elite units such the SEALs and the Rangers also are eligible. Included are fitness, weapons, medical, water confidence, land navigation and tactical training. The programs’ sponsor is the St. Louis Military Officer Support Foundation [SLMOSF].

Hausher credits Charles Felker, a John Burroughs graduate he met when the cadet was home on break from West Point in 2004, as the inspiration behind SLMOSF. With his expertise in fitness and shooting, Hausher assisted Felker’s development in those areas during the next year.

Felker subsequently became a U.S. Army Ranger and completed four deployments in Afghanistan, earning three Bronze Stars, three Army commendation medals and a nomination for the McArthur Award for exceptional leadership. He left active duty as a captain in 2011. He then earned an MBA at Washington University and now is founder and president of a St. Louis firm specializing in home modifications for those needing more accessibility and mobility. He also serves on the SLMOSF Board of Directors.

Word of mouth about Hausher’s training soon attracted prospective officers from all U.S. military academies. In 2008, when the costs of ammunition, weapons and other training essentials became prohibitive, Hausher and his supporters created SLMOSF, a tax-exempt foundation to help finance the operation. Hausher earlier had paid those expenses from his own pocket.

Such a commitment might not be surprising from a veteran, but Hausher cannot claim that designation.

He comes from a family whose members have served in all military branches, and received his first training in firearms at age 5. But his intention to attend the Coast Guard Academy was derailed years ago when a doctor found a heart abnormality during a physical exam. He was told he would never be accepted into the military.

That problem didn’t stop him from becoming the owner of a fitness training operation and a prime example of being physically fit. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Hausher, 47, maintains the condition and build of a football running back. He has attended countless courses taught by military and law enforcement experts, and has added to his trove of knowledge by comparing notes with former trainees who have gone on to special operations assignments.

Enhancing military training

Why does he donate his time and energy to work with those who will or already have received training from the military?

“I certainly don’t want to imply that the service branches don’t train well. They do a good job,” Hausher responded. “My goal is to enhance that, to prepare people for what they will be facing and provide them with what it takes to be a leader.”

An informal, voluntary survey of those who willingly participated in one or more of Hausher’s 11 training sessions during the recent holiday season clearly showed they know the value of what they are receiving and that in many cases the training already had made a positive difference.

“Early in my [West Point] application process, someone told me about Keath and the foundation. They told me that he was the absolute best resource to help me get in shape and prepare both physically and militarily for the Academy. SLMOSF provides a truly excellent environment that has shaped the way I conduct myself,” Cadet Kristin Vandeven of Ballwin, USMA Class of 2019, explained.

First Lt. Chris Boldt of Glendale, West Point Class of 2013, added: “SLMOSF creates unique opportunities for world-class training … rarely available in any military unit. Every man and woman who attends a SLMOSF training session is guaranteed to return to their unit or academy with leadership capabilities and tools to better those around them.”

Barry, who went from being a trainee to part of the training crew, points to his own experience as proof of SLMOF’s benefit.

“I would have either greatly struggled through rescue swimming school, hurt myself through improper training or even given up,” Barry said. “I learned a better work ethic, workout technique and most importantly [gained] confidence in myself [through SLMOSF].”

Both of Patrick’s parents, David and Molly Barry, also serve on the SLMOSF board and describe Hausher as “an unsung American hero.” In a letter to the editor of Mid Rivers Newsmagazine, they described a situation involving a specialized Air Force group sent to Afghanistan to establish a communications network. Concerns arose upon learning the company’s members would be responsible for their own defense, rather than being able to rely on the U.S. Army.

Describing the group as “communications and computer geeks, not front-line military soldiers,” the Barrys said the lieutenant colonel who commanded the company contacted Hausher for help. For the next three months, he trained the unit on defensive tactics and small arms use. The group then was deployed for nine months and, despite frequent attacks by the Taliban, all members returned home unharmed, according to the Barrys’ letter.

Learning to lead 

Hausher has trained hundreds of young people over the years and, like Barry, a number of them have returned to assist him. Two Army Rangers – Capt. Colin Smith and Sgt. R. J. Coday – were on hand in late December to help in firearms training at a site south of Warrenton.

That session illustrated the some two hours of “dry training” participants receive before they load their first live round. Carrying, raising, lowering, firing and securing the M-4 rifles the trainees used all were done under Hausher’s strict commands. When one trainee inadvertently fired before the command was given, all were ordered to lay down their weapons and run up a long, steep hill and back down before the training resumed.

When a rifle was fired prematurely a second time, the trainees had to repeat the hill exercise, this time with hands clasped behind their heads. No one complained.

“After one day of shooting with Keath [and] listening to techniques like finding the natural respiratory pause in order not to misfire due to uncontrolled breathing, I was able to qualify as an expert at pistol and marksman at rifle during Plebe Summer at the Naval Academy. Before Keath, I had no instruction in shooting,” Anthony Mayes of St. Louis, USNA Class of 2016, said.

Although Smith went to West Point and Coday attended the University of Missouri, their friendship began at De Smet Jesuit and the men have remained close. Like other participants, they strongly endorse the efforts of Hausher and the foundation.

SLMOSF receives no endorsement or support from the service academies but Hausher has spoken and instructed at academy training sessions arranged by those he has trained here. He also has close relationships with area academy liaison personnel and local parents of those at the academies. Trainee referrals come from both sources. Give a little, get a lot

Hausher and the SLMOSF have no plans to alter the policy of not charging military-bound trainees for the training, even though the fundraising burden on the foundation is considerable. Last year, that training expanded to include area law enforcement such as the St. Louis County Police Department’s tactical operations unit that has used the Warrenton property for room entry techniques and firearms skills, as well as low light and night vision training in a mine on the site.

Acquiring and maintaining its arsenal of small arms and ammunition represent the foundation’s largest single cost, but other miscellaneous expenses such as pool rental add to the total.

“We don’t think it’s appropriate to charge people who may wind up protecting our back sometime down the road,” Hausher explained.

Back at the Pattonville pool day, Hausher worked closely with a young woman now in her third year at the Air Force Academy. To receive her commission, she must pass water qualification skills that include jumping into the water from elevated locations.

When she stepped to the end of the three-meter diving board at Pattonville, it was clear the young woman was terrified. Long minutes passed as she stood there, frequently covering her face with her hands and shaking her head slightly.

Hausher joined her on the board, talking quietly to her. When she still was unwilling to jump, Hausher took her hand and whispered apparent words of encouragement before the two jumped off together. They repeated the tandem jumps several times until the woman leaped solo from the board with Hausher waiting in the water below.

Also encouraging the woman was Hannah Hayes, who grew up in Wildwood, attended Lafayette High  and now is in her final year at the Naval Academy. When she graduates, she will join the Marines with the goal of becoming a pilot.

“The success I have [had] at the academy is greatly due to what I have learned with SLMOSF. It prepared me more than anything else could and gave me the confidence I [earlier] lacked,” Hayes said.

Hausher said his reward is simple.

“Getting to know these great, truly remarkable people and being a small part of what brings them and those in their command home safely make me a very well-compensated man.”

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