Amid coronavirus threat, America’s vets offer leadership: Black Rifle Coffee CEO

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In late March of this year, when the severity of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States had become clear, the U.S. Army sent an unusual request to retired officers and enlisted soldiers trained in high-demand medical specialties. The ask? Activate to support with the COVID-19 response. The answer? Overwhelming. By mid-April, more than 25,000 retirees had responded to the call.

It comes as no surprise that — when faced with both conventional and non-conventional threats — Americans turn to the veteran community for leadership. The men and women who’ve served in our all-volunteer forces are first to fight.

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Now, the U.S. is facing another threat. As millions of enterprises remain closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the way we do business is fundamentally and permanently changing.

Veterans, of course, aren’t immune to the economic realities other Americans are facing. Mounting unemployment numbers are sending up new warning signals for men and women long vexed by a constricted job market, and the 2.52 million businesses across the U.S. that are majority-owned by veterans are navigating the unpredictable landscape alongside their civilian peers.

Still, veterans are uniquely suited to serve as a model of economic resilience and recovery. To borrow a phrase from General George S. Patton, “We fight where we’re told, and we win where we fight.”

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I’ve seen that twice: first, serving as a Green Beret and CIA contractor, and then again while founding and leading Black Rifle Coffee Company (BRCC).

Three years ago, we made a commitment at BRCC to hire 10,000 veterans. We did it not just because we knew it was the right thing to do, but also because we knew it was the smart thing to do.

Vets are unparalleled when it comes to selflessness, sacrifice, adaptability, and resilience, and — at Black Rifle — we knew they’d be our greatest asset in the day-to-day battles of doing business.

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For starters, business is about community, and there is no stronger community than the U.S. military.

No matter where and no matter how, veterans always stand ready to serve.

Veteran-led organizations and enterprises across the United States have donated time, resources, and capital in the fight against COVID-19 — staffing field hospitals, organizing online learning programs, and, in some cases, shifting entire operations to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical personnel and essential workers.

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Meanwhile, veteran entrepreneurs and employees can act as an invaluable resource for businesses struggling to adapt to new business realities. “No plan survives contact intact,” and adaptability is at the very core of our military training.

Anyone who has been in a combat situation will tell you that no singular strategy is sufficient. Second-, third-, and fourth-order plans are as essential to execution as the initial blueprint. Sometimes that will mean planning ahead and anticipating needs.

It could mean, for instance, shifting operations to protect staff and their families, elevate safety standards, and minimize interruptions to the business, as we did ahead of the U.S. outbreak. Other times, it could mean responding to a crisis as it unfolds (and during high-pressure situations).

As entrepreneurs and business leaders face new stresses and challenges, and as they navigate some of the most difficult decision-making they’ll do during their careers, veterans can offer perspective.

A fact of military service is that — even at an early age — many veterans have already faced some of the most dangerous people in the world in some of the most dangerous places in the world.

They’ve navigated the entire spectrum of human experience and come out better for it. If you need a steady hand, they can offer one.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, veterans can offer a model of resilience. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, resilience is “the ability to withstand, recover, and grow in the face of stressors and changing demands.”

Right now, for the first time, millions of Americans are navigating new terrain, dealing with new stressors, and trying to understand changing demands in a suddenly dangerous world.

It’s not easy, but anything worth doing never is. The result is an enterprise that’s stronger, more agile, and more prepared for future threats than ever before. That’s the standard that veterans set.

Evan Hafer is the founder and CEO of Black Rifle Coffee Company. He served in the United States Army as a Green Beret and then as a contractor with the CIA.

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