Modern Lending Podcast | Tom Kilgannon and Freedom Alliance

Come hang with me and the President of Freedom Alliance, Tom Kilgannon as we unpack the purpose of this great Non-Profit and what they are doing to support our amazing veterans.

Your snippet of this episode of the Modern Lending Podcast:

  • All proceed of Alec's Book Bypassed goes to helping vets.
  • Find out how much Freedom Alliance is helping our troops and their families.
  • Human connection is important especially during this pandemic
  • How Freedom Alliance creates that human connection.

Episode Transcribe

Alec:
What's up Modern Lending podcasters?

Welcome back to another live episode of the Modern Lending podcast.

Today is going to be a little different. I'm really excited for the conversation though, because in the tough times we're having right now, it is so important to land on a solid perspective. And there are so many people out there suffering, and there's so many people out there doing amazing things to serve those who are suffering. Some of you know I wrote a book and when I was getting to the final stages of the book and deciding to release it, I [inaudible 00:00:48] Bypassed, A Modern Guide for Local Originators. It's out on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Kindle and audio book coming really soon, read by yours truly. So please give me some grace because reading your own audio book sucks. And I feel like an idiot, but it's out there.
And I decided that this would be a gift of mine to the industry that has done such amazing things in my life. And so 100% of the proceeds of my book, Bypassed, are going to an incredible organization called Freedom Alliance. And so I figured what better time than now to bring on the president of Freedom Alliance, Tom Kilgannon, to talk about what that amazing organization is doing to serve our veterans? I'm really excited for this conversation because it's going to just open up, I hope for a lot of you, insight into this incredible organization and what it's doing for our vets. So let's kick it off and bring on Tom.
Now we're here. I couldn't hear any of the music on that. So Tom, you told me it was going and people heard it. So we're going for it live.

Tom:
It's great music. I'm going to get it in my office.

Alec:
So thank you for joining us. I'm really excited for this conversation. For those of you that are tuning in, we are alive on LinkedIn, on YouTube and on Facebook hitting all the mediums. If you see me looking down, it's because I'm looking at the comments on LinkedIn, but if you're commenting on Facebook and YouTube, I'll see them on the screen. Welcome, Tom. Thank you for being here. Thank you for everything Freedom Alliance does. And I'm excited for this conversation.

Tom:
Well, me too, Alec. It's great to be on the program. Thanks so much. I really appreciate all that you're doing. And congratulations on the book. I mean, I wrote a book myself. It's a big lift. It's a hard task. And I congratulate you because I think Bypass is going to be something that really speaks to a lot of people and helps them in their profession. And obviously what's important to us is what you're doing with the proceeds and donating them to Freedom Alliance. And that is just something that means a whole lot us. And it's going to help us provide for military families, for heroes, for the children who have lost a parent in military service. And so thank you for all that you're doing on that. I know that you use this podcast as a forum to help people in invest in homes. And today we're going to talk about investing in heroes. So I'm looking forward to it. So let's get started, man.

Alec:
Well, so just as a background for everybody, because there are some people for sure that are now frantically Googling Freedom Alliance and trying to find out what's going on. So share with everybody. When did Freedom Alliance start, give them the history, give them the elevator pitch. If someone grabs you, "What do you do?" Freedom Alliance. What's that? Share with everybody what it's all about?

Tom:
Sure. Well, Freedom Alliance, we're a military support organization. We're a nonprofit. We were founded in 1990. So this year as we speak Alec, we're celebrating 30 years, our 30th birthday this year.

Alec:
You got to be proud of that. That is so cool. I mean, 30 years is a legacy business, so that's congratulations. First of all.

Tom:
Thank you. It really is. Not a lot of nonprofits get to that point. A lot of them fizzle out early, as you well know. So surviving 30 years, not only surviving, but thriving and doing good. So, it's really been interesting because Freedom Alliance is 30 years old. I've been with the organization for about 22 years now. So much of the organization's history.

Alec:
That's a long time.

Tom:
Yeah, it is. It is a long time for me, 22 years is a long time, but it's not unusual here at Freedom Alliance. We have many of our staff have long tenures here at Freedom Alliance, 10, 15, some 18, 19 years. And the reason is what we're going to get into in a few minutes, the mission, the importance of the work that we do, the cause that we're able to help people who put their lives on the line for this country.
And that's the way it's been right from the onset. In 1990, the organization was formed and it was founded at a time just a few months before America's military was deployed to Kuwait to expel Saddam Hussein's forces out of Kuwait when they attack there. And that's when it was founded and it was founded by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a man who spent 22 years in the United States Marine Corps, was decorated with a silver star, two purple hearts, the bronze star for Valor in combat, somebody that I consider a real American hero. Not only is he a hero, but to me, he's a friend and a mentor, and somebody I admire a great deal. He founded the organization and he entrusted its daily operations to me and an incredible team of professionals that we have who are just so very dedicated.

Alec:
And so cool. So Barry [inaudible 00:05:51], he just donated to Freedom Alliance. Barry, that's amazing, man. Thank you. See, I mean, just spreading the word is already getting people fired up about what you guys do. So Tom, before you came to Freedom Alliance, what were you doing?

Tom:
I was working on Capitol Hill. I was working for a member of Congress in the house of representatives and things were going well, I really enjoyed it. The member that I was working for, he was in the house and he had just started a campaign for the Senate in his state. And so the Senate campaign was going very well and I was an integral part of it. It was exciting. And in that time, Alec, I got a phone call and it was from Colonel North. And he said, "Tom, I'm looking for somebody to run the foundation Freedom Alliance." And I said, "Well, that's fantastic Colonel, let me keep an ear to the ground. I know a bunch of people."

Alec:
That's the nice way of saying, "Yeah, yeah, thanks." He's calling you. He's like, "Hey Tom, come run this." You're like, "Yeah, yeah. I'll keep a look out."

Tom:
Yeah. I said, "I'll refer some people to you. I'll let you know who I come up with." And he said, just what you said, Alec, "Tom, I don't think you're getting it. Hello. I want you to come over and run Freedom Alliance." And I said, "Colonel, I am honored. That is fantastic. I really appreciate it. But the Congressman needs me, he's running for Senate. Things are going well, I'm an important part of the equation for success. And I'm just not sure that I can do it at this time." And he said, "Tom, I understand, I hear you. And I'll see you in my office on Monday morning. Right?" And I said, "Yes, sir, I'll be there."

Alec:
He closed you. [inaudible 00:07:35] closed. That is incredible.

Tom:
[inaudible 00:07:36] greatest history. And it has really been a tremendous ride. And that was in 1998. And so that was just a few years before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Wow. And that was another milestone in the organization's history. And it's really from that point that we took some of those programs that were first instituted back 10 years earlier. And we refashioned them a little bit and we got them up and running for what was needed after 9/11. And for the last 19 years, we've been at it hard and fast taking care of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, taking care of their kids, sending them to college.

Alec:
Yeah. I want to break that down a little bit. So Tom, when you started, where were the funds going? I mean, in the nineties, right? Who are you giving money to? How were you deciding? Because there's an evolution I know of this company over 30 years and I was just looking at some stats that I want to get into on how many people you've helped, but what did Freedom Alliance first start doing?

Tom:
The scholarship program was one of the first programs and it's something that was always very important to Colonel North because Alec, he was been there that as they say, and he held his friends in his arms, he saw his friends die and he had the unfortunate task at times in his career of having to tell a widow that her husband wasn't coming home. And so when he had the opportunity, he said, "What do we do? How do we make a terrible situation a little bit better?" And the idea of providing scholarships to kids who've had a parent killed or disabled in military service is something that has been done from the organization's start. N.
ow, as you know, we went into Kuwait, we expelled Iraq out of there. That war was very short lived. And so the organization was able to provide some scholarships to do that. It carried on through the nineties, but when it really took off was after 9/11. And since then, I can tell you, we have set a goal that in the 20 years from the attacks of 9/11 to next year, we are going to give away $20 million in college scholarships. And we are well on track to do that. And I know if more donations come in through this platform here today, we're going to be able to do it without any problem. We currently, Alec, currently, we have 500 students on scholarship with us. Each of these students is the son or daughter of an American hero. They have had a parent who was killed or permanently disabled in military service, or have performed at the highest levels of heroism for our country. And each year now we're giving out over $2 million to help them with their college education. As you know, the cost of college increase all the time. It's one of the fastest growing costs for an American family and it's harder and harder to meet that cost.

Alec:
Well, if I can dive into, I mean, in home lending, which we do, student debt is a crippling American problem. And that's that sometimes is the only way for certain people to get through that college experience. And the ability for you guys, I mean, you said $2 million a year towards scholarships right now?

Tom:
$2 million a year towards scholarships.

Alec:
That's incredibly amazing. And the goal is $20 million now?

Tom:
And yes, we will have given out $20 million by the end of next year. But Alec, here's what's even more important than that. I mean, our average scholarship is about $4,000 per student per year. And we will give out $20 million by the end of next year, but here's what's even more important. Each scholarship we give represents an American hero. Helps that student know that their parents' sacrifice will never, never be forgotten by a grateful nation. And that's what this is all about. That's what the partnership between Loan Depot and Freedom Alliance is all about. That's what the donations that are coming in through the program are all about is that we as an American community come together to ensure that those who are sacrificing, even if it was 20 years ago, we're going to remember that and we're going to help their families. Why? Because they entrusted us, their fellow Americans to say, "Look, if anything happens to me, please take care of my kids." And that's what we do.

Alec:
And I'm just going to say it, there are a lot of people right now suffering. A lot of industries and a lot of companies that are suffering under COVID right now. But the mortgage industry is helping a tremendous amount of people right now. And there's a lot of our great salespeople that are making some serious, serious success, and they're making some serious money. So guess what guys? Write the check. This is our time to step up too. It's our time to step up too if you're blessed enough to live in this great country and be protected. And you're blessed enough to be in the mortgage industry now helping thousands of people, then you are blessed enough to cut a check to help the family and the soldiers that have been hurt and killed in defending us. So I'm just going to put it out there in a bold way. I think it's time to step up in big ways. And Tom, but you guys go deeper than scholarships? And I would love you to share where that path started and how it originated and how you're helping vets themselves, not just their kids?

Tom:
Sure. Yeah. I mean, we're working not only with the students, with the children, but with combat veterans, with wounded service members, because obviously, those scholarships are going to kids who had a parent who did not come home, but many veterans do come home and some of those are eligible for our scholarship, but these guys, they've lost limbs, they've sacrificed greatly. And many of them, Alec, are carrying the emotional wounds of war, emotional injury. And that is really where Freedom Alliance's big focuses is because I think one of the great disappointments, if you will, that was early in the war was the amount of media attention that was paid to the amputees versus those who carry the emotional injuries. [crosstalk 00:14:40] Anything away from the amputees.

Alec:
An amputee, it's right in your face, you can't ignore it. And so it's natural, I think to just go zoom in on that and go, "Wow, what a tragedy," but you're right. The stuff that's inside, and especially in a masculine culture where you're like, "Shrug it off, no big deal." It is a big deal. People are waking up to it.

Tom:
Because our combat veterans, they see the worst that humanity has to offer. And they witness it, they feel it, they experience it, and then they carry it in their heart and their soul and they bring it back home. And it stays with them for a really long time. It stays with them for years. And what we have to do is help them get through it, just to help people kind of put this in context or understand it, earlier this morning, I was just looking at the news and seeing what's going on with all the COVID and everything like that. And I came across a picture of, I think it was a nursing home in Brooklyn, New York. And it was a picture of dead bodies that have been just kind of thrown about and not giving the dignity that they should.
And it was a really difficult picture to look at, but I'm looking at it through a computer screen from a long distance. Imagine for a second that kind of thing that our troops are seeing up close. They have seen women and children tortured and beaten. They have seen their friends die, and it's not just the visual, but the smells and the sounds that go along with it. And they carry that with them. And they're not able to address it in a lot of cases until many years later. So that's what Freedom Alliance does. We get them out. We get them on fishing boats and out in hunting and in the mountains. And we create environments where they're able to have conversation with trusted friends and trusted allies so that they can work through it.

Alec:
This is something. So I've been preaching a lot, and preaching I think is the right word, about the importance of human connection, and sales right now, it's radically changed. We can't do what we used to do, we can't meet with our customers face to face, not physically. We can't go have a cocktail with our realtor partners. We can't do what we used to do, but human connection is becoming paramount and more important every day. And so when I dug deeper into Freedom Alliance and what you guys do, I was like, "This is it." You're creating human connection with these veterans. And I've been very lucky to be around Anthony Shea. And that's kind of how I found you guys was, his War Heroes on Water event with you guys, where the vets would come out, come together, get on these fishing boats and go out and just connect with nature, with themselves, with each other and get a message of love. And I've watched those guys come away totally transformed. And then I'm like, "Well, this is what Freedom Alliance is doing every day." This is what you guys are doing every day. And do you have any stories? Do you have anything that comes to mind when you think of these experiences with these guys? [inaudible 00:18:06]

Tom:
Sure. All right. And you mentioned War Heroes on Water. It's a fantastic event. And it's the kind of thing that really helps us get veterans out. So in August we're going to have our third annual War Heroes on the Water, and we're going to have almost 100 combat veterans gathering in Southern California. 30 boats getting them out for a fishing weekend. But the fishing weekend is just the start of the magic that happens because you get these guys on the boat and they talk. And they talk to one another and they start to unburden themselves. As one explained to me a few months ago, you get on the boat and you're out there for three days. Well, the first few hours you have the normal conversation of, "How's the weather, where did you serve, and how's all that?" And then you get down to the real conversation. "What's going on man? What did you feel? What did you see? How do you deal with it?" And that's where the healing takes place, because we need to be able to talk about it. We're people, we're social, and our whole model at Freedom Alliance has been to get veterans out of the house, put them in the company with so that they can begin to heal. So this COVID situation has thrown a little bit of a wrench into it, but we're getting through it.

Alec:
That's exactly where I was going to go, because now human connection's harder than ever. We can't get physical the way we used to get physical. And so how are you guys evolving and managing that with the veterans? Share some stories there. I think it's a powerful tangent for us.

Tom:
Yeah. Our model, Alec, as I said, get vets out of the home and get them together. So we've had to create a personal relationship. One of the things we value most is the trust the veterans put in us, and it takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of effort to earn that trust. And when we do, we hold onto it and we don't let it go away. So I think one of the important things here is to distinguish between social distancing and social isolation. Social distancing, that's what we're all doing and it's important. And it's a healthy thing. That's where we basically keep a geographic distance between each other so we're not spreading the virus around, and it contributes to the public health.
Social isolation is really what we're trying to avoid with veterans. That is a destructive behavior in which they lock themselves in their home. They shut themselves off from others and maybe embrace destructive vices like potentially alcohol, drugs, or even self harm. So that's why we need to keep them in the company of others so that they have accountability, partners, and mentorship, and they have a reason to work at their rehabilitation. And that's what takes place at War Heroes on Water. On these boats where they go out and they fish, they find new friends, both fellow combat veterans and civilian. What I can tell you, in fact, what's going to happen this afternoon at Freedom Alliance, we're going to have two different virtual get togethers with combat veterans who were on the War Heroes on Water, who met each other through that event, and continue to stay in touch with each other and help each other through this very difficult content.

Alec:
That's what really stood out for me in listening to some of these stories from War Heroes on Water. And I know from your other events, is these veterans come in from different branches of the military. They didn't necessarily serve together, but they have a similar path and a similar history and a similar experience. And they come together and they bond and they do become friends. They do stay connected. And I think that's a gift. I think that's an incredible gift that money can't buy.

Tom:
No, certainly not. The other thing I want to mention is the veteran community is not a monolith, so there are many out there who are struggling, who need help, and that's what we're addressing, but there are a lot of veterans who are healthy and are in a good place. And we are reaching to them, and we're leveraging their expertise and their help so that they are connecting with their buddies, we've asked through a vet workers program, in a buddy check program, we have asked veterans who are feeling good and feeling healthy, "Hey, connect with five of your friends and make sure they're doing okay. And if there's anything they need, let us know." So, those are the things that we can do with both healthy vets and those who are struggling and reach out to those five through that spectrum.

Alec:
That's amazing. So what's next, Tom? I mean, what's next for Freedom Alliance? I saw your goal. That's a huge goal. What does this look like in another 30 years? What are you envisioning?

Tom:
Well, it's a great question. We're just doing what we normally do. And that is to help military peacekeepers. And it's a little bit tough to answer, because what we were doing 30 years ago, 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, is different from what we're doing now. We try to understand the veteran and know what it is they're needing on a personal level and one on one, to remain aiding the one sided policy, so what we're going to do, that works to a degree, but the rest is have real life changing impact, that we're able to [inaudible 00:24:16] at a very personal level.

Alec:
Yeah. That's fact. Not everybody can be served the same way. Not everybody needs the same thing. And so that's one of the things too, I'm encouraging everybody who is tuning in to go to Freedom Alliance's website and look at the different places that these guys play in. Look at the way they're serving veterans the way they need to be served. I think that flexibility as an organization and that nimbleness is going to keep you guys relevant for a long time, Tom, because the world is changing and you've got to change with it to serve the people who need it.

Tom:
Yeah. We've got a number of great programs. We're providing service members with new vehicles, so they can make up [inaudible 00:25:07] We're giving them more recalls, [inaudible 00:25:09] for wounded veterans. But we also extend similar hours to married people who are struggling and who don't want their marriage becoming another casualty of war. So we're working with couples, to get them out, help them have kind of conversations so that we can make their marriage stronger, make them better at grieving, and that is really rewarding. When we have that kind of feedback come back, whether it be a single service member or married couple, to say, "What you did for us really changed our lives. You really helped us out in a time when we were struggling, on the edge of divorce, or on the edge of self harm. You turned it around, helped me to turn it around." And Alec, when you get that kind of feedback, it's easy to go home, and put your head on the pillow and know that you did your job. And that's what really makes me proud.

Alec:
That's incredible. And you've obviously had a long legacy there and hopefully a lot more to come. So, I mean, typically, a lot of people that focus in on my content are looking for inspiration on modern sales techniques, what's happening in the mortgage industry. That's kind of where my lane is and I kind of focus there, but would that kind of an audience, what would you share with them? What would you tell them? What perspective would you give them?

Tom:
I would, want your listeners and viewers to know, Alec, the kind of courage that exists in the military community. And when I say courage, I think the first thing we all think of is courage on the battlefield, the question that that exists. As a civilian, I have not had the opportunity to see firsthand that kind of courage. I know it's out there, I've read the stories. I've heard the stories and they are incredible and they are admirable. What I can say from my personal experience, is I have seen other kinds of courage displayed by combat veterans, different kinds of courage, the kind of courage that it takes to overcome the wounds and the difficulties that they have, the new kinds of things that they have to learn.
And it's not just with them, but it's with their family members as well. I'll give you a quick story. Years ago, I was down in Texas at Brooke Army Medical Center, and I was going through the burn center down there. The burn center in San Antonio is the finest, the best burn center in all the world. They do incredible work. And if you've ever had the opportunity to visit a burn center, here's what you take away. When you go in and you spend time in the room of somebody who's recovering from severe burns, the room is very hot because it needs to be to keep them as comfortable as possible. The other thing is you're in there for a very short period of time. My visits were two to three minutes at most because it's just too much stress.
So you go in and you make your point quickly. So on this particular visit, I went in and we're in the hallway and you have to gown up, all the PPE and you put it on and you go in. The door to the room was open. We go in, I met a young man who has had about 70% of his body burned. A young lady was at his bedside. And we spoke for just a few minutes. It was incredibly inspiring. And then I had to go back out in the hallway and taking off all the PPE and what I did not know, I learned when I closed the door to the room. So the door, you had to pull it away from the wall and close it. And on the other side of the door was a single balloon and a single 8 1/2 by 11 sheet of paper with a crayon marking that said just married.
And so what I did not know in the room was that these two had the courage. This young lady had the courage to give her life to this young man, knowing that it was going to be very difficult and very challenging. And you see that again and again and again. How many parents have I met that quit their job, that left their job in order to take care of their son or their daughter who was very severely injured. And as you mentioned earlier, our combat veterans, these are tough guys. These are A type personalities. And when they have those moral injuries, when they have brain injuries that deteriorate their motor skills, and they have to ask for help to eat, to button their shirt, to get dressed, when they display the kind of courage to be able to do those things, it is amazing. And it is so inspiring to see.

Alec:
I'm really grateful for this conversation today because we're all having our own hard times. We were joking, Tom, for those of you that are listening. Tom and I were joking before we started about just, my small issues of my life, homeschooling kids, which is annoying. Not being able to go to the beach because they've closed it down. And all of us have our frustrations, all of us have our issues. And I'm just grateful for this conversation. And I'm hoping everyone that listens feels the same way because perspective lends so much strength to our hardships, to our micro hardships. And there are people who have given all and are still pulling through and still trying to live their life under tremendous hardship.
And so, Tom, I'm blessed to know you, man. So excited to have this conversation today. I know that this is going to spread around the internet and more people are going to get exposed to Freedom Alliance and the great work you guys are doing. I'm just super honored to contribute in the smallest of ways, considering how much you're going to give and what you're going to do this year. And so man, if you have any final comment? That last bit, I'm shook, that was really fun to hear and a wonderful eyeopener for my own self today. So I know I'm going to have a lot more appreciation going about my day for sure after this, but anything else you want to end with Tom?

Tom:
Well, I just, I want to thank you Alec, for having me on the program and all you're doing to bring attention to Freedom Alliance and the work that we do. It's very inspiring. And the story I just told, I could tell a dozen of them and it's one of the great honors of my life and my career to be able to spend it with people who put their lives on the line. And today is the first day of military appreciation month.

Alec:
I didn't even know that. That's how much I'm in my own head dealing with my own micro problems. So what a cool timing that ended up being.

Tom:
And I think we just want to ask everybody to give a moment as we go through these next 30 days and understand the sacrifices that our military makes. As you said, we've got these micro annoyances that we're [crosstalk 00:33:01] to stay in our house. I mentioned at the start of the show, the troops who deployed to Kuwait back in 1990, think about what they did. They sat in the hot desert sun with that awful sand and they sat there for months and months and months before they were able to do their job. You have to remember those kinds of sacrifices that they make.

Alec:
Well, Tom, thank you for everything you do. Thank you for everything Freedom Alliance does. And this has been one of my most memorable conversations on this podcast because we went in a whole new direction and I'm just grateful for you guys and everything you do. And so for those of you that are listening and those who are going to be listening to the podcast later, this is an episode that I'm going to ask you to share and push out. This is an episode that I want you guys to just give to the world so that we can all get a new perspective. So thank you, Tom. With that, let's end it out.


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