Army Veteran and Former NFL Player Join Forces

When first meeting John Selman, what strikes you is his friendly manner, pleasant smile and soft Kentucky drawl. A father of five and husband of Overland Park police officer Betsy Selman, John is a program specialist/employment development for Region 7 for FEMA, spending his time training and teaching government employees.

However, it wasn’t long ago that John found himself outside of the comforts of Johnson County and in some of the most dangerous situations in the deserts of Iraq and Kuwait as a member of the U.S. Army. John spent three deployments in the Iraq and Kuwait during his 20 years of Army service. It was a journey both on and off the battlefield furthering his education and life experiences.

The son of a farmer and former Marine, John participated in the ROTC program and joined the Army immediately after graduating from West George College where he earned a secondary education degree.

“Twelve minutes after I crossed the stage, I was on active duty,” he says.

John grew up attending a small Southern Baptist church; that experience influenced his decision to join the Army.

“All the men had served in the military, and they used to go outside and talk about farming and their military days,” John says. “They would all lament about how if they stayed in they would have had a pension, and that was appealing. My dad was a farmer, went through bankruptcy, lost the house and the farm, so something resonated with me.”

John went off to basic training at Fort Knox.

“I thought it was a ton of fun—I liked the obstacle courses, shooting guns and the camaraderie, and I went through airborne school jumping out of airplanes,” he says.

Among his Army duties was serving as a tank platoon leader.

John took advantage of educational opportunities along his military journey, earning a master’s degree in education from the University of Louisville as well as a master’s degree in strategic planning from the School of Advanced Military Studies in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Later, John earned a doctorate in adult learning and leadership from Kansas State University. 

John says Army life was an adventure. His first deployment in 1996 sent him to Kuwait as a scout platoon leaders.

“I am up on the screen line and I am a 24-year-old kid–and by the way, we had no ammunition–and we are looking for Saddam [Hussein] to come across the line,” John says. “It’s hot, and you are laying under your armored vehicle, and there is no reprieve.”

In 2006, John attended the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth. Following graduation, it was another deployment as part of the Operation Iraqi Freedom before returning to Fort Leavenworth to attend the School of Advanced Military Studies. John’s third deployment and final deployment came in 2009 when he was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kansas. He eventually deployed as a strategic planner with the 4th brigade combat team to Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2009, later returning once again to nearby Fort Leavenworth.

John had one more overseas “adventure,” visiting Afghanistan to teach strategic planning to the Afghani National Security Council. He was also temporarily assigned to the Pentagon and served as the strategic planner for the National Task Force on Behavioral Health.

With each deployment, John endured numerous rocket attacks, “but the closest I got to getting killed was walking across a parking lot across the green zone to buy a candy bar when a rocket hit and fortunately all the parked cars absorbed the blow…. I never did get the candy bar,” he says with a chuckle.

John decided to retire in 2013 to move on.

“I’m glad I did it, and I am glad I am done with it,” he says. “It taught me if I put my head down I could do anything”.

Following the Army, John has done a number of things centered on education and training and helping at his church, Church of the Harvest, as part of the Men’s Ministry Team. At church, John connected with former Kansas City Chiefs Linebacker Shawn Barber. Through conversations, the pair formed Gridiron Grunts, a Leawood-based nonprofit designed to motivate and educate religious and non-religious organizations by using stories of their experience in professional sports and the military.

“He came to me with the idea, and I thought it sounded good,” says Shawn, whose father served in the military before becoming a teacher. “One thing that did draw me was John’s background in education. We have a good flow between us. It’s a win-win.”

The twosome keeps busy speaking to area groups including soldiers at area bases. Ultimately, Gridiron Grunts wants to raise enough funds to start doing events “and be a positive role model for kids and others,” John says.

With John’s determination, it will certainly happen.

“If I have a theme to my life it is stick-to-it-ness—if you will just resolve yourself to finishing you will be successful,” he says.