Here at the Valhalla Tea Company, we are serious about three things: making amazingly good loose leaf tea, helping veterans and creating a legacy of good in the world. And when the opportunity presented itself to do all three at once, we couldn’t say no.
In this article, we explain the backstory of the bestselling Appleseed loose leaf tea blend and catch up with the man who inspired its creation. A man who inspires others to adopt the warrior mindset in facing down whatever life throws at you, even if the odds seem insurmountable.
But first, the process
The Valhalla Tea Company is passionate about creating new blends of handcrafted loose leaf tea to excite customers’ tastebuds. And we carefully consider who is going to be the champion that will represent our new handcrafted loose leaf tea blend to the world. From the Monkey King to the Goddess of War to Uncle Sam, all our tea blends have a different champion. In order to create a new champion and a new loose leaf tea, we draw inspiration from different sources. We make our teas in response to societal issues at large, things that are affecting the veteran community or even the story of a particular person.
And it is from the latter where the Appleseed loose leaf tea blend takes its cues. And a lot of the mellowness of US Army Staff Sgt. Rick Walters shines through the taste and texture of the Appleseed blend. Heck, his likeness even made it through in the final design of the Appleseed champion. Yes, that is his face on the package (the one we are constantly asked by our customers to have made into a poster!).
We want to share with customers what goes on behind the scenes with how our unique loose leaf tea blends come into being.
So, we recently sat down with Sgt. Walters to find out how this man who spent 23 years serving in the army, recently fought and won the biggest battle of his life away from the battlefield. We are sure you will find the story of this remarkable man as inspiring as we do.
What drew you to join the military?
RW - I grew up in Florida and my family didn’t have a lot of money. We weren’t poor but things were tight. And I wanted to do something. I knew that if I stayed where I was, I was probably going to go nowhere. I was going to join the Marines and had talked to the Marine recruiter. But then they had a Field Day at school. The Army flew a bunch of helicopters onto the football field, and I just thought that was really cool.
Can you talk a little about your time in the military?
RW - I graduated high school in June of ’88 and by August of that same year, I was in Basic Training. My first duty station was on a nuke site in Germany. And that wasn’t very fun. My first tour of duty for two years really turned me off military service. Because it wasn’t what I really wanted to do. However, I had some good NCOs and they told me that this wasn’t what the real Army was like. So, I just held onto that. And after that, it has just been a whirlwind.
You worked within the Military Police core; can you tell us a little bit about that?
RW - I was in a Combat Support Unit, but we also worked the roads. So, I get two different aspects of the MP Core. And I really liked it. I learnt the value of doing what you’re supposed to be doing. And doing it well.
What does the warrior mindset mean to you?
RW - I look at it like this: the Army teaches you to never quit. I have a tattoo on my arm that says “never surrender” because that is something that I live by. Your first job is to complete the mission. Always push forward. And take care of your fellow soldiers. And I feel that goes into civilian life too. You might not have to be there for your soldiers, but you are there for your family. Unfortunately, I’ve had friends who, once they left the service, didn’t do so well. We have to keep pushing forward. If you need help go seek it.
How did the Army change over the 23 years you were enlisted?
RW -When I first went through Basic Training, I remember just being scared. We had these drill sergeants walking up and down just screaming at you. One thing that stuck out to me was we had this drill sergeant that looked like Freddy Kreuger. He told us not to think that the Army was just giving us a free ride to college. He said that instead, we were going to go to some third world country and probably die over there. And I think that is what probably toughened you up. Probably the difference between when I came in and what you see now is a lot of the discipline isn’t there. It’s a kinder, gentler Basic Training.
Why does having discipline matter?
RW -I’m probably the easiest going guy you have ever met in your life. And I put that to my soldiers too. I told them we will get along great until you piss me off. For me, it’s about being on time. If you have to be somewhere, be on time.
Changing tack now, how did you find out you had cancer?
RW - I had just turned 50 and I had no symptoms. But I went in and had a regular colonoscopy, and they found a nodule by my appendix. They tested it and it came back as follicular lymphoma. So, I was referred to an oncologist and they had me do a PET scan. One of my tonsils lit up. They took my tonsils out and one came back 80% follicular and 20% diffused large B-Cell. So, it had started to transform into a more aggressive form of cancer. Which meant I had to do a more aggressive form of chemo.
Can you tell me about your recent cancer battle? Did your military service help you prepare for this fight?
RW - Throughout this whole thing, I was scared man. I ain’t going to lie to you. Especially when I first got that diagnosis. There was a point there where honestly, I just broke down. Then something just clicked in me and said, “hold on, let’s pull it together.” So I think that’s where the warrior mindset comes in and says that you’ve got to fight. You’ve got to do whatever you can do to win this battle. Keep pushing forward. So I told myself, “I ain’t going out like this.” My military training kicked in and told me not to quit. To face the fear. I wanted to show my children that we can fight this.
What did your battle with cancer teach you?
RW - I felt like I needed to put something out there and let people know that getting check-ups is important. So, I put something out on Facebook about what was going on and I really encouraged people to get the check-ups because you just never know. Follicular lymphoma is something that I will have for the rest of my life. Nowadays, I don’t take anything for granted. I cherish every moment I have with my kids. I love my job and I love working with dogs. (These days Walters is working a K-9 security job at Boeing.)
How can we all cultivate a bit of military ethos in our day-to-day operations?
RW - I feel like the mission is always first. As a veteran, you could look at the mission like getting up and going to work in the morning. I’m going to have a productive day. I’m going to keep pushing forward. I think that is a big part of it. There are some veterans that don’t have the desire to push forward every day. And some that are homeless. Another part of the warrior ethos is you never leave anybody behind. And I feel like the homeless veterans have been left behind. And for some of us, we look at that as a failure. We haven’t accomplished the mission.
It’s tough because you don’t know what you can do if people don’t reach out to you. It’s hard to see if somebody is struggling. We recently lost a brother-in-arms. And I would talk to him a couple of times a month. And I had no idea he was struggling. I think in the civilian world, the warrior mindset can help people do something productive each day. If that’s getting up and going to work or simply getting out of bed. And if there is someone out there who needs help, help them.
Well said SSG Walters. Well said.
- The Valhalla Co Team