MOVE OVER, Maverick. There’s a new Top Gun in town… and his name is Demetries.
While Tom Cruise’s iconic role as a naval aviator gave us a Hollywood depiction of a modern American hero, Commander Demetries Grimes, USN (Ret.) provides us with a real-life version. Recently, just months after hanging up his helmet after 25 years of service as career officer, Demetries has set his gunsights on an even loftier goal: the US Congress.
Demetries first popped up on our local radar in 2007, after arriving in Tel Aviv as the US Naval Attaché to Israel. He served here with distinction, as he has done elsewhere in a career with over 100 combat missions, 2000 flight hours and seven deployments, including five from forward deployed aircraft carriers. Besides Israel, he has served as the US Naval Attaché to Greece and in diplomatic roles in NATO. In his early days, he was hand-picked by President Bill Clinton to serve on his White House staff. Yet these experiences tell only part of his story.
Demetries is far more than a hot-shot fly-boy or just another polished diplomat. He served through leadership. As Deputy Commander of the US Navy base at Souda Bay, he was responsible for over 1,000 troops to whom he was father, mother, and everything in between.
His command style is to lead by example and take care of his people.
Interestingly, his compassionate attitude for the people he has worked with is where I fit into the story. My friendship with Demetries began through a professional introduction made by my daughter who had worked with him during his Tel Aviv tour of duty.
Upon leaving, Demetries voluntarily took the time and effort to write her a glowing letter that would help her career. A simple task, but one one that exemplifies the essence of his being a mensch. So when I read on Facebook that Demetries was retiring, I quickly dialed his number.
“Mazal tov on your retirement, Demetries.
What are you doing next?” I asked.
“I’m not done serving,” answered my buddy, to whom the Navy was home and a way of life since birth. “I’m the son of a career Navy man and a proud Greek immigrant mother whom my Dad met while stationed overseas. I attended the Naval War College and received my MBA from the prestigious London Business School, funded by the GI Bill. The US has given my family and me more than I will ever be able to pay back.
I’m ready to continue serving, as I did in the military, and live by my credo: leave no one behind.”
He then told me he was moving back to South Florida, which he fell in love with while flying out of Key West Naval Air Station and Homestead Air Force Base. He will run as a Democrat in the 26th District that spans an area that begins just south of Miami down to the pristine Keys and includes the beautiful Everglades. Demetries has a great chance of taking the seat as the only candidate with military and diplomatic experience in a district that has 4 military installations, 4 Coast Guard Stations, and 28,000 military veterans.
But first he must win the Democratic Primary on August 28. Hopefully, he will then be positioned to win against the Republican opponent in the November general election.
As a former fighter jock myself, used to making quick assessments, I recognized Demetries’s tremendous potential, especially as a Democrat, a party with figures like Bernie Sanders and Keith Ellison on the rise, where pro-Israel sentiment is far from automatic.
Demetries is not simply my friend.
He is a true friend of Israel. Since he is running in a district which a Democrat should win (in 2016 Hilary won, with 56 percent of the vote), people who care about Israel should care about Demetries.
I launched into my best impression of actor Gary Sinese, who as Lt. Dan told Forrest Gump, “If you become a shrimp boat captain, I’ll be your first mate.”
“If you’re really running, I’ll be there next week, to be your wingman,” I said. “We’ll get a feel for the district. Then next month, I’ll come back for AIPAC’s Policy Conference in DC and introduce you around.”
Before I even arrived, I had Demetries meet Alan Dershowitz, a longtime Democrat.
Demetries made a great impression. He personified two important core beliefs that Alan repeatedly states. First: never ask who will be the best candidate for the Jews and Israel, but who will be the best candidate for a strong America. Because a strong US is the best thing for a strong Israel. Second: Israel should never be a partisan issue. It is important that both Democrats and Republicans support Israel.”
During our week in Florida, Demetries joined me when I spoke about Israel and the IAF both at Friday night and Shabbat morning services hosted by Key West’s energetic and inspiring local rabbis, first at Chabad and then at Congregation Bnai Zion. Politics were off the table (but sumptuous food was aplenty) at the informal Friday night dinner and the next day’s Kiddush luncheon. Our interactions gave us insight into the concerns of the local communities. Demetries also met separately with prominent lawyers and Jewish public figures who grilled him and found him to be “the real deal.”
On the scenic 4 hour drive from Miami to Key West (which is just 90 miles from Cuba and is closer to Havana that it is to Miami), we met Jewish leaders from several communities along the way. I must note the way Chabad has a network of rabbis throughout the area, who have established incredible relationships not only with the local Jews but also with the general surrounding population In our meetings just a few weeks later at AIPAC, several current and former Congressmen like Ted Deutch (Dem. FL), Ron Klein (Dem. FL), and Steve Israel (Dem.
NY) all remarked that Demetries has “The Right Stuff” to win an important race in 2018.
The most poignant event during my travels with Demetries took place the day I arrived (February 14): the horrific shooting at the Parkland, Florida, high school. Suddenly an issue nobody had planned upon was dominating everyone’s thoughts. Demetries may be new to politics but he is not a novice when it comes to leadership and the importance of speaking immediately in a measured tone regarding the need for rational solutions. As we listened to the heart-rending expressions of the surviving students, Demetries told me he thought we were reaching a tipping point in America that will lead to needed reforms.
“I was not merely a career aviator. I commanded troops in a forward operating zone.
I was Deputy Base Commander for a thousand troops, many only a year or two older than the victims – or the shooter. I was raised with guns and believe in our Second Amendment rights. But I also know what it means to vet and train soldiers (many of whom are not old enough to drink in many states) in the responsible use of military weapons that can fire over 40 rounds a second. This lethality should be placed in the hands of trained professionals for the single purpose of defending our nation – not in the hands of civilians.
We drove up to Boca Raton three days after the shooting and sat with a couple who had just returned from one of the funerals.
The experience reinforced all the theoretical points that Demetries had outlined. The events moved him to deliver a passionate call in his first public appearance at the South Dade County Democrats Club the next night.
“I’m not done serving until the richest country in the world can do better to support quality, affordable education and make our schools safe zones for our students.”
Demetries proceeded to list other issues that got his juices flowing, like respectable wages, the environment, and ended on a personal note: “I have three amazing sisters and two precious nieces, and until they and all women are no longer subjected to sexual assault, harassment in the workplace, and any inequality, I’m not done serving.” He is running to serve his constituency and his country.
Now I see the wisdom in Dershowitz’s point: a forceful candidate like Demetries will be best for a strong America, which in turn is what Israel needs most.
Still, the thing that makes him special in my book is the way his views on Israel are not the product of a theoretical cookie-cutter position paper. His beliefs were formed from years of hands-on experience as a military attaché in Tel Aviv, where he engaged his Israeli counterparts in intense cooperative efforts on a daily basis.
For him, the term “shared values,” used to characterize the US-Israel relationship, is not simply a catch phrase, but an embodiment of the mutual respect and understanding that united him with colleagues who wore different uniforms but whose core beliefs were the same. It is the result of long days – and nights – of working shoulder to shoulder with like-minded men and women dedicated to providing answers for some of the most acute problems that threaten the security of both the US and Israel.
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