From a recent interview:
I graduated from Jacksonville University and was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Navy and was selected for flight training. I flew the F/A-18 Hornet for the United States Navy for 15 years, graduated from the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOP GUN), and flew 44 combat sorties over Iraq off the aircraft carriers USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Kitty Hawk. As a young fighter pilot, I was also interested in finance and trading (you don’t serve your country to make money or get rich – that’s what politicians do). I taught myself how to trade stocks and eventually, options.
I left active duty from the Navy in late 2000 to pursue my dream airline pilot career. I also continued flying the F/A-18 Hornet for the Naval Reserve out of Naval Air Station Fort Worth. I was scheduled for my first flight on September 11th, 2001. We were living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, which is where American Airlines and my reserve F/A-18 squadron were both headquartered.
My wife at the time and I were awakened by a call from my mother-in-law in Boca Raton, Florida. She told my wife that an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center. The first thing I noticed was that the weather in New York was beautiful, and the impact hole in the World Trade Center’s north tower was too large for a small plane. I saw an airliner streak in from the right side of the screen and explode in a massive ball of fire and debris into the side of the second tower. My heart jumped, and I knew we were under attack. I went from flying an airliner that day for the first time to possibly shooting one down.
Since I was one of the newest hires at American Airlines, I was immediately furloughed, along with thousands of other pilots. Furloughed is airline speak for laid off. I lost everything – my job, my healthcare, my retirement. We had just bought our first house – we had lived in military housing for ten years – and we had used up what little money we saved in the Navy for a down payment. I lost it all, but I still had my family, and I needed to provide for them.
I directed all of my energy into something that, until this point, I never thought of as a full-time career: my stock and options trading. I started trading stocks and options as a young fighter pilot and immediately recognized something interesting. The same discipline and risk management methodologies that allowed me to successfully fly and fight the Hornet over the skies of Iraq could be applied to my trading as well. It worked extremely well. Eventually, I popped up on the radar of a leading Wall Street equity options volatility arbitrage trading firm. I was brought on as the Managing Director of Strategy. We grew from 99 people and $150M to over $2.5B and 600 people in three years.
This eventually led to me launching my company, TOPGUN Options, which has given me the opportunity to give back in many ways, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which I do in honor of my sister, who lost her life to a drunk driver. And now through the soon-to-launch TOPGUN Fighter Foundation, which I created to honor our fallen heroes.
Has it been a smooth road?
Absolutely not. But every setback in my life provided lessons learned that powered me forward and higher. Going from flying in an airliner that day to potentially shooting one down, maybe one flown by my best friend, and losing my job was a low point that forced me to focus full time on my trading.
One of my biggest struggles was losing my 19-year-old sister, who was a freshman at Villanova University. I was entering high school, a tough enough time for a young man, and her death tore apart our close-knit family. To this day, it’s still tough. After I had children of my own, I realized how much more pain and devastation my parents felt. Before my father passed away at the young age of 65, another huge setback in my life, I asked him how he went on after losing Monica. He looked at me and said – “I had you guys to keep me alive.”
Additionally, I buried nearly 20 aviators in my 15 years as a fighter pilot due to mishaps, as well as a handful of brothers who committed suicide on active duty and after they served this country. Last month an old squadronmate with two children shot himself. We as a country are failing those who risked their lives for our freedom.
Please tell us about TOPGUN Fighter Foundation.
The number one mission objective of TopgunFighter Foundation is to prevent veteran suicide. 22 veterans kill themselves every day and with the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the United States and crippling an already battered Veterans Administration, that number will tragically go higher.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?