Special Forces of Indiana a ‘safe place’ for veterans readjusting to civilian life

By Nancy Price

On Sept. 11, 2001, our nation experienced the deadliest terrorist attack in history when four U.S. passenger airlines were hijacked by 19 al-Qaeda terrorists. Nearly 2,980 individuals lost their lives that day.

A month later, a Southside resident named John Spanogle was on his way to Afghanistan for the U.S. Army Special Forces training. A soldier in a distant country, he lived the constant pressure of remaining alert, dodging bullets from the enemy, even holding guns in his sleep, ready to defend himself if attacked. There were no guarantees of a tomorrow.

The silver lining in a cloud of constant turmoil was the brotherhood with his teammates. A break from reality for a short time to joke with one another, play some cards or enjoy some beer.

Spanogle is a graduate of Perry Meridian High School and currently lives in Center Grove. (Photo by Neal Smith)

Returning to Indiana as a civilian was not easy. Spanogle, like many veterans, struggled to assimilate back into a culture that now felt foreign.

“When you get out (of serving active duty), you lose your identity,” he said. “You train 13 weeks to be in infantry, but you’re trained for five days to be a civilian (again). I couldn’t get a job. Soldiers get home and they think, ‘I’ll go back to my hometown and work in a factory.’ They had no idea that factory closed down. They start drinking and the pressure sits in. It doesn’t matter who you are or what rank you have, if you can’t transition into a civilian world, it is a constant struggle.”

Spanogle eventually found a good job, married and had a child. Suppressed PTSD eventually caught up with him. He found solace in a mentor, a Green Beret who served in Vietnam. “He became my counselor, my confident. I could call him at 2 a.m. and say, ‘I’ve got problems,’” Spanogle recalled.

Spanogle in the governor’s palace after soldiers captured Kandahar, an eastern city in Afghanistan. (Submitted photo)

His mentor later had a heart attack and passed away. Spanogle was shattered.

In 2014, he met a fellow Southsider and Special Forces solider named Jeremy Miller.

“John mentioned to me during our first conversation, ‘You know, it would be nice to have an SFA (Special Forces Association) here in Indiana; there has never been one,’” Miller recalled. “I agreed with him and I took it has a personal challenge that we could be the first to make it happen. And we did! We jumped through all the hoops and now … here we are.”

Jeremy Miller is president of Special Forces of Indiana Chapter 500. (Submitted photo)

“This is truly a brotherhood,” Spanogle said of the new Special Forces Association Indiana Chapter 500. “It’s a safe place to come.”

As well, the chapter provides “a chance to help raise money for our brothers in need,” added Miller

The chapter is in planning stages to include wives and children at special events.

Miller met former U.S. president Bill Clinton in 1994 while deployed overseas. (Submitted photo)

“It’s open to all,” he said. “It’s just as much their place as it is ours. It’s not just a boy’s club, where you drink and smoke.”

Meetings are currently held the last Saturday of every month at 4 p.m. at the Carmel VFW, 12863 Old Meridian St., Carmel, 46032. Miller, who serves as president, and Spanogle, serving as vice president, are currently seeking a permanent home for the Indiana chapter.

For more information, visit specialforcesac500.org, or call Jeremy Miller at (317) 643-2060 or email him at jeremy@secopscyberinstitute.com.

Members may pay membership annually or for a lifetime. (Photo by Neal Smithy)

What is the Special Forces Association?

The Special Forces Association (SFA), informally known as the Green Berets, began in the 1950s and serves as the voice for the Special Forces community; perpetuates special forces traditions and brotherhood; advances the public image of Special Forces and promotes the general welfare of the Special Forces community. The Special Forces of Indiana Chapter 500 is a nonprofit 501(c) (19) veteran service organization and a chapter of the Special Forces SFA. The mailing address for the local chapter is: 1350 C Southport Road, #258, Indianapolis, IN 46217. For more information about SFA, go to specialforcesassociation.org.