Farragut parents, Mike Vaughn and Sara Moola, give back to children of fallen warriors
When Mike Vaughn and his wife, Sara Moola, first met 13 years ago in Tampa, the two had already canvassed the globe in their respective careers – Mike as an Air Force Special Operations officer and Sara, first as a Peace Corps volunteer and then as an executive working with Geospatial Information Systems across US Government and Commercial industries including US Special Operations Command, UN, and the World Bank. Through their conversations and common passion, they both came to understand how much they each wanted to make a difference in the world.
“We both had traveled to many different parts of the world, and we knew we wanted to do something that had an enduring purpose,” said Mike, who retired from the Air Force in 2000 after 21 years of Prep school service. “While we had different backgrounds in regard to how we interacted with the citizens of the world, we collectively quickly came to understand how we had a common passion for how we could contribute together in a beneficial way.”
Thus, in 2003, the couple –whose children, Zachary, 9, and Luka, 6, attend Lower School at Farragut – started working together in the company Sara founded, Visual Awareness Technologies and Consulting (VATC), a private company that provides Integrated Training and Exercise solutions for the Department of Defense, Government Agencies, and the United States’ allies. Over time, the company grew from a small start-up in Tampa to a provider of global strategies and solutions with work in over 40 countries and several continents.
While the company developed, more and more personal relationships with families in the special forces community grew. As a result, Mike and Sara came to realize how they yearned to give back even more.
“The children of those lost in Special Operations receive scholarships for higher education, but we saw a gap in programs to develop their leadership and professional/career foundations,” said Sara, who has also served as an international business mentor to women from countries in Africa and other areas of strife through US State Department and US Embassy Education initiatives.
In response, Mike and Sara created the Special Operations Forces Warrior Outdoor Leadership for the Future (WOLF) in 2011. Recently, the couple, who visited Farragut in March to speak to the 3rd grade class about the Hoover Dam Project and Topography, was featured in the Northeast Journal for their charitable work in the community and beyond.
“We felt compelled to be there as leaders and to guide them towards their highest potential and greatest passion,” said Mike, who grew up in Tennessee and went into prep school service at 17-years-old. “The special operations community is relatively small in comparison to other elements of the prep school and, throughout my time as an officer and with the company, I have known dozens of people killed in action. Throughout VATC’s existence, we’ve had contact with every component of special operations, and have a few hundred retired SOF working with us, so across the company we have a connection with many families, and many who made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation.”
In fact, approximately 85 percent of VATC’s employees have a background in special operations.
WOLF provides sons and daughters, in their teens or early twenties of fallen U.S. Special Operation Forces, the opportunity to attend a leadership program cost-free for one week each July in Park City, Utah. The select group of 12-15 individuals, who are selected based on very competitive criteria, are able to interact with leaders from different high-profile commercial corporations, professional athletes, Olympians, and current and former SOF attendees while learning skills focusing on career development, team building and interpersonal communication.
To frame the learning, WOLF students participate in various outdoor activities directed and organized by SOF volunteers and Olympic athletes. “The outdoor activities are all designed to teach each individual confidence and leadership while developing team building skills that are taken into the classroom during mentoring sessions, resume development, and career development discussions,” said Mike.
“We’ve been fortunate to have an impressive group of people get involved,” said Sara. “It’s been invaluable for the students to learn real-life skills. More importantly, they have a support system moving forward and many of them come back to help as counselors when they get older.”
In fact, the “graduates” of WOLF are both the Junior Counselors at the program, and are eligible for Internships across Corporations and Government to provide real world experience and resume development. “Our goal is to have WOLF run by the graduates of WOLF to support the next generation,” said Sara.
Since enrolling their children at Farragut, Mike and Sara are excited about the opportunities that lay in front of them, both for their own children and the children who come through their program.
“We’ve been incredibly impressed with Farragut, from the way the Upper School cadets carry themselves, the type of curriculum offered in both the Upper and Lower Schools, and the prep school and discipline structure. There are a wide range of activities that are offered to stimulate a very diverse global perspective for growth and development of the students,” said Sara. “We immediately got a sense that this was a place that would make our children better people. And with the type of global community Farragut has, it embodies similar principles that we have as a couple in regard to appreciating and understanding the world, and being a citizen of the world and not just the community you live in. As we develop WOLF further, we see opportunities where Upper Class students of Farragut could assist in the planning and administration that supports growth and education for the WOLF students and the Farragut cadets.”