The 9's : About Us
Growing up boys explore their world, learn some things, play a lot, and get dirty often. They become teenagers and go through some awkward changes while trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives.
And then, at some point they cross over into adulthood.
They become men.
And many stop exploring one of the most fundamental questions they need to ask: “What does it mean to be a man?” But whether they ask the question or not, there are still plenty of people and organizations offering answers. Most of these responses communicate that being a man boils down to sex and abs.
We believe there is more to being a man.
We believe that men are leaders, role models, and heroes. We believe that men are strong yet humble, passionate yet responsible, wise yet always learning.
Our mission is to make men better men. We want to see better husbands, fathers, sons, friends, bosses, employees, coaches, and more. We believe in challenging and helping men to live to the highest degree because with better men, we get a better world.
With this desire on their hearts, Bobby and Suzanne Keppel founded The 9s. If you’re a resident of St. Louis, you may recognize Bobby’s name. After graduating from De Smet Jesuit in 2000, Bobby began a career in baseball that included stops with three different teams in Major League Baseball. Currently Bobby is playing professionally in Japan, but that doesn’t stop him from having a passion to improve the lives of men and make a difference to the great city of St. Louis.
Why a Magazine?
Most men’s magazines primarily offer visual stimulation mixed in with shallow and generic content about manhood.
We are different.
While maintaining a visually clean look appropriate for anyone, The 9s magazine, website, and social media are about stories. We highlight the heroes that live and work in our own city. These are hometown success stories from stars you have heard about and others you may have not. As men we are on this journey together, and nothing can help us to live our lives “to the nines” more than reading about the successes and failures of others.
Why St. Louis?
Located near the center of the country, St. Louis is at the heart of the United States. With great sports, food, businesses, and more St. Louis is the perfect place for a men’s lifestyle magazine.
We love this city, which is why we are locally owned and operated using Missouri companies for printing and distribution. We also feature and highlight local businesses and successful people and share them with the community.
What’s in a Name?
The expression “To The Nines” means to the highest degree. “On Cloud Nine” defines highly euphoric. Certainly, you’ve heard of “Dressed To The Nines,” and although the exact origin of the phrase is unknown, consider the meaning to be simply a reference to scale: since perfection is impossible to obtain, nine is simply the absolute best.
“TO THE NINES” To perfection; to the highest degree
“THREE NINES” A pretty solid poker hand
“DRESSED TO THE NINES” Looking absolutely sharp, handsome, etc.
“NINE SYMPHONIES” The number of Beethoven’s symphonies
“WHOLE NINE YARDS” A full measure
With this in mind, our magazine is called The 9s because we wakeup everyday with a mission to inspire men to live to their absolute best.
Checklists and Gut Checks
Last October, Andrew Sexton, retired Naval officer, stood with his family in the rustic countryside outside Biloxi, Mississippi, shuffling closer to his three boys; teenagers Taylor and Logan and toddler Jack. Along with his wife, Jenny, the attractive family of five huddled as close as possible, posed, and smiled for a holiday photo. Like most families, the Sextons scheduled the shoot to capture memories. Unlike most moms, however, Jenny wanted photos to remind the family of her—just in case.
“I wanted to get a photo taken of all of us together,” she said. “Since that might be the last time we were all together.”
Three weeks later, Jenny Sexton, a vascular surgeon who is a Major in the United States Air Force, was deployed to Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan. Her orders: operate on wounded soldiers, provide primary care for all soldiers, and assist in humanitarian work on behalf of local Afghans. While her duties did not send her directly into combat, she was stationed in a region that was—and is—a hotbed of insurgent aggression. That same month, in fact, terrorists had launched multiple rocket attacks on the base itself.
Meanwhile, the family lived their lives. Andrew paid the bills and cared for Jack; Taylor and Logan played in the band and hung out with friends; and all of them waited and hoped—and prayed—that they’d never get bad news from across the world.
The Sextons situation seems surreal to most of us; but for thousands of military families across the United States, it is as real as death. When a spouse or parent is called to active duty overseas, it radically impacts the entire family. Deployment is often a stressful and frightening experience; not least because it is also a complicated one. So complicated, in fact, that each branch of the military provides spouses with a comprehensive Pre-Deployment Checklist. Most of the items on the checklist are practical—from identifying household maintenance needs and providing emergency contact numbers to organizing insurance documents and securing power of attorney.
Yet as complex as some of these practical items on the to-do list can be, in many ways they constitute the easy part. Far more difficult is the emotional checklist that deployed soldiers must complete in their minds and hearts. That checklist—which is really more like a major Gut Check—includes questions that many of us never ask ourselves—or even feel the need to.
“AM I READY TO DIE?”
On paper, the task looks straightforward enough: “Establish or update last will and testament.” Most of us—especially those who are older, married with kids, and who own some sort of estate—eventually complete the legal paperwork necessary to settle our affairs and provide for our loved ones in the event of our demise. The perspective taken, however, is that we’re simply planning for something a long way down the road—much like a high school freshman should give some thought to his college choice and future career. Rarely does it come with an urgent, poignant recognition that life, for us, could quickly come to an end. But things are different for deployed soldiers.
“When most people establish their will, they don’t think they are anywhere close to death, “said Sergeant First Class Chris Mincher, a bridge crewmen for the Army National Guard currently deployed in Afghanistan. “When you’re updating your will and you’re about to be deployed, it obviously weighs on you a bit more.”
Mincher’s family currently lives in Fulton, Missouri. When he is not active duty, he serves as an assistant principle in the local public school district.
“When you’re deployed, whether you are in direct combat or not, you develop a constant awareness of danger,” Mincher said. “But you’re already thinking about that danger when you’re looking over your will.”
Soldiers are tough, and committed to service; but they are not immune from real human emotions.
“I admit that I was really terrified about going over to there,” said Major Sexton. “I wasn’t necessarily going to be in a combat area the whole time, but there was still real danger. I did have a real fear of dying.”
If that fear is real for deployed soldiers, it is definitely real for their families. Can you imagine the burden placed on a spouse and children?
“You really have to ask yourself: ‘Am I ready to die?’” Major Sexton said. “And your family has to be prepared for that, too.”
Gary Doak is a retired Blackhawk helicopter pilot whose family currently lives in Nevada, Missouri. He flew air assault and medi-vac missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. When he was deployed in 2004, his wife, Audra, dealt with her fear by turning to her faith.
“I really believed it was God’s will for Gary to serve our country in Iraq,” she said. “So, I thought, ‘well, he’s safer doing God’s will in Iraq than not doing God’s will here in the States.’”
“People might think that sounds corny,” she said. “But if I didn’t have my faith in all of that, what did I have?”
“CAN MY FAMILY STAY STRONG?”
“The only reason I can do my job over here is because my wife and family are absolutely awesome,” said SFC Mincher.
Like Mincher, many deployed soldiers rely on the love and support of their families. The thought of their spouses and children keeps them encouraged and motivated as they face danger for the sake of our freedom. Yet their families also face danger; in a 2011 study commissioned by the Department of Defense, researchers discovered that divorce rates among military personnel increased with long deployments. In addition, the children of deployed soldiers face significant emotional challenges—from loneliness and separation anxiety to worrying about the worst-case scenario: The death of a parent.
As a result, deployed soldiers need to do everything possible to keep family ties strong.
“As a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, I was deployed; so I saw how the stress of combat and the isolation from their spouses could affect soldiers,” said Major Sexton’s husband, Andrew. “If a marriage isn’t strong, deployment can devastate it.”
“Before soldiers leave for deployment, they should ask themselves a hard question,” he said. “’Am I really committed to my marriage vows?’”
Deployed soldiers also have to ask themselves if they are totally committed to their children. Among other things, this means a daily commitment to keeping lines of communicate open, helping their spouses parent their children from long distance, and—most importantly—making sure they tap into the resources that will help them cope with an absent mom or dad.
“You have to really know and use all the communication options available to you,” said Major Sexton. “During my deployment, we were able to communicate a couple times a day, whether through email, Facebook, Google Voice or whatever. ”
“Thankfully, the technology is there,” she said. “You just have to use it.”
In addition to communication technology, deployed soldiers have to get creative in helping their kids feel like they are with them—even when they are not.
“I made sure all my kids had recordable books of me reading to them,” said SFC Mincher. “The Army also made this toy called the ‘Daddy Doll,’ which they can take to school or carry with them like a teddy bear. It has my face on it.”
Helping kids cope isn’t the only thing that concerns deployed soldiers. According to Mincher, fighting a war doesn’t exempt a soldier from the need to be a good parent. That includes exercising discipline.
“My oldest is a bit like his dad—stubborn—so he wasn’t working very hard in school,” Mincher said. “So, I had to FaceTime him a couple times and get on him a little.”
There’s no doubt that keeping families strong during deployment is tough; but Audra Doak thinks that attitude is everything.
“There are some army families who are negative,” she said. “Frankly, you just can’t surround yourself with those kinds of people.”
“You have to choose not to be depressed,” she said. “You have to choose to be positive.”
Regardless of their attitudes, there is one thing a deployed soldier knows is positively true: Deployment is difficult; not just for them, but for their spouses and children. Keeping family ties strong requires a herculean effort.
“DO I UNDERSTAND WHAT I’LL MISS?”
Over the next couple of months and years, thousands more men and women in uniform will be deployed and dedicate their lives to serving our country and defending our freedom. Thankfully, many—if not most—of those lives will not be lost. What will be lost, however, is the precious time they would have had with their families. Because of their deployment, they will miss family events—great and small—that many of us take for granted: Basketball games, band concerts, birthday parties, wedding ceremonies—even major holidays.
“I used an iPad to watch my family opening Christmas presents,” said Major Sexton, whose husband live-streamed their holiday festivities as she watched from her quarters in Afghanistan.
“The time period I was gone for deployment was very busy for our family,” she said. “While I was gone, we celebrated Christmas, New Year’s, Taylor’s 15th birthday, my birthday.”
“You also missed the opportunity to see Jack dress up for his first Halloween,” Andrew Sexton interrupted.
“He was Yoda.”
“And I missed Jack’s 2nd birthday, too. “Jenny Sexton said. “Anyone who has little kids knows that they change so much in just a couple days. I was going to be gone for months.”
“I knew that the next time I’d see Jack, he’d be a different person.”
For this reason, Jenny’s husband worked hard to document the daily events and activities of the family, especially those involving little Jack. He would snap a lot of photos with his iPhone, record a lot of video, and tell her—through phone calls, texts, and emails—sweet and funny things their little boy said and did.
“Andrew tried to make me feel like I was there, experiencing Jack with him,” she said. “But I was not there; it was time lost.”
“It was heartbreaking.”
OUR GUT CHECK
This is the Gut Check that every deployed soldier with a spouse and kids has to perform. Are they ready to die? Can their family stay strong? Do they understand what they’ll miss? At best, they lose precious time. At worst, they’ll lose their very lives. When our brave men and women in uniform serve our country overseas, they make huge sacrifices for our families, and our freedom. So, it’s only right that we perform our own gut check—and ask ourselves tough questions.
Do we appreciate their service? Do we honor their sacrifice?
Strategies for Serving Military Families
There are many organizations dedicated to serving the needs of the men and women serving in the Unites State Armed Forces, as well as their families. In this issue of The 9s, we focus on two of them: The USO and Little Patriots Embraced. In addition, here are three simple, but practical strategies for helping the families of deployed soldiers.
Don’t Ask. Tell.
Soldiers are very independent. They have a tough time accepting help—and their spouses and families are no different. If a soldier is deployed, don’t ask his or her spouse, ‘Do you need help with anything?’ Of course they do! Instead, say (gently but firmly) ‘I’m going to help you, whether you like it or not. So, how can I help you?’
Think “With”—Not “For”
You know how many men don’t like people to do things for them? Well, that’s even truer for men of military families. If a female soldier is deployed and her husband is at home taking care of the house and kids, and the plumbing needs to be fixed, don’t offer to do it for him. Offer to help—
offer to work on it with him. There’s a big difference.
When In Doubt, Give Them Food
If you don’t know how you can help a family of a deployed soldier, but you really want to, there’s always one, tried-and-true option: Buy them groceries. Prepare them meals (especially ones you can freeze and they won’t spoil). Not only does this save them money and time, a tasty meal can lift the spirits.