As part of his career in the Army, much of which he can’t discuss – especially in a busy Starbucks in Fairbanks, Alaska – Michael Dahl worked as a linguist in intelligence and arms control. He inspected weapons of mass destruction. He literally climbed into missile silos. Over the course of his career, he stood next to enough fire power to obliterate half of the solar system. So, given all that, what – if anything – is he afraid of? What keeps him up at night?
“People,” he said. “The thing I fear the most is not the weapons themselves. Humans have had weapons as long as there have been humans. There was a day, an age in history, when the catapult was the most devastating thing in the world that people feared. It's the people.”
What gives him hope, then?
“Same thing. People,” Michael said, smiling as he took a drink from his iced mocha, displaying the Mickey Mouse watch his wife gave him. “I've met some of the scariest people in humanity I can imagine, but I've also met some of the noblest and most beautiful human beings because of their capacity to care about other people and make a difference.”
Michael’s father, Larry Dahl, was killed in Vietnam. The elder Dahl, a truck driver for the Army, threw himself on a grenade in an ambush, saving all his fellow soldiers in the truck. Michael was 3 years old at the time, and 6 years old when his father received the Congressional Medal of Honor. His father’s story was featured in a documentary film. He also has a ship and buildings named after him.
“My father is a little bit of an institution. But he was an ordinary, everyday person who put on his pants and shoes like everybody else. He had no delusions of being any of that, that just kind of happened,” Dahl said. “Regrettably I have very few cogent memories of him because of my age, but it definitely kind of added a powerful background to my life. It was always kind of there.”
Michael eventually decided to join the Army as well, but on his own terms.
“I went to the recruiter, and he was like, ‘Oh, your dad was …’ and it's like, no, I'm not driving trucks, not my thing. I had studied three or four different foreign languages, and I said, ‘The Army's got that language thing, right? Throw it at me – Arabic, Russian, Swahili, whatever floats your boat. If I’m going to join the Army, I need to do something I can crush, otherwise why go?” Michael said. “The biggest thing I always tell people is … you don't have to be your parents, or do exactly what your parents did, however noble and inspiring that may have been. It's about being a person they would be happy to talk about.”