Top Gun Demetries Grimes, a Naval War Hero, Runs for Florida’s 26th CD
How does a man who served his country so well in the military take the next step to serve his country and complete his mission in civilian life? For Demetries Grimes it means running for Congress in Florida’s 26th CD, with its fabled Everglades, and the Naval Air Station Key West and Homestead Air Force from where he once flew as a combat decorated Navy flyer and Aircraft Mission Commander.
“I’m not done serving,” says the 25-year vet of the Navy, with postings everywhere from Puerto Rico to Israel and Greece and Cyprus. “As the son of a Navy veteran father, proud Greek immigrant mother, and recipient of an MBA funded by the G.I. Bill, this country has given me and my family more than I will ever be able to pay back. I’m ready to serve again and as I did in the military, honor my oath, serve all, and leave no one behind.”
But he’s more than a top gun with over 100 combat missions, 2000 flight hours and seven deployments, including five from forward deployed aircraft carriers. He’s also served in NATO, the White House, and as U.S. naval attache in Greece and Israel, as well as deputy commander and executive officer of the U.S. Navy base at Souda Bay in Crete. In addition, he has an MBA from the London Business School and the Naval War College and is a proud recipient of his “wings of gold” for his flight service.
Why give that up for politics?
“I’m not done serving because I cannot allow people to die like my father did because of our inept healthcare system,” he says. ”I’m not done serving because the richest country in the world can do better to support quality, affordable education. I’m not done serving because the people who are the backbone of our economy deserve living wages. I’m not done serving because I cannot allow families to be torn apart. I’m not done serving because our environment and natural resources need to be better protected. We are blessed in south Florida to live in true majesty—we cannot let man destroy this treasure of ours. I’m not done serving because I am the son of a strong independent woman, the brother to three amazing sisters, and uncle to two precious nieces, and until they and all women are not subjected to sexual assault, harassment in the workplace, and any inequality, including equal pay, I’m not done serving.”
How would you characterize the South Florida 26th Congressional District?
The South Florida 26th District covers the southernmost tip of Florida. It extends from Southwest Miami, across the Everglades, and from Homestead and Key Largo to Key West. It’s a beautiful part of the country that I fell in love with during my operational tours flying out of Naval Air Station Key West and Homestead Air Force Base.
What are the pressing needs of the district?
Leadership that can exercise good judgment in decision-making, like fighting for the funds needed for post-Irma clean-up and infrastructure improvements; quality, affordable healthcare; affordable education that makes our country competitive in the global economy; responsible gun-reform that keeps our schools and public spaces safe; ensuring we do our best to be good stewards of the environment and our natural resources; honoring our commitments to veterans and seniors; treating all people with dignity and respect; comprehensive immigration reform that protects our borders, provides labor for our economy, and recognises our common humanity, and transparent and responsible use of taxpayer dollars that does not saddle future generations with debt.
What different perspective can you bring to preserving assets of the district like the Everglades?
The Everglades are a treasure under pressure from all sides that needs to be protected and respected. Water quality and quantity, urban encroachment, and invasive exotic species issues need to be addressed. Republicans and Democrats, environmentalists and developers, the agriculture sector and the business community, must work together to address these issues. My military and diplomatic background, untainted by corporate or special interests, will give me the credibility to bring the different stakeholders together to develop and implement innovative solutions to these challenges.
How do you compete against a Latino in an increasingly Latino state?
Maybe because I’m not a professional politician: I worry less about labels like identity politics and whether voters will identify with me because of ethnicity, race, gender or religion. President Obama was elected twice by a population that is only twelve percent African American. And Secretary Clinton was defeated despite a female electoral majority. Do I believe that, all other things being equal, some voters may choose a candidate who shares certain of their immutable characteristics? Sure. But rarely are all other things equal. I believe the voters of the 26th District will select a leader based on the circumstances of his or her life, not the circumstances of his or her birth. As a Commander in the United States Navy, I have led thousands of sailors from all walks of life, Latinos among them. I have spent significant time in South Florida, Central America, and the Caribbean, in particular, Panama, Honduras, and Puerto Rico. I have experience in and respect and affinity for the region. As the son of an immigrant, myself, I share in and identify with so much of the experience of my Latino neighbors and friends – the dreams of making a better life for one’s children, the courage to leave the familiar and pursue those dreams, respect for hard work, the drive for success, and the dedication to family, faith, equality, education and community. In this respect, there is much more that draws us together than distinguishes us. And it is these common values that I believe matter more to the voters in the end of the day than the fact that my second language is Greek and not Spanish. When it comes to the issues that the people of the 26th District care about most, I am confident they will find in me someone who shares something more important than a familiar surname – someone who shares their values and possesses the skill and perseverance to translate those values into action.
How can you compete against the money and on the field muscle of super PACS like the Congressional Leadership Fund, the RNC and right wing organizations like Americans for Prosperity?
My campaign has something more important – proven and trusted leadership combined with people power and a message that resonates. The people of South Florida’s 26th District are ready for a new type of politics where the right answer matters more than politics. They’re ready for a positive agenda that I will fight for everyday as their Congressman. There are also more powerful PACs out there based upon the principles of service, civility, and good governance they promote that are aligned with my campaign. Congressman Seth Moulton’s Serve America PAC, https://www.serveamericapac.com/seth/ , and Rye Barcott’s With Honor PAC, https://www.withhonor.org are good examples of efforts to create a more effective and less polarized government that the people are ready for.
How can you make a difference as a Democrat if the Congress doesn’t shift?
My global upbringing taught me there could be many perspectives. I have experiences that relate to people across all races, creeds, and walks of life. My global upbringing combined with my military and diplomatic background is respected across party lines. It gives me the credibility as an insightful, proven, and trusted leader who can find common ground and seek innovative solutions to serve the District and all Americans better.
As a Democrat, what areas of common ground do you have with your Republican constituents?
If you’re asking me whether a Republican in the 26th District should vote for me, I say if they believe in fixing our broken healthcare system, yes. If they believe in quality affordable education for all Americans that makes our country competitive in the global economy, yes. If they believe in ensuring our military is properly funded, trained and equipped to defend our interests and freedoms, yes. If they believe in honoring our commitments to veterans and seniors, yes. If they believe in treating all people with dignity and respect, yes. If they believe in transparent and responsible use of taxpayer dollars that doesn’t saddle future generations with debt, yes. And if they believe in common sense gun laws that keep our schools and public spaces safe, yes. As a military officer I honored my oaths, served all, and left no one behind and as their Congressman I pledge to discharge my responsibilities in an honorable way.
What did your military and government service teach you that would be helpful in Congress?
Although there are some great people in Congress, my military and diplomatic service taught me a lot about what is missing in Congress today. Proven and trusted leadership dedicated to exercising good judgment in decision-making. Leadership dedicated to serving all the people. Leadership dedicated to solving our nation’s problems. In the military, especially naval aviation, we work as a team and cover each other’s backs when taking on whatever challenge we face. Continuous improvement is ingrained in our culture. No matter how well we execute an evolution or operation, we strive to do it better the next time. We strive to make every day count. It’s time to introduce this concept in Washington.
Tell me about growing up: church, school? Who are you named after? Did you know him?
I’m named after my mother’s father, Dimitrios. I was his first grandson. He passed before I had a chance to meet him. I heard he was a true gentlemen and took great pride in having an American grandson. Home was where the Navy sent us. We moved about every three years; Great Lakes, Newport, Athens, where I attended third and fourth grades at the American Community School (ACS); then Charleston, where we attended Holy Trinity. After my father’s retirement from the US Navy we moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and I was sent to Kifissia to attend TASIS Greece, where I would attend Agios Andreas in Galatsi with my Yia Yia. Before I left for college, we established our home in Florida. From there I went to Boston and earned my B.A. in International Relations from Boston University.
Your father’s name and rank? Tell me about his service.
My father’s name is Melvin; he enlisted in the US Navy when he was seventeen. He served as an Engineman on everything from mine-hunters, amphibious ships, patrol boats, frigates, and destroyers. He had some great stories of being at sea during the Cuban missile crisis and other historic moments. A proud sailor and American, he retired as a Chief Engineman after more than 23 years of naval service.
You said he suffered because he wasn’t given adequate health care?
In January 2006 he had a mild heart attack. At the time he also had a mild pneumonia. It was determined that he needed a stent to clear a blocked artery, but the doctors recommended waiting until his heart rate stabilized. Since his heart rate remained high he was put on a ventilator. Despite the fact his condition had not improved, the hospital had him moved to another facility not equipped to provide him the level of care he needed. He ended up dying of an infection. He was only 69. He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in the company of heroes. His case is an example of our inept health care system that I’ll fight to fix. No family, especially a veteran’s family in the richest nation in the world, should have to suffer this type of unnecessary loss.
Your mother’s maiden name?
What part of Greece?
From the village of Efira, near Amalyada and Pyrgos in the Peloponnese. A beautiful place. I also have many relatives in Athens, including my mother, who I brought back to be closer to her family after my father passed.
Have you visited that part and met your relatives?
Definitely, many times over the years and as often as I can. It’s always a celebration when I visit.
How did your parents meet and how did people of such differing backgrounds become a couple? Did your mother have family here? Who gave her away?
My parents met while my father was assigned to the US Navy Base at Nea Makri. His best friend’s fiancé was my mother’s best friend, which is how they met. They were married at St. Demetrios Loumbardians on Philopappou Hill near the Acropolis in Athens. My grandfather, Dimitrios gave her away. After they married, my father took a new assignment, which had him deploy with his ship to Vietnam. Since my mother had no family in the US, my father left her with his family in Indianapolis, Indiana to take care of her during his deployment. This was a bold move by my mother, considering she was just twenty years old and barely spoke English. I was born a month after my father deployed. A Greek family, the Karlos,’who owned a diner in town became my mother’s connection to Greece and the community. The owner, George Karl’s, became my Godfather.
What was is like growing up in a household where one parent is an immigrant?
It’s a special feeling to take pride in ones roots. My mother made sure I understood and appreciated my Greek heritage and that of others. Her friends’ visits for coffee were like mini UN summits. I remember hearing fascinating stories of how these proud Americans ended up in the US. Like many young Greek-American boys, I went through the phase of being dressed as an Evzone on Greek Independence Day. The local Greek Orthodox Church served as a hub for catching up with fellow Hellenes. Afterwards we would end up at someone’s house for a large Greek meal of pasticcio, yemista, mousaka, or chicken lemonato. There was always fresh baklava, loukoumia, or koulouria in case someone stopped by for a coffee and no visitor left without a “sakoula” full of food. I also remember watching my mother study for her citizenship test with some of her Greek friends who were also going through the process of becoming US citizens. And I remember the day she came home after being sworn in as US citizen and her pride and sense of accomplishment.
How did your family cope with all your father’s deployments?
As a military family, home was always where the navy sent us. But wherever we ended up there were Greeks who took us in as their own family. Although my father was away on deployments for extended periods, we never felt as if we were on our own.
How did you decide to enter the service after Boston University?
I always admired my father and his military friends and their love for and dedication to serving and our country. I joined after university, earning my commission via Aviation Officer Candidate School at Naval Air Station, Pensacola. It was like in the movie “Officer and a Gentlemen,” where a team of Marine Corps Drill Instructors tried there hardest every day for fourteen weeks to make you want to quit. There was an extremely high attrition rate. I planned to do only one tour and move on, but was offered one great assignment after another.
How did your parents feel about your decision to enter the military?
My father was proud and my mother was scared but happy I was doing what I wanted to do.
What made you pursue higher military study?
I’ve always been a fan of history, strategy, valor and the concepts of pride, dignity, duty, honor, courage, and sacrifice captured in the Greek word “filotimo.”
What made you choose flying and carrier service?
As a young boy I built model airplanes and ships and never imagined I would end up flying missions from a few of those aircraft carriers I built models of. I chose Naval Aviation for the challenge, excitement, and desire to be at “the tip of the spear.”
What is the thrill and esprit de corps of the flying service at sea?
The adrenaline rush is part of it. It’s an honor and a privilege that few get to experience. Words really can’t describe with justice the feeling of pride, esprit de corps, and brotherhood that exists in the naval aviation community. At the foundation is our trust and mutual respect of one another.
Any close scrapes?
One is too many, but I’ve had a number of them, which range from bird strikes, smoke and fumes, turbine failures, and a few others I can’t tell you about here.
What made you shift to land duty?
I completed seven deployments in my career, five of them deployed in flying squadrons operating from aircraft carriers accumulating more than 2000 flying hours in the E-2 Hawkeye aircraft and 100 combat support missions. In between operational deployments it’s typical to take assignments ashore. Mine included the Pentagon, White House, and diplomatic assignments as Naval Attaché to Greece, Naval Attaché to Israel, Secretary of Defense Fellow, Combined Interagency Task Force 435 in Afghanistan, and as an Advisor to the Commander at Headquarters, Allied Maritime Command in London where I also used my GI Bill to fund an Executive MBA at The London Business School.
How long did you serve in Greece and what was your service there?
Between my assignments with NATO, diplomatic assignments as Navy Programs Director and Naval Attaché, and my assignment as Deputy Commander of the US forward operating base at Souda Bay, Crete, I have been fortunate to serve nearly eight years in Greece.
Did you speak Greek before you got there?
Yes, and I’m thankful to my mother for this, who used hard earned money she made as a seamstress to pay for private Greek language tutors for me all the way through university. I dreaded these sessions at the time, but she was right when she promised I would appreciate it one day. Making my Greek language skills clear to my superiors early in my career opened countless opportunities for me.
What are your impressions of the country and the people from your service there?
I’ve always loved Greece, its rich history, and its beautiful geography, traditions, food, culture, people, and weather. It’s an incredible place.
How can the Greek American community help in your campaign?
The great thing about the Greek-American community is our love of family, our heritage, our faith, our nation and our shared pride in each other’s success. Our love and respect for each other supersedes politics, as it should, and our interest in Greece’s interests, in particular issues in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans, which are also America’s interests, strengthens our bonds as Americans of Greek and Cypriot heritage. Also, the respect we have as a community comes from these core values we share with our fellow immigrants. Regarding your question, my campaign manager, Jose Aristimuno, wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t use this as an opportunity to highlight that campaign contributions are key and will help us amplify our message. You don’t have to live in the district to contribute money to the campaign, so I invite your readers to encourage their friends and family to contribute and follow our campaign at www.grimesforcongress.com. And I invite my Greek brothers and sisters to invite their friends and family, especially connections in South Florida, to stay up to date with my website for opportunities to help with our campaign.
How is the campaign going and how do you see your path to victory?
Our campaign is going very well Dimitri and the honor of speaking with you and your readers reassures me our campaign is on the right track. I’m honored and thrilled to be engaged in this campaign and I’m fortunate to have so many incredible people I respect and admire providing me great guidance and support. Each day motivates me even further as the incredible people I meet reaffirm there is a desire for a new type of leadership, where the right answer matters more than politics. Our path to victory lies in ensuring we can get our message out that this campaign is about the people, our nation, and our shared values. It’s about ensuring government is focused on doing what is “just” in order to serve all the people better, a concept that Pericles promoted in Ancient Greece that we seem to have lost in recent times. I really feel the good will that exists for military veterans and am grateful to my father and fellow veterans who have gone into harm’s way and earned our nation’s respect. I always hi-light that for more than 25 years as a military officer, I honored my oaths, served all, and left no one behind. And that as a military officer and a diplomat, I am a proven and trusted leader committed to my pledge to serve all the people while looking for ways to find solutions to the issues we face as a District and as a nation.
COVER PHOTO BY ML Marthinsen Photography