Chris Costa And Pocket Square Heroes
Chris Costa wasn’t supposed to achieve much.
If you asked his teachers they’d tell you their young student was destined for mediocrity. After all, he had a learning disability the system deemed so pronounced, he was not pushed to do anything other kids were expected to do. His parents were not much more than kids themselves. At 18 and 21 years old, they had no reason to doubt the expert opinions they believed they were getting.
Chris’s best friend was also pronounced disabled, so the boys at least had each other in the separate, special education classroom. For 12 years they attended these classes. Test-taking was waived for them. Each year marked another year his true education was delayed. He never learned basic mathematics or how to take a test. Reading comprehension was not something he was introduced to.
Time ticked by and Chris did as he was told, but something inside of him began to rise. A voice, a gut instinct, an awareness – whatever it was, it was telling him to do something about his future before it was decided for him.
“I knew I needed to do something,” says Chris. All around him the other students were preparing for college. He could almost taste the swirl of dust they left him behind, and it did not taste like a life he wanted. “I cannot stay here,” he realized.
While still in high school, Chris took it upon himself to take his first test ever – the ASVAB. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test is a timed multi-aptitude test required of all those who enlist in the military. If Chris could pass the test, he could join the Marines and build a life beyond what faced him at home.
With his future at stake, Chris took the ASVAB and failed. Disappointed but undaunted, he tried again in 30 days. He failed again. This time he faced a mandated six month period before he could make a third attempt.
He could have given up. He could have accepted his failures as validation that he was, in fact, not smart enough to achieve more than the minimum. But Chris is not the quitting kind, so he doubled down on his goal.
This time he had help. He found a teacher who believed in him and helped him prepare for the test. For six months, Chris studied the ASVAB book, worked with his teacher, and crammed years of education into the small window of time.
He didn’t learn everything, but Chris managed to pass the ASVAB on his third attempt and was granted entry to the Marine Corps infantry.
It was the beginning of a whole new life for Chris.
“I got onto the trajectory of proving everyone wrong,” he says.
From 1994-1997 Chris served proudly in the United States Marine Corps. From there he went into a law enforcement career that he calls “movie-like.” He also taught himself enough math to be able to study and earn a degree in mathematics.
Chris loved being a Marine and his love of his law enforcement job is equally evident. Still, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been moments in time where he faced the aftermath of evil or wasn’t confronted with his own challenges.
On 9/11/2001, Chris had just arrived to work when the towers were hit five blocks away. He joined others as they evacuated terrified children from the childcare centers, reuniting them with the also-terrified parents who were able to make it there.
The firefighters were everywhere, he remembers.
Chris joined the bucket brigade later that evening. Lines of men and women perched on top of the rubble, passing 5-gallon paint jugs back and forth in vain attempts to locate survivors by removing the debris.
“We were in disbelief,” he says, like the rest of the country.
Chris continued his career, carrying his experiences in the Marines and from 9/11 with him. Life sprang another challenge upon him in 2013. A serious car accident on duty left Chris sidelined with injuries. He faced the prospect of being unable to return to the job he loved, and depression set in. It was then that he became aware of the news stories reporting veteran suicide rates. Immediately, he realized he had no right steeping in his own self-pity when others were facing much more difficult struggles.
Getting active again is key to turning the tides on depression. He knew that firsthand. Chris understood the frustration attached to leaving the military and returning to the civilian world. He understood what it was like to be entrusted with enormous responsibility in the military, and then being undervalued in the civilian workforce.
If he could do anything to interrupt the isolation and connect veterans to each other, he would. He just did not know yet how he could so do.
That path revealed itself.
Chris Costa is a dapper dresser. He laughs instantly when asked where his love of fashion came from. “It’s a very easy question,” he says through his smile. “It was the Marines! It’s the best-looking uniform in the military!”
His time in the Marines was pre 9/11. Things were quiet enough that time could be spent being fastidious about their uniforms, and they were held to high standards. Regular inspections taught Chris to make absolutely sure there was literally not a thread out of place. When he left the Marines he took that pride in dress with him.
So that day as he searched for a suitable suit and tie combo, his eye was caught by a purple pocket square with stripes on it.
For the fashionably-challenged individual, a pocket square is not a handkerchief, as I may have believed (Sorry Chris). It is, in fact, “a decorative item to place inside the breast coat of a gentleman’s jacket, and it breaks up the palate.” A pocket square should not match the tie. Rather, it should contradict the tie. This, says Chris, indicates a man pays attention to detail and is fashion-oriented.
The purple pocket square he saw online reminded Chris of a military emblem. Intrigued, he searched for other pocket squares, in hopes of finding a product that represents military service.
Realizing no such pocket square existed, Chris Costa bolted to the store and bought the materials to create his own.
His first attempt to replicate the National Medal of Defense was “hilarious,” he laughs, but it still looked good enough that he knew he was on to something.
From that flicker of an idea, Chris created and grew his vision into a reality. Pocket Square Heroes is now catching on throughout the country. Military, Law Enforcement, and First Responders can now all find a pocket square to suit their service. His pocket square designs are easily noticeable and allow like-minded people to recognize and connect with one another. They create conversations that have turned into friendships or business relationships.
“We designed Pocket Square Heroes to promote civil-military understanding, foster the pride of belonging and provide transparency to our national heroes all so they can tell us their stories,” reads the website.
Chris Costa is taking his story and Pocket Square Heroes national.
The little boy who was told he was too mentally challenged to even take a test has grown into a man who continually proves that limits are often untrue.
Chris Costa is a Marine Corps veteran, holds degrees in mathematics and business, has a long career in law enforcement, and is now an entrepreneur with a business that helps connect people.
What’s his advice to others seeking to push past limits and achieve their own dream?
“I don’t believe it’s luck,” says Chris. Anyone committed to crafting their own success must be prepared to work for it. Networking is important. Staying focused is important too.