Mike Sformo is the founder and CEO of Operation Backbone—a non-profit organization serving as a medical care substitute for active-duty men and women, as well as veterans, who are struggling within the current system to find surgical treatment for brain and spine injuries. The U.S. Navy and Gulf War veteran has worked in submarine welding, wire rope, and radio. But now he solves problems for American military service members across the country and around the world.
WIRE ROPE EXCHANGE (WRE) had the chance to ask Sformo about his connection to the wire rope industry, and how it led to his inspiring efforts with Operation Backbone.
WRE: Before Operation Backbone, your early career found you out West.
Sformo: Yes—I was stationed in San Diego from ‘91–’95, and became a submarine welder. We did a lot of nuclear transportation; it took me all over the world. It was fascinating work. Along the way, I met some civilian guys at American Rigging in San Diego, and we started talking. They didn’t have anyone with the capability to work on subs. There were a lot of tough qualifications that I already had, so we agreed that when I got out, I’d start working for them.
WRE: How did your role evolve at American Rigging?
Sformo: I started in the shop and really loved it—got to work with wire rope and learned so much. The experience in the Navy was really the key. We did all the crane work, the rigging, the rope, transport—it was incredible what we were able to do all in one place. I took that experience with me to the shop—and I spent a couple years there. But ultimately, I moved into a sales position, which allowed me to reach out to a lot of my old contacts.
WRE: After over a decade in the industry, with companies like CERTEX, SLINGMAX®, and West Coast Wire Rope, you and your wife moved “home” to Buffalo, and you began a new career.
Sformo: Yes. I developed a radio show focused on entrepreneurship and overcoming setbacks in life. But in 2011, my father passed away suddenly from pancreatic cancer. My desire to shine a light on cancer research and treatment led us to D.C., where I started another radio show. And then one day in the gym, I was squatting and heard something snap like a twig, and my body went cold. I’d cracked my spine.
WRE: You ended up being okay, thankfully, but you realized something alarming about the treatment process for this injury.
Sformo: I did. After the injury to my neck and back, I realized how costly, stressful, and overwhelming some of these medical processes can be on our wounded soldiers and their families. I created Operation Backbone as a way to help our active duty and veterans get the specialized care they need for brain and spine injuries—without the confusion and uncertainty, the bureaucracy, or the costs.
WRE: You’ve worked tirelessly since 2012 to create a non-profit that allows for this specialized care, free of charge.
Sformo: That’s right. I’ve utilized many of my connections I’d established in sales and radio to create a network around the country, from medical experts to pro sports trainers to politicians, who are willing to invest in this organization so that American service members can get the specialized care they deserve, without the complications or the costs. I truly believe that if you have the resources and the talent around you, you should use it to help people that don’t have these opportunities. And that’s what Operation Backbone is trying to accomplish every day.
— Operation Backbone’s focus is to provide possible alternatives by collaborating with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as the active military branch commands around the world, to assist and treat battlefield injuries sustained in the defense of freedom. Operation Backbone is currently looking to add crane and wire rope companies to their corporate partner family—to further the level of support they can provide to our wounded servicemen and women.
For more information, and to support Operation Backbone, visit: www.OperationBackbone.com.