Shark Tank meets true grit: Picatinny Arsenal holds special Veteran's Day guest speaking event

By Eric KowalNovember 9, 2023

From left - Earl Granville, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant (retired) and Combat Wounded Veteran, and Matt Higgin, an entrepreneur, author, and one of the “sharks” on the hit television series “Shark Tank.”
From left - Earl Granville, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant (retired) and Combat Wounded Veteran, and Matt Higgin, an entrepreneur, author, and one of the “sharks” on the hit television series “Shark Tank.” (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Todd Mozes) VIEW ORIGINAL

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Picatinny Arsenal officials observed Veterans Day with a special presentation to the installation’s workforce on Nov. 8 as part of the latest installment of the garrison’s Leadership Speaker Series.

The guest speakers were Earl Granville, a U.S. Army Pennsylvania National Guard veteran who was severely injured while serving in Afghanistan, and Matt Higgins, an entrepreneur, author, and one of the “sharks” on the hit television series “Shark Tank.”

“Veterans Day has a profound significance for us at Picatinny Arsenal as we proudly stand as the largest employer of veterans in the county (Morris), with more than half of our veterans actively contributing to our mission,” said Garrison Commander Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos as he addressed the audience before welcoming the speakers to the stage.

“While veterans may no longer wear the military uniform, their commitment to supporting the joint warfighter remains strong,” Burgos continued. “Each day, our veterans will pass through the iconic cannon gates (entrance to Picatinny Arsenal) to serve in various capacities from scientists to engineers, to program managers, business managers, contracting officers, and more. They come from diverse branches of military service and will embark on various career paths, all united by their dedication in advancing Picatinny Arsenal’s critical mission in supporting the warfighter in the lethality that we produce for our nation. Today it is a privilege and honor to have Earl and Matt here. It is absolutely humbling to know that they are both here to support our veterans and talk to our workforce.”

From left - Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Franks, Picatinny Arsenal garrison command sergeant major, Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos, Picatinny Arsenal Garrison Commander, Dr. Theresa Smith, Deputy Joint Program Executive Officer for JPEO Armaments and Ammunition, Earl Granville, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant (retired), Matt Higgins, Entrepreneur, and Fortunato Rubio Jr., Picatinny Arsenal Deputy Garrison Commander.
From left - Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Franks, Picatinny Arsenal garrison command sergeant major, Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos, Picatinny Arsenal Garrison Commander, Dr. Theresa Smith, Deputy Joint Program Executive Officer for JPEO Armaments and Ammunition, Earl Granville, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant (retired), Matt Higgins, Entrepreneur, and Fortunato Rubio Jr., Picatinny Arsenal Deputy Garrison Commander. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Todd Mozes) VIEW ORIGINAL

Granville told the audience of his hesitancy to enlist in the military, even questioning his decision once he did enlist.

Just two weeks after arriving at Fort Benning, Georgia, for U.S. Army basic training along with his twin brother, Joe, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States occurred.

“When that horrible tragedy happened, all I could think of was ‘Joe, what the hell did you get me into? I didn’t join the military to go to war.’ It sounds pretty silly don’t you think?” recalled Granville, whose motivation to enlist was to receive educational benefits.

Granville would graduate basic training in January 2002 and serve nine years in the Pennsylvania National Guard as an Infantryman. He would complete multiple deployments to Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

On his final tour, Granville lost his left leg through the knee to a roadside bomb while on patrol. He also lost his teammates, Maj. Scott Hagerty of Stillwater Oklahoma, and Specialist Derek Holland of Wind Gap, Pennsylvania, in the explosion. Granville just happened to switch seats with Haggerty before the vehicle departed for its mission; a decision that he lives with every day.

“Maj. Haggerty was sitting in the seat that I typically sat,” said Granville. “For years I struggled with the fact that he didn’t make it and I did, simply because we swapped places.”

Granville recalled being airlifted to receive medical attention while thinking to himself, “I’m 24-years-old. How am I going to live my life? What’s next?”

The “what’s next” is where Granville defined himself.

After going through rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he realized that life was not over. He decided that he was not going to let his injuries hold him back.

Just as he set out to take on the world, tragedy struck once again. In 2010, while attending a black-tie event in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Granville received a call informing him that his twin brother, Joe, who was still on active duty, had taken his own life.

“It was the worst day of my life,” Granville said.

While mourning and mentally beating himself, Granville once again had an epiphany.

Just like many of the other combat-wounded veterans he met while recovering in the hospital, Granville began to train for competitive races such as Tough Mudder and Spartan Race.

He is now an undergraduate at the University of Scranton and works with many non-profits such as Operation Enduring Warrior, the Oscar Mike Foundation and WarriorStrong. These organizations help keep wounded and disabled veterans and members of law enforcement physically active after their injuries.

Granville now spends most of his time traveling the country as a public speaker, discussing healthy ways to battle adversity, through the positivity in his messaging, real life solutions from his own experiences and participating as an inspiration and motivating force through psychical fitness challenges and marathons across the country.

He has received numerous awards for his volunteer work and his speaking, including the 2018 Attorney General Heart So Big Award, the Junior Chamber International (JCI USA) TOYA Award for Personal Improvement and/or Accomplishment under the Class of 2017 and the 2018 Daughters of the American Revolution Veterans Volunteer Award.

Granville retired out of the army as a Staff Sergeant with numerous awards such as the Combat Infantryman Badge, Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart.

Unbeknownst to them at the time, the events of September 11, 2001, would ultimately change the lives of both Granville and Higgins. The two men never met until they came together in the Lindner Conference Center at Picatinny Arsenal on Wednesday, but the terrorist acts that took place 22 years ago would ultimately shape their futures.

Higgins was working as the youngest press secretary in New York City history while serving under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani at the time when the planes crashed into and took down the Twin Towers.

He started his career as an award-winning investigative reporter at the Queens Tribune and attended Fordham University School of Law at night. But success did not always come easy for Higgins.

After growing up in abject poverty and taking care of his ailing mother, Higgins decided to drop out of high school at age 16. He recalled teachers calling him a failure, that he would amount to nothing.

“I sat on the steps and thought they were right,” Higgins recalled. “The moment of wavering that happens to all of us when we are on the precipice of a breakthrough.”

But he sprang into action, immediately taking the Graduate Equivalency Degree (GED) test and “SAT for good measure.”

Higgins would earn his way into college, get on the debate team, and then go back to his school’s prom. The teachers he once recalled looking at him with “distain, contempt, or sadness, now looked at him with begrudging respect with one chess move. By virtue of following my own instincts I able to go ahead and change my entire life.”

He is now the co-founder and CEO of RSE Ventures, a private investment firm that focuses on sports and entertainment, media and marketing, food and lifestyle, and technology.

Top Center - Brig. Gen. John T. Reim, Picatinny Arsenal Senior Command and Joint Program Executive Officer for Armaments and Ammunition speaks with Matt Higgins (right blue suit) and his staff during a visit to Picatinny Arsenal, Nov. 8.
Top Center - Brig. Gen. John T. Reim, Picatinny Arsenal Senior Command and Joint Program Executive Officer for Armaments and Ammunition speaks with Matt Higgins (right blue suit) and his staff during a visit to Picatinny Arsenal, Nov. 8. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Todd Mozes) VIEW ORIGINAL

Before Wednesday’s speaking engagement, Higgins met with Brig. Gen. John T. Reim, Picatinny Arsenal’s Senior Commander, and Joint Program Executive Officer for Armaments and Ammunition, to talk about the installation’s mission in supporting the warfighter and international partners.

After the discussion, Higgins toured several of the facilities of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Armaments Center where engineers provide technologies that aid in those efforts.

Matt Higgins (center) receives a brief from Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos, Picatinny Arsenal garrison commander, while touring the Armaments Technology Facility.
Matt Higgins (center) receives a brief from Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos, Picatinny Arsenal garrison commander, while touring the Armaments Technology Facility. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Todd Mozes) VIEW ORIGINAL

U.S. Army garrison Picatinny Arsenal Leadership Speaker Series has featured a variety of influential leaders on various spectrums of government or industry.  Previous guests include Simon Sinek, a famed author, and inspirational speaker, Mike Stanzilis, the mayor of Mount Arlington, N.J., Retired Rear Admiral Tom Kearney, and social media mogul Gary Vaynerchuk, among others.

“This Veterans Day event aligns with our ongoing commitment to support the well-being of our employees, particularly those who have served our country,” said Amy Gopel, Picatinny’s Employee Assistance Program coordinator and Substance Abuse Program manager.

“Matt Higgins draws from his experience in overcoming adversity and achieving success in the business world, while Earl Granville shares his powerful story of physical and emotional recovery after sustaining injuries in combat,” she continued. “By bringing together these two influential voices, we aim to foster a dialogue that will empower our employees, support our veterans, and strengthen the fabric of our community. We believe that the lessons of resilience are universal and can inspire positive change across all levels of our organization.”

Picatinny Arsenal garrison leadership will continue to hold the leadership speaker series throughout the year. Information of future speakers will be sent to the workforce via email and will allow for both in-person and virtual attendance.