Dan Dietz Sr. knows something about difficult kids, because his son, Danny Jr., gave him a few fits growing up.
“He did a lot of kid stuff because he was bored,” said Dietz Sr.
But that was before he buckled down on his lifelong goal of becoming a Navy Seal, which he did just months after graduating from Heritage High School in 1999.
“This is what Danny wanted to do, and if I’d taken that away from that young man, he would have held it against me for the rest of his life,” said Dietz Sr.
Six years later, he and two of his fellow soldiers died on a mountaintop in Afghanistan in a horrific gun battle against Taliban fighters. The only survivor, Marcus Luttrell, recounts in his book, “Lone Survivor,” the staggering bravery Dietz and the others displayed, never giving up until their last breaths despite being mortally wounded.
Now Dietz Sr. wants to pass that fortitude along to a new generation. Last spring, he formed a nonprofit in his son’s honor, the Danny Dietz Leadership and Training Foundation.
“By holding close to the values and discipline modeled by Danny himself, the organization strives to create a safe and positive environment in which young people can learn teamwork, leadership skills, and learn to achieve more through intellectual and physical challenges,” reads the website.
The part about physical challenges is quite an understatement. During a recent class, most of the students were sporting bloody elbows because they spent the previous class dragging themselves around the track by them.
“There’s never been an easy day in this class,” said Robert Wilson, 22. “It just sucks in a completely different way every time, and we just keep coming.”
Wilson says before the class, he wasn’t motivated to stick with anything, but now the word “quitting” isn’t even in his vocabulary.
“Knowing what Danny did up on that mountain and how he never gave up taught me to never give up, knowing or not knowing what the outcome will be,” agreed 19-year-old Ty Pomeroy, who is leaving for the Air Force in the fall.
Not all of Dietz’s students are kids. At 56, Matthew Luoma is the oldest, a triathlete and on the foundation’s board.
“There is something special about the way Dan teaches the class,” he said. “He is able to channel Danny’s ‘never give up spirit.’ It motivates the students, including me, to keep going when the going gets tough. He is not able to connect with every potential student, but for those that he does connect with, the connection is noticeable in their attitude and their demeanor toward a difficult task.”
Dietz Sr. ends each class with a motivational speech based on concepts like freedom, justice and honor.
“I teach them how to think, not what to think,” he said. “I teach them to think for themselves instead of being poured into a mold and crystallized.”
On June 28 – the anniversary of Dietz Jr.’s death – the foundation is hosting a fundraising workout competition between Heritage and Chatfield high-school football teams at the Littleton Public Schools Stadium.
“The kids know that they are honoring a fallen hero,” said Luoma. “They display a spirit and almost a reverence in the performance of the event. It makes you feel good about the future with kids like that preparing to enter the adult world.”
Afterward, stop by the Texas Roadhouse restaurant on the stretch of Santa Fe Drive that was officially renamed Danny Dietz Highway in 2009. The restaurant is home to a display of Dietz memorabilia and is holding a day-long fund-raiser for the foundation.
Additionally, look for the “Lone Survivor” feature film in October, and a book on about Dietz Jr.’s life later this year. Proceeds from the book will benefit the Danny Dietz Scholarship Fund and the Danny Dietz Leadership and Training Foundation.
For more information, visit www.dannydietzinstitute.com.