By Michelle James
Change can be a scary thing.
Some people retire at 60 from the same occupation they chose when they were 18.
Others seem to fall into different experiences almost as if life consists of a series of trap doors leading them from one chapter to the next.
Chuck Holton falls into the latter group.
With a lot of faith and good timing, the former Army Ranger-turned college student/Army National Guard helicopter pilot, stockbroker, farmer/author/television personality/husband and father of five has stepped into many trap doors.
Holton, his wife, Connie, their five children, Kiernan, 9, Mason, 8, Nathan 5, Joey, 3, and Amy, who will turn 3 on Friday, and their three dogs, Ella, Critter and Murray, now live on an 80-acre farm in Mount Hope, having moved there in July.
The move from Maryland to West Virginia, although another unplanned event in Holton’s life, is something he says is great.
Cost of living in West Virginia is much lower than in Maryland, and Holton says he has found everything he needs in the Mountain State.
“I love the culture,” he said. “We couldn’t be happier living here. We just really like the way people are around here.”
The son of a fire chief-turned minister, Holton grew up in Carson City, Nev., but graduated high school in Fort Worth, Texas, where he moved at 15 when his father decided to go into the seminary.
People say “like father, like son.” Maybe the elder Holton’s decision to go into the ministry foreshadowed his son’s career changes.
Upon graduating high school in 1986, Holton went straight into the Army, where he joined the elite ranks of the Army Rangers. (Holton’s unit, although he was no longer on active duty at the time, was the same group depicted in the movie “Black Hawk Down.”)
After completing four years of active duty, Holton entered the collegiate world in 1991 at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse.
“I went to Wisconsin because they would let me fly helicopters,” he said.
Although his major was Spanish, Holton went to Wisconsin with an interest in stockbroking after learning about it from Chuck Hall, the father of a friend he met while working as an instructor at West Point during a summer camp for cadets.
“We were the only two who didn’t drink, so I spent a lot of time with him while everyone else was out at bars,” he said of his friend.
While in college, Holton met a stockbroker in Wisconsin who gave him the chance to learn the ropes.
He spent the next several years as a full-time student, stockbroker and helicopter pilot. It was also during this time that Holton met his future wife, Connie.
They married in 1994, and in 1995, just one semester shy of graduating (and already earning more money than his professors), Holton received a call from Hall inviting him to join his company in Germantown, Md., working alongside him as a stockbroker.
“I did all right as a stockbroker in Wisconsin and it was a good place to get experience,” he said. “But I decided, if you’re going to be in the money business, maybe it would be a good idea to go where people have money.”
The next few years were good to Holton as his family grew almost as steadily as his income; he says at the peak of the market he was making $30,000 per month.
But when the market plunged in 2000, Holton said, he began looking for other ways to make money.
“It made me realize I had been preaching to people about diversifying their investments for 10 years as a broker,” he said, “but I personally had not been diversifying one very important thing — my cash flow.”
Over the next few years, Holton developed about 10 sources of income from rentals to farming. It was also during this time that he began writing. His venture into the journalistic world started with humorous stories about his farming experiences e-mailed to friends.
Holton said he realized he was “spamming people” and decided to post his stories on a Web site instead of e-mailing them.
One night, he had the urge to stray from the humor.
“I’d never had a dream I’d call an Army flashback,” he said. “I had Army dreams a lot, but it was like I was back in the Army, I was late for formation and I’d forgotten my pants. But one night, I had the most vivid dream, reliving the jump into Panama inside the airplane.
“Five minutes out. Three minutes out. One minute out. Thirty seconds, light goes green and I woke up in a cold sweat and couldn’t go back to sleep.”
Holton got out of bed and decided to write down his memories of the 10 minutes leading up to the invasion. He says he felt better after doing so and went back to sleep.
What happened next was totally unexpected.
People he’d never heard of began asking him to finish his story. Holton said he had no interest in doing so until a professional writer repeatedly asked him to sit back down at the keyboard. After much prodding, he typed the rest of the day’s events and sent it to the author.
“He passed it on to his editor, who said it definitely needed to be published,” Holton said. “It wasn’t the kind of work they published, though, but he recommended I go to a writers’ conference in Santa Cruz, Calif.”
Holton took that advice, and within the first morning of the conference, he had two book offers from Christian publishing companies.
Also at the convention, he met a senior editor for Focus on the Family, a Christian magazine. Although Holton says he insulted the editor, a former Marine, he left the conference with not only a book contract, but a deal to write a series of articles on positive male role models for the magazine.
Although his future as a writer was looking promising, Holton maintained his job as a stockbroker.
“I thought it would be irresponsible for me to just quit my job,” he said, explaining he was worried about caring for his family on a writer’s salary.
After speaking with a fellow writer who advised him to follow his heart, Holton said he asked God for a sign telling him what to do.
Holton had arranged to interview an older man in Arizona who had run across the country handing out Bibles. One day, Holton arrived home and had a voice-mail message from him, asking Holton to call.
“He said, ‘I hope this won’t offend you, but I feel very strongly that I’m supposed to give you a message,’” Holton said of the conversation. “He said, ‘I was in business for 40 years and I made millions of dollars, but I would give up every dollar of that right now if I could spend one more hour with my son who just died of cancer at 39.’ He said, ‘I don’t know why, but I feel like I need to tell you not to make that mistake, Mr. Holton.’
“I got off the phone and said, ‘All right, Lord. You win.’”
A week later, he quit his job to write full-time.
Two months later, after the invasion of Iraq, Holton fell through another trap door.
He received a call from the station manager of the Washington, D.C., gateway of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
The surprise caller went on to explain the network’s military expert missed his flight and Holton was invited to appear on a national show commenting on the war. During the show, Holton was interviewed by Pat Robertson and afterward was invited back for future appearances.
The future appearance didn’t take long as he went back a few days later to comment on the Army Rangers’ rescue of Jessica Lynch.
Holton was then asked to transform his positive role model series to television, joining CBN as its adventure correspondent.
He continues to write (he is currently working on his first fiction book) and work for CBN.