by Susan Katz Keating
Today marks the fourth installment of a new development at Soldier of Fortune: the SOF Advisory Committee. The members are people I trust and admire, and who I have known over the years. They all are veterans who have made significant marks in the military milieu. Today: legendary Delta Force badass, retired Master Sgt. Norm Hooten.
The first time I talked to Norm Hooten, I quickly realized that beyond the cool persona whose film character, “Hoot,” embodies selfless courage and fierce independence, there is a man who cares deeply about his fellow veterans. Yes, he inspired an iconic meme (quick: what do you envision when you read the phrase, “this is my safety“?) Yes, he created his own cigar and whiskey lines, and has a cocktail named after him. Those are the fun parts. The serious side is, he became a pharmacist while in his 50’s, in order to help tackle opioid addiction among patients at VA medical centers.
Film audiences of course know Hoot as the larger than life Delta Force soldier portrayed by Eric Bana in the film Black Hawk Down, about the intense 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. The film depicts courage and brotherhood under fire in a stark and desperate situation. Eighteen American soldiers were killed in the fight, and many more were wounded.
What the movie doesn’t show is that soldiers and veterans can suffer other kinds of tragedies beyond the combat zone. But Hoot saw them.
“When you lose someone in combat, it’s tragic but you can expect it as normal within the limits,” Hooten told me. “When they come home and die of opioid overdoses, I couldn’t wrap my head around it.”
The losses hit hard.
“It really gutted me,” Hooten said. “I had deep love and respect for those guys. Losing them was hard for me to accept.”
After leaving the Army, Hooten began pharmacy school, which was interrupted when he was recalled to active duty following 9/11. Later, as a contractor, he saw that many veterans were struggling with substance use and mental health challenges. Aiming to help them, he returned to pharmacy school.
As a pharmacist at the VA, Hooten joined an inter-professional team to work with patients who faced multiple issues including substance abuse.
He often went unrecognized by patients who thought he wouldn’t understand what they’d been through.
“My first patient said, you can’t stand in my shoes, you’ve never been through combat,” Hooten told me. When patients realized that the doc with the steady demeanor and the Texas drawl had fought through hell and back, they listened.
Meanwhile, Hoot and his friend Tim Young one night were sitting by the fire, smoking cigars and slowly sipping whiskey while recollecting people they have known over the years. The two men wanted to honor their compatriots, and to encourage others to keep the stories alive. They thought of ways to facilitate the storytelling – and the answer was in how they themselves that night took time to reminisce.
From there they formed Hooten Young, offering “a great cigar, a rich bourbon or a vintage red that stretched through the evening,” the company notes. They created cigars named for Operation Gothic Serpent, Operation Overlord, and others. And they made American whiskey.
For Hooten, his work echoes the final “Why do you do it?” speech in Black Hawk Down. In that scene, a fresh-from-combat Hoot immediately returns downrange, telling another soldier that the only reason he fights is for the warriors next to him.
It’s all part of honoring those who have served our country.
“I can’t run as fast as I used to or shoot as straight, but I can do other things,” he told me.
Among them, being part of our esteemed Advisory Committee. Welcome, Norm Hooten!
And about that cocktail… for those of you who are 21 or older, herewith the recipe for “The Hoot.”
- 1.5 oz. Hooten Young American Whiskey – Aged 12 Years
- 0.5 oz. G.E. Massenez Crème de Cassis
- 0.5 oz. Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
- Shake and pour into a Collins Glass
- Topped with a Splash of Ginger Beer
- Garnish with Lime