Center Grove veteran creates a local ‘safe place’ for veterans readjusting to civilian life

By Nancy Price

A month after the 9/11, a Center Grove 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. Returning to Indiana as a civilian was not easy. Spanogle, like many veterans, struggled to assimilate back into a culture that now felt foreign.

Spanogle and his friend, Jeremy Miller, started the Special Forces of Indiana Chapter 500, a nonprofit 501(c) (19) veteran service organization and a chapter of the Special Forces Association (SFA). “This is truly a brotherhood,” Spanogle said of the chapter. “It’s a safe place to come.” The chapter also plans to help raise money for other veterans. Meetings are currently held the last Saturday of every month. For more information, visit, call Jeremy Miller at (317) 643-2060 or email

John Spanogle

What is your greatest virtue? Honor. I was instilled at an early age by my parents to respect others that have paved a way for me, assisted me on my journey in life, walked down the same path I traveled. At an early age, I gained reverence and admiration for those that served in the U.S. Armed Forces and wanted to be part of that history.

What upsets you? After all the centuries that the United States has fought wars and had combat veterans, we, the greatest nation in the world, has not been able to understand the incredibly hard transition our veterans face when leaving military service. All service members transition in their own unique way and there is no “cookie cutter’ approach to helping these veterans. Local, state and the federal government need to better assist in these transitions from the military, so we don’t have epidemics such as opioid abuse and suicide.

What do you like best about Center Grove?  The people make the community and we feel we are growing our family within the community and plan to make this home for many years. The schools are excellent and the sports programs for our son are phenomenal.

If you could begin life over, what would you change? Why would I? I have an awesome wife and son, a family that has supported me in all my endeavors and great friends that are truly family as well. I have had a great career, great education and visited over 56 different countries around the world. I am truly blessed.

If money were no issue, how would you spend it? I would really want to invest money into veteran transition programs. True programs that transition veterans from military service to the civilian world. Transitioning from culture to culture is a mass transformation of the individual veteran.

What would you change about our culture if you could? Americana typically have an attitude of arrogance overseas and I have seen it over and over, the “Ugly American” mentality while visiting foreign countries. I wish we would learn more about other cultures, especially before we visit their countries, to ensure we are not offending their way of life.

Which living person in Center Grove do you most admire? Major General Marty Umbarger, a graduate of Center Grove, was a great mentor to me while I was a young officer in the U.S. Army. I had the opportunity to assist his staff while he was preparing his brigade for a rotation at the Joint Readiness Center at Ft. Polk, La.

What quality do you admire most in another person? Humbleness. I have never met a so called “self-made person.” Somewhere, somehow, everyone gets assistance from someone that has been there or done that! Put yourself in other people’s shoes before you make decisions and try and see a problem from every angle.

What is your greatest fear? That when I pass and meet my maker, I can explain the horrors of battle and actions taken in combat. Decisions made to keep U.S. lives safe at the peril of the enemy does keep a sense of fear in me. I did what I did for the love of my soldiers, my country, which means the enemy must die for his country or cause. So, when that judgement day comes, I will accept my fate, no matter what it is.

What has been the happiest time of your life? There were two: June 19, 2010: I saw the most beautiful woman walking down the stairs of the Indiana War Memorial wear a white dress. I married my love, my best friend with 200 friends and family in attendance. March 28, 2013: My son, Jaxon, was born and I couldn’t help but look down with a huge smile as my son first laid his eyes on me, his dad!

Which historical figure do you most admire? Colonel Bob Howard. Robert Lewis Howard was a highly decorated United States Army Special Forces officer and Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War. I had the privilege to have met him a couple times as a young Special Forces Officer and he inspired me to become a better leader and mentor.

What tenet do you live by? Never put yourself in a position to have your integrity questioned. Once you lose your integrity, it is virtually impossible to gain it back.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I was fortunate to play college basketball at the Division I level. I played at the University of Hawaii and ended up winning the Western Athletic Conference Tournament in 1994 and earning a bid in the NCAA Tournament. I never played high school basketball and was cut when I tried out.