There’s a lot out there about leaders needing to be authentic.
But what if you need to put on a mask to truly be effective as a leader?
That’s what my guest today suggests. He makes his living teaching actors how to put on the mask of the masculine soldier. His name is Dale Dye, and he’s a retired Marine captain who served in Vietnam, and he’s the owner of Warriors, Inc., a company that consults actors and filmmakers on how to make war movies more realistic. Today on the show, Dale and I discuss how he went from a career in the military to a career in film and what many filmmakers get wrong about war. Using war historian John Keegan’s book “The Mask of Command” as a starting point, Dale and I discuss why social masks are necessary in leadership and war. Dale share his insights about social masks from years of teaching actors how to be soldiers, why it’s important to have multiple masks in your arsenal, and knowing when to put them on in different situations.
- Dale’s resume as a Marine veteran, leader, and Hollywood consultant
- Why Dale says he’s spent much of his life “raising other people’s children”
- Did Dale aspire to be a leader? Or did it fall to him?
- Why caring for the people you lead is the foundation of leadership
- The importance of reading for those in leadership positions
- How Dale experiments with new ideas
- How do you learn the various “masks of leadership”?
- Dale’s love affair with movies, and why he thought Hollywood poorly portrayed war films in particular
- The role Dale played in the making of the legendary movie Platoon
- How Dale gets actors to walk in the shoes of military servicemen, and how it changes them
- Older war movies that Dale thinks are great
- How Dale got into writing and publishing military novels
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Dale’s TEdx talk
- Solitude and Leadership
- The Leader’s Bookshelf
- The Mask of Command by John Keegan
- The Tao of Boyd: How to Master the OODA Loop
- Building a Robust Toolbox of Mental Models
- Why We Should Celebrate the Masks of Masculinity
- 43 Books About War Every Man Should Read
- Saving Private Ryan
- Band of Brothers
- The Pacific
- The Steel Helmet
- The Bridges at Toko Ri
- Rough Riders
- Dye’s military novels
- Warriors Publishing Group
- No Better Place to Die
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Recorded with ClearCast.io.
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. In the past few years, there’s been a lot written about the ills of the masks of masculinity. These supposed social masks are the source of personal problems in the lives of men, as well as countless societal problems, but what if the problem isn’t the masks of masculinity themselves? What if the problem is we don’t teach young men how to wear these masks in a way that’s productive and pro-social?
That’s what my guest today suggests. He makes his living teaching actors how to put on the mask of the masculine soldier. His name is Dale Dye. He’s a retired Marine captain. He served in Vietnam, as well as the owner of Warriors Inc, a company that consults actors and filmmakers on how to make war movies more realistic.
Today on the show, Dale and I discuss how he went from a career in the military to a career in film and what many filmmakers get wrong about war. Using war historian John Keegan’s book, The Mask of Command as a starting point, Dale and I discuss why social masks are necessary in leadership, war, and even being a man.
Dale shares insights about the masks of masculinity from years of teaching actors how to be soldiers and why it’s important to have multiple masks in your arsenal and know when to put them on in different situations. After the show’s over, check out the show notes AOM.is/daledye.
Okay, Dale Dye, welcome to the show.
Dale Dye: Thanks very much, Brett. I appreciate your time.
Brett McKay: You have a really interesting resume. You started off, you’re a Marine vet, served in Vietnam, got into show biz. We’ll talk a bit about that. Author, as well. Have done some acting, too. Let’s start from the beginning, your military career. You served in the Marines. You retired as a captain. Did you start off as a commissioned officer or is that something you worked your way up to?
Dale Dye: No, I’m what’s known in the Navy and Marine Corps as a mustang. I came up through the ranks. I was 13 years enlisted, made it to the rank of master sergeant, and then was kind of coerced by some folks who thought I might make a leader into going to officer candidate school. I became a warrant officer and later converted my commission. By the time of my last combat deployment, which was Beirut ’82, ’83, I had become a captain, so I kind of came up through the hawse pipe.
Brett McKay: Right. It’s interesting. I’ve heard other interviews and you did a TEDx Talk talking about as a leader in the military, you sometimes feel like you’re raising other people’s children. Why is that?
Dale Dye: Well, I think the truthful answer is that a lot of parents don’t do such a good job at that and they send their young sons or daughters off into the military, or their young sons and daughters decide to go into the military looking for something, looking for some structure, looking for some guidance, looking for images and examples that they want to grow up into being.
I’ve always thought that one of the greatest and most significant tasks of a leader is to provide those images, to provide that guidance, to provide that leadership, not only in military aspects of life, but just who you are and how you address life and how you handle problems and how you stand up to adversity. I think that’s one of the key elements of leadership, and I’ve always shorthanded it by saying I spent a lot of my life raising other people’s children.
Brett McKay: Right. As a leader, you said that other people thought you’d be a good leader. When you were in the military, was leadership something you aspired to, or you were just there to do the work, and if you got put in a leadership position, then great?
Dale Dye: No. I think I have to say honestly that I aspired to be a leader. I was influenced by so many that I saw that were my images, the images I needed. I wanted to be that person. I felt like I had the talent to do it, the ability to do it, the personality to pull it off. I thought at first, early on, “Well, let me test this. Let me dip my toe in the water.” When I became a corporal, was I good at that or did I just suck at it, and I should go back to just being a job guy. What I discovered was that it was a great joy. It was fun to be a good leader.
Brett McKay: Was leadership something you felt, you said you had a natural knack for it, but did you have to learn how to be a leader? Did you have to be intentional about being a good leader?
Dale Dye: Oh Lord, yes. I wish it were true, Brett, that leaders are born, but they’re not, and they never will be, I don’t think. There are certain people who gravitate to it who are good at it. I think I’m one of those, but you have to learn the steps. Very often, at least in my case, you learn by screwing it up. You learn what things are wrong. You learn people, and I think that’s the most crucial element of it. You have to understand people.
I’ve often said and still say that you have to love ’em to lead ’em. People in the military in particular have a very, very highly sophisticated BS filter. They know when you’re being true and when you’re being faithful and when you’re just putting on an act, and I understood that. I learned that, that you can’t just go out and be the bonhomme nice guy. You have to have that principle of loving and caring about the people under your charge, and if you can do that and the sentiment is sincere, the psychology is there, then you’ll develop the tools that you need to get the job done.
Brett McKay: Were you intentional about reading books on leadership, or were you more of a, “I’m going to gain my knowledge of leadership my experience”?
Dale Dye: I think it went both ways, Brett. I think like all professional military people, I’m an amateur historian. I’m sitting in my library right now surrounded by about 1,100 volumes, and I’ve read every one of them. You can learn so much by reading about the great leaders, and this goes all the way back.
Caesar’s Gallic Wars was one of the first things I read about leadership. It goes throughout our military history, and I focused on military aspects. Some other people focus on political or business aspects, but my focus was on the military. I read these biographies and I read the books about the battles and the actions and the leaders’ role in them. Then, I began to carve it down, focus it into what did these people that I’m reading about have, what did they demonstrate, bad and good?
Once I had a few of those concepts in mind, concepts that I’d gotten through my reading, I began to experiment with them and to try to be this guy or try to do what that guy did. Some was good, some was bad, some was situational, but all of it was instructive. All of it was sharpening the tools that I needed to be a good leader.
Brett McKay: There’s one military historian that I’ve come across. His name is John Keegan. He wrote a book called The Mask of Command.
Dale Dye: Yes, he did.
Brett McKay: Yes. His whole argument is that when you’re a leader, you have to put on, sometimes you’ve got to put on this mask that you aren’t necessarily want to put on, right, but you have to do it to get the job done. Do you think that’s true?
Dale Dye: Yes, I do, but I think it’s painting with too broad a brush. I love Keegan’s work, and The Mask of Command, I can reach out and touch it right now. It’s one of the books I read regularly, but here’s my experience. When I was growing up and studying leaders by looking at them, I was convinced at a young age that these guys weren’t real people. They were automatons. They were something that was carved out of solid granite somewhere along in their history, and they didn’t have a human side.
I went that way, and as I began to look and as I began to study and as I began to know these people, I discovered that yes, they’re human. They’re people just like me and they have the same concerns and they have the same fears. They have the same irritants. They have the same things that make them smile and make them happy. That was a major revelation, and then along came Keegan and The Mask of Command and I said, “Aha, I see. They are putting on this mask of command.”
Now, the thing that I think makes Keegan’s estimation too broad a brush is that there are so many different masks of command. You have to change your mask. It can’t be one thing that you pull down over your face and now, I’m Dale the leader. You’ve got to know what mask to put on that will work in a specific situation.
I’ll see if I can give you an example. The mask that you put on in a fire fight when it’s up to you to maneuver, when it’s up to you to get people out and maneuvering and moving under fire, is one thing. The mask that you need to put on when you are dealing with an individual who has made a mistake or who has screwed up and needs some discipline and you want to do that one on one, praise in public and criticize in private, that’s a different mask.
The good leader learns to have a bunch of those masks in his rucksack, a bunch of those masks in his pocket, and he can pull out the one that’s required. Now, granted, as Keegan points out, they all have common denominators. There’s a commonality between all of the masks, but I think the really good leader, the one who can be relied on in all situations, has many masks of leadership at his command.
Brett McKay: How do you learn to collect those masks and put them on in the right circumstance?
Dale Dye: Well, that’s the hard part. The first element is to learn that different masks are needed. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got to go about trying to develop different masks. You do that through study. You do that through trial and error. You do that by watching other people succeed or screw up, and you say, “Well, that mask that that guy is wearing won’t work. That sucks like a Hoover vacuum cleaner. There’s no way I’m going to do that.”
All of that experience shapes your masks, and then the key is to know when to put them on. That many times depends not only on the situation but on the individual. You see, leadership is not only about influencing people to do your will and accomplish a mission. It’s about knowing who those people are and what they require for you to make them want to do your will.
Brett McKay: Right, and I think you’re also trying to convince yourself, right, as a leader.
Dale Dye: Oh yes, yes. The biggest mask is the one that you wear when you’re looking in the mirror.
Brett McKay: Right.
Dale Dye: I remember, this may sound dramatic, but it’s true so I’m just going to relate it to you. On the day at Quantico, Virginia, on the day that I had been through officer candidate school and I’d been through the basic school and I was going to get commissioned, I remember that morning getting up and getting my dress uniform ready to go down and fall into formation and be commissioned along with all the other candidates. I was shaving and I looked myself in the mirror and I said, “You know, when the day comes that you can’t look your people in the eye and say, ‘Follow me,’ it is necessary that we die. When that day comes, it’s the day you’re not leading anymore and you should quit.”
Brett McKay: Yes. Yes, that’s powerful. What’s interesting about your career is you served in the Marines in Vietnam. You served in Beirut last, but then after your military service, you got started working in Hollywood. What you did is you started a consulting company to show filmmakers on how to make war movies more realistic. I’m curious, what was wrong with Hollywood war movies that you thought that there needed to be a better way?
Dale Dye: Well, I’ll redirect your question for a moment to say that a lot of what I’ve accomplished in motion pictures and television, entertainment industry, is because when you’re ignorant, you can do a lot of things people tell you you can’t do, and that was certainly my case.
When I retired, I milled around doing several things and trying to decide what it was that I really wanted to do, what could I bring to the table. There was all the standard stuff, go be a security specialist or go be a cop, but I’ve been shot too many times to want to work on the mean streets carrying a weapon.
I began a great period of introspection, and the thing that just jumped out at me was that, “You’re a movie fan, Dye. You’ve seen practically every military movie there is,” and I think that was true at the time. The common denominator there was that they all pissed me off, or most of them pissed me off. They just weren’t a representation in the popular media, which I knew has huge influence on societies. Movies and television have a huge influence on societies.
I said, “Here we are being represented as soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, coast guardsmen, in those popular media and it’s wrong. We don’t act that way. We don’t do that kind of thing, and wouldn’t it be more exciting and more insightful and more educational in this vastly popular media if we were depicted correctly, warts and all?”
That’s when the bulb began to glow dimly over my head, and I said, “What’s wrong here?” I began to watch credits roll, and I would see Captain Jimmy Umptafratz, US Army retired, in the end credits, and he was listed as the military technical advisor. I said, “Well, what’s wrong with that guy? How does he let them get away with this stuff?” I decided to come to Hollywood, and as I said, when you’re ignorant, you just do things. I began to try to investigate. I began to look around and I began to, “Why are we depicted so badly? Why can’t we get it right?”
What I discovered essentially was what I call hubris on the part of Hollywood. There was an opinion that, and this was post-Vietnam, so a lot of that shadow still hung over public opinion. What I discovered was that producers and directors and writers simply had no knowledge, very, very few of them. In fact, you could probably count them on one hand that had any military experience whatsoever. What they did have was a negative experience because of the period they may or may not have served.
I said, “Well, there’s the problem.” They don’t understand, or if they’re being told something, they have absolutely no inclination to listen to it or pay attention to it. That’s why they get these guys in as military advisors and then they pay them $500 a week and have them sit in a chair and they wake them up when they want to know which side the ribbons go on, but they don’t get into who we are, how we act, how we react, how we relate to each other.
I said, “Well, there’s the problem. Someone’s got to teach them.” I fell back, put my leader mask on, and I said, “Well, the key here is training. We’ve got to take these young actors and we’ve got to put them in our shoes, make them walk the mile that we’ve walked in our combat boots. If we can do that, they’ll get an insight. They’ll get a close and personal look at who we are and how we act and how we relate to each other. That can’t help but improve the performances.”
That was my theory, and I began to try to sell it to Hollywood. Well, that was, to understate the case, that was an uphill battle. I talked to people and I said, “Look, I have a better way to make war movies. I’m worth more to you than telling you which uniform is right and telling you that you shouldn’t carry an M16 in World War II. I’ve got more to bring to the table here. I can help you train these actors and you’ll get brilliant performances.”
Of course, essentially what the attitude was two things. The first is, “We’ve made war movies for years and made zillions of dollars, and why should we pay you money to change what we think works?” That was attitude one. Attitude two was, “Look, you spent most of your life in the military, so automatically, by definition, you can’t be creative. You can’t understand drama. You can’t understand how movies are made. You can’t understand these things.”
I knew that was false. I knew that was wrong. I did understand, and I wasn’t a great dramatist or a great writer at the time, but I knew what was right and what was wrong, and I knew that human beings can correct things. It was a real fight, Brett, and frankly after about a year, I was about to give it up. I was running out of money and running out of patience.
An interesting thing happened. I saw a little notice. I had learned by this time to read the trade papers, Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter and that sort of thing. I saw a little notice that said that a heretofore relatively unknown writer director by the name of Oliver Stone was going to do a movie about Vietnam based on his own experience as a combat officer in Vietnam. I said, “Look, if I can get to this guy, he’ll understand it.”
I went through a series of imaginations talking to writers and I was desperate to find a way to get to this guy where I could get by the gatekeepers and the agents and the representatives and the managers and all the other nonsense that surrounds celebrities. I was able to actually get Stone’s home phone number, and that was a Saturday night, and Sunday morning I called him and I pitched him. I did my best two minute drill.
Had it been anybody else, he probably would’ve hung up and had me arrested, but Stone said, “Well, that’s interesting. Let’s talk,” and we did. I explained what I thought was wrong with war movies and how the performances could be improved based on training like he and I had had as soldiers and Marines, and he bought it.
The shortest part of a long story is he gave me 33 actors, and none of them were big names then, but are now. He gave me Johnny Depp and Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger and Willem De Foe, Forest Whitaker, and a bunch of others. I took them into the jungles of the Philippines, where they lived with me for three weeks, and they hopped and they fought and they sweated and they strained just like we did in Vietnam.
At the end of that period, when I brought them down out of the jungle, they were who Oliver and I were when we were 19 in combat. We made this little movie called Platoon, brought it home, and lo and behold, it won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Oliver was kind enough to recognize me as having been a big part of that great film.
At that point, all of those people who were throwing me out of their offices began to call, and they said, “Look, we think you may have had a point there. Will you come to work on this film and that film?” Now it’s been 50 some film and television projects since that time, and I continue to wear the mask of the leader and I continue to improve on my method and it has grown and blossomed kind of like Topsy.
I think it will continue because I’ve taught a lot of people how to do this and I’m very serious about getting current veterans involved in it and showing them how to do it, using their experience in the creative endeavors. I seem to be getting a little traction after 25 or 30 years.
Brett McKay: Well, that’s really interesting. When these guys go through the boot camp, does the way they carry themselves change? Do they actually carry themselves like a soldier?
Dale Dye: Absolutely, and it’s that that I pay attention to. You see, you can train practically anybody to walk and talk and carry the weapon and wear the gear and look he knows what he’s doing, but you need to get into his heart and into his guts and into his mind so that he understands that, so that he retains the experience, and the experience changes him, and it really does.
One of the most rewarding things in the world to me is after a certain period of time in the training, I see these changes. Once again, I’m raising other people’s children. I see them change and I see them carry themselves differently. Most importantly, I see them relate to each other differently. They have learned through that experience that despite their previous opinion, the sun does not rise and set on their ass. The world is not all about them and what swirls around them. They learn that they’re part of a team and that they must rely on the guy next to them and the guy next to them must be able to rely on them, and that’s a profound change, especially in young actors.
Brett McKay: It sounds like you’re teaching these guys how to put on masks, as well, in order to do the role. It’s the same thing you’re doing with soldiers you’re doing to these actors.
Dale Dye: Yes, I think that’s exactly right, and that was the success of my method. Up until I started it, there was an opinion that, “Well, look, it’s acting. We don’t need all that in depth understanding.” Well, I knew that was false. That was nonsense. It was BS. They do need that understanding in order to bring that sort of thing to their performance onscreen. It turned out I was correct and they weren’t, which is a gratifying thing at this point.
Brett McKay: Besides Platoon, what other films have you consulted on?
Dale Dye: Oh, so many of them, it would take all of our time to talk about it, but for instance, Born on the Fourth of July, Band of Brothers, The Pacific, Saving Private Ryan, and many of them that aren’t that high profile, but I do them regularly.
Brett McKay: Right. The classics. The new classics. I’m curious, are there any pre-Dale Dye war movies that you think are actually good?
Dale Dye: Yes, sure. I love the little efforts that were made by guys who actually were veterans. I love Sam Fuller’s Steel Helmet, a little $250,000 Korean war movie that’s a tour de force about leadership and small unit integrity. I love The Bridges of Toko Ri. I think they got that one right, and there are a bunch of them, but that said, there are fewer in the old method than there are now in the new method.
Brett McKay: Right. Besides consulting behind the camera, you’ve actually starred in movies, as well. What movies can we find Dale Dye in?
Dale Dye: A bunch of them, I guess. It’s interesting, and it was Oliver Stone to blame for all of this. He saw me training and he said, “You know, you need to play the company commander in Platoon, Captain Harris.” I said, “Really?” I said, “I don’t know anything about acting.” He said, “You’re a natural. Just be you.” I did, and the interesting thing about it was that critics actually kind of singled me out and said, “Whoever that guy is, he was really convincing.” That led to other parts.
I’ve been in, oh, it’s got to be 20 or 30 films. I’m usually the guy who shows up and explains the jeopardy in military terms and then goes away and then in act three I come in and congratulate everybody on how well they did or pin a few medals on them. You can find me in Saving Private Ryan and you can find me as Colonel Sink in Band of Brothers, and a bunch of performances.
I love to play real people so that I can do the research and I can dig in on the character, and that’s what I did with Colonel Sink, the CO of the 506 parachute infantry regimen in Band of Brothers. I loved playing General Leonard Wood to Tom Berenger’s Teddy Roosevelt in The Rough Riders, which was a made for television TNT. I don’t know. I don’t wait to sit here and read my resume.
Brett McKay: Right, right. No, it’s impressive. It’s amazing. I think it’s a good example of not pigeonholing yourself and looking at the experience you have and seeing the different places you can go with it.
Dale Dye: Well, I have a real low tolerance for boredom, and I’ve always been that way. I’m always wanting to do something or I’ll see something that sparks my interest and I say, “You know, maybe I could do that,” and I’ll jump over and try that. Acting was that way and worked out terrifically.
Writing, I’ve always been a storytelling. I love telling stories. I love entertaining. I decided, “You know, I’m pretty facile with the English language. Maybe I should write this stuff down,” and I did. I think at this point, I’ve published about 13 novels, 12 or 13 of them. They’ve gotten great interest. They’re all military books, of course. I write what I know, but they have been really popular. They’ve jumped out.
They were so popular, in fact, that what I did was I started, my company is called Warriors Incorporated, and so I branched an effort off and we now have what’s called Warriors Publishing Group. We’ve got, I don’t know, 24, 25 titles out there, very high profile titles. We’re publishing John Del Vecchio’s 13th Valley and a number of really great books. That’s worked out fine.
I’m now branched off into writing films and directing them. This year I hope to start my first feature directorial effort, a World War II film called No Better Place to Die, which essentially will be the airborne version of Saving Private Ryan. Where Ryan focused on the beach assaults, the surface assaults, my story focuses on the airborne assault, the people who jumped in before the beach assaults started. It’s going great. Tom Hanks is executive producing it for me, and so I think we’re going to shoot that film this summer, so who knows? Who knows what’s next? I have no idea.
Brett McKay: It sounds great. You’re going to do the military training. How does that go? It’s three weeks a month? How long do you usually have those guys?
Dale Dye: It all depends on how much the producers of the film will give me. What I ask for is a minimum of two weeks, because the method really, Captain Dye’s method if you will, is full immersion. I have to do in two weeks what normally takes 10 weeks or 12 weeks in basic training. I have to eliminate a lot of things and I have to focus hard a few other things and we have to work 24 hours around the clock. It’s very hard, very intense, very difficult, but I have done it in as short as a week.
The longer they’re willing to give me in what they euphemistically term rehearsal time, the longer they’re willing to give me, the better the result. That’s what I usually say. I say, “Look, you can say I’ve got three days and I’ll do what I can, but if you really want this to sing, if you really want these guys to come out of there knowing the characters and able to portray them beautifully, you need to give me more time.” It’s always a negotiation and always an argument.
Brett McKay: Do you shave their heads when they come in like boot camp?
Dale Dye: It depends. If that’s required, yes, absolutely, I do. That’s always a source of much crying and pissing and moaning. If it’s required, then absolutely I do. If it’s not required, I make them get the standard haircut for the day and the period and the time and that’s where we go.
Brett McKay: It sounds like the way you become something is you have to act it out. You have to do it. There’s all this talk about being inauthentic, right? That’s what you have to do to become that thing you want to be. Sometimes you have to act it out, and then eventually by acting it out, you become what you want to be.
Dale Dye: Look, that’s right, Brett. It’s not brain surgery. I can sit and talk to you all day long about what a cookie tastes like, and I can be the world’s great descriptor and storyteller about that cookie, and you’re going to sit there and you’re going to say, “Okay, I understand all about that cookie,” but nothing, nothing is going to let you relate what that cookie is about until you’ve bitten into it. That’s the theory.
Brett McKay: That’s the theory. Well, Dale, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about your work?
Dale Dye: Well, I’m all over the internet, despite the fact that I don’t want to be. I am. You can look up Warriors Incorporated on the internet. You can look up No Better Place to Die, which is the name of my new film. It’s all over Facebook. You can read my books. They’re all available at Amazon.
Look up Warriors Incorporated. We’ve got a terrific website that’ll tell you who we are, what we are, and what we’re trying to do. That’s very simple, Brett. There’s one agenda. I want to through my efforts in the popular media, all of the popular media, I want to shine some long overdue light on the men and women who’ve worn our military uniform and who service and sacrifice so much for us every day.
Brett McKay: That’s a great mission. Dale Dye, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Dale Dye: Brett, my pleasure. Thanks very much. We’ll do this again when we can.
Brett McKay: Like I said, that was Dale Dye. He’s the owner of Warriors Inc. You can find more information about his work at DaleDye.com. Also check out our show notes at AOM.is/daledye, that’s D-Y-E, where you can find links to resources, where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at ArtOfManliness.com. If you enjoy the podcast, I’d appreciate if you take one minute to give us a review us on iTunes or Stitcher. It helps out a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you. Please share the show with somebody you think could get something out of it. As always, thank you for the continued support. Until next time, this Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.