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Posted on April 30, 2010
Sgt. Dave Rogers, a former U.S. Air Force serviceman, was nearly speechless when we broke the news—that his picture and story beat out hundreds of entries earning him a lifetime supply of Converse. He told us that he’d never won anything in his life. Now he has.
His compelling picture and story along with seven others have been posted on MilitaryBoots.com so others can learn about the trials and tribulations that he and his trusty desert tan boots have endured. In 1992, Rogers spent six months in Somalia for Operation Restore Hope. He wore his boots every day, and he also kept a journal about his time in what he called a “screen-door away from Hell.”
Following his big win, Rogers chatted with us via telephone about his new boots, his old boots and his meeting with Charlton Heston.
What brand were your boots?
Well, those are the ones that Norman Schwarzkopf helped design in Operation Desert Storm. I doubt if I look at them I’ll be able to tell. I bet you a CSI lab can find it. There is a round circle where there might have been something once, and you can vaguely see the shoe size. I don’t think the army designed these to last for twenty years.
Have you ever worn Converse boots before?
This might be my first time…
Where do you keep your old boots? Do you have a special spot for them?
I do. I have built some bookshelves in my office. I have the boots up on my shelf normally propped up with a piece of rock that looks like a piece of coral. That rock hit me in the side of the head at a riot in Somalia. What they would do is put these things in a sling and fling them at you.
It’s like David and Goliath. Except my name is David, and I got the rock thrown at me. It’s supposed to work the other way around. The rock hit that helmet and actually dented it, hit my rifle stock and broke the rifle stock so it was really moving. They really wanted to take my head off. Maybe someday I’ll get to throw it back. Probably not, but at least it will keep my boots up.
How does it feel to have won free boots for life?
I tell you what, I thought about it over the weekend. I have mixed feelings about it. I remember how difficult it was back then to get a pair of new boots. You figured it would be easy, but it really wasn’t. There are a lot of guys and girls over there now in harm’s way that are doing a job for us … taking care of things so we don’t have a situation like 9/11 again.
Every day that you go to work, and you arrive there in one piece, and you get there in a relatively peaceful nation. You get to buy your granola latte and sit down at your desk and enjoy yourself with your friends, all of that is being bought and paid for by young people today out in the field.
Some of them are not coming back, and I think about that, and I think about winning something like this, and I feel like it’s bittersweet. It is true; I don’t think I’ve ever won anything before. But I can’t help but wonder about that guy looking for a new pair of boots. And I just won this contest to get these boots forever, and it makes you feel good, and it makes you feel bad. I wish I could help the guys and girls that are out there.
What’s one moment you’ll never forget from that time in Somalia?
Everything could change at a moment’s notice. You never knew what you are going to get. One moment could be perfectly quiet, and the next moment things could just go absolutely crazy.
I was lying in my rack one night, and I heard a scream from the room in this burned out school building we were living in. It didn’t have a roof in some places. There was this yell and then all these girls go running past in various states of dressed and undressed. After they passed, this female lion comes trotting out. A full-sized female lion comes by and disappears. Another night a female lion went into the girls’ room and snuggled up underneath one of the racks. When someone grabbed the flashlight, you can imagine the surprise.
What do you do nowadays?
I am a 100 percent disabled vet. I do some writing, I’ve written a book. I teach aikido. I’ve been doing that for about 25 years. My book is Positive Aikido. I’ve done a lot of stuff in that area. We used to contribute to a lot of groups that combat domestic violence, so we do different events and try to raise money for them.
Your journal sits next to your old boots in the winning contest photo. You also sent usa picture of Charlton Heston signing your journal. How did that come about?
When I was out some place if the vehicle parked for any length of time or anything that didn’t require your immediate attention, I pulled out my journal. I kept it in my left cargo pocket in my BDU pants and had it wrapped in plastic bag so if it rained or if I ended up dead, the journal would be able to go back to my family. I would ask people if they’d like to write a page or two in it because I wanted the journal to be for my kids if I didn’t come home. And I didn’t want their voice to be just my own. I wanted it to be the voice of other people so that it would be more objective.
So, one day I’m out, me and my buddy Al, and we walked in this perfectly clean building and there was this big guy sitting at this table all alone. We walk towards him, and it just felt so odd. The guy looked over at us, he pushed his chair out slow and he stood up and walked towards us. “Gentleman, how are you doing?” he said. I stepped forward and shook hands with this guy, and I realized that it’s Moses. It’s Moses! I’m shaking hands with Moses!! It’s the man. It’s Charlton Heston. And then Al said something, then some other guys came over. They shuffled us out, and I had just met Charlton Heston.
It was the same day, and we were out at the embassy compound. We pulled the Hummer in … and sure enough, in his red shirt with his white cowboy hat on, there’s Charlton Heston standing in the middle of this crowd of troops. I walked into the group, and I took the journal out of my pocket and asked him to sign it. And he said sure.