Using A Military Mindset To Create Business Start Ups

Alex Hill, right, and Justin Duhe, left, walk through the coconut groves at Coco Rico, Homestead, FL.
Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

As he transitions out of the military this fall, Justin Duhe is going into business for himself. The 28-year-old Army linguist and cyber specialist bought a five acre coconut grove in Homestead, Fla. last year – sight unseen. He knew nothing about coconuts at the time.

“I farmed before in Texas, but it was all vegetable farming, nothing like this,” Duhe said. “But I saw the potential of money, you know, that they were growing fruit and it was an investment.”

Justin Duhe bought his 5 acre coconut farm as an investment as he transitions out of the Army.

But while his new career running Coco Rico Farms will be vastly different from what he did in the Army, Duhe said his military experience will still be an asset.

Noting that he learned Farsi in 47 weeks in the Army, Duhe said he’s not afraid of challenges. And his time in the military has helped him build a business network. He wasn’t in Florida long before crossing paths with a veteran in the food business who was looking for a fresh coconut supplier. The two Army men bonded instantly.

“That’s part of the military mindset,” Duhe said. “You see each other and you pick up your battle buddy and they pick you up and you both have a vision, a goal and you keep on moving forward.”

Duhe and Alex Hill, owner of Florida Coconuts, became “business” battle buddies – not partners, but supplier and vendor.

Alex Hill, Army veteran and owner of Florida Coconuts, met Duhe online while searching for a new supply of fresh Florida coconuts.

Hill, who was in the Army Airborne, sells fresh coconut water to tourists along the beach. He said it’s not the first time he’s done business with other people who’ve been in the military.

“They have a similar work ethic as you and also uphold those similar values that you have. It’s hard to find people that have the same values outside the military,” Hill said.

Green coconuts are the best source for fresh coconut water.

Agencies target “Vetrepreneurs”

About 2.5 million veterans own businesses. According to the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families, veterans own 13 to 15 percent of small businesses, though they’re only eight percent of the population.

Women veterans are driving the trend, according to Misty Stutsman, the director of entrepreneurship and small business at the institute.

“Women veteran entrepreneurship has grown over 300 percent since 2007, which is insane,” Stutsman said. “If you look at these entrepreneurs, not only is the start-ups great, but they’re out earning their civilian counterparts.”

To offer veterans the option of self-employment, the Institute developed several entrepreneurship programs including some that are specifically for women veterans, active-duty, and military spouses.

“Communities are investing in these programs to make sure that the next generation of entrepreneurs is supported,” Stutsman said.

Alex Hill, second from left, accepts his $7,500 second place winnings at the first Veterans Florida “Batttle of the Pitches.”

Veteran-owned startups have attracted the attention of states, universities, and other agencies.

The success record among veteran-owned startups has attracted the attention of states, universities, and other agencies.

The US Small Business Administration Veteran Business Outreach Centers offer a range of resources and training in conjunction with more than 20 partners. There are non-profit organizations like Bunker Labs, created by military veterans for veterans interested in a start-up.

Veterans Florida – a non-profit corporation created by the state of Florida – offers free classes, mentors, and an annual “Battle of the Pitches” where “vetrepreneurs” compete for cash prizes.

Florida Coconuts, Hill’s company, won second prize – $7500 – at the 2018 competition. The first prize was awarded to Axon Motor Company in Clearwater, Fla.

Hill’s prize came at a good time. A drop in the coconut supply and a seasonal dip in tourism hurt his business, so he’s pursuing a new entrepreneurial idea. He is working to design a better coconut opener.

This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Veterans Get Free Training For “New Collar” Jobs

About a dozen veterans took part in the intense week-long training and certification offered for free by IBM. The first session of 2017 was offered in Tampa, FL.

It’s estimated the high tech industry will create more than 200,000 “new collar” jobs in the next three years. To fill those positions, IBM is tapping into a workforce that’s already well trained – veterans.

“We need to get people to hit the ground running and be productive,” said Tampa IBM executive Stuart Bean. “And you just can’t fill them unless you have people who are already disciplined, already trained, mature enough, (and) can hit the ground running.”

Tampa IBM hosted the first veterans session of 2017 followed by a free veterans’ session this week in at Asher College in Las Vegas and April 3 in Pittsburgh, The Tower at PNC Plaza, 300 Fifth Avenue. Additional sessions are available in Philadelphia, Houston and Fort Hood, Texas and several other cities. Continue reading

Artist, Author, Former President Bush Visits MacDill AFB

Former President George W. Bush painting one of 66 portraits he produced for his new book. Photo courtesy of The Bush Center.

Former President George W. Bush painting one of 66 portraits he produced for his new book. Photo courtesy of The Bush Center.

The 43rd president appeared on the Today Show Monday to kick off his book tour and is following that with an appearance at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base in the afternoon with a book signing.

He won’t take questions from media. However, former President George W. Bush will autograph pre-purchased copies of his book at MacDill’s Surf’s Edge Club.

It’s been eight years since Bush has occupied the White House. And among his many pursuits he has picked up brush and started painting.

He has become rather prolific producing 66 portraits of military veterans for his book, Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors. Many of the men and women are wounded physically or with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress. Bush paints their portraits and writes the story of their service.

The book’s title riffs off of the Pulitzer-winning book, Profiles in Courage, written in 1956 by former President John F. Kennedy while he was a U.S. Senator and after his distinguished career as a U.S. Naval officer during World War II. Kennedy’s book features eight profiles of men he felt showed extraordinary political courage.

Proceeds from Bush’s book will be given to his foundation, the George W. Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative, which supports transitioning military members offering help with employment and resources.

Hunger No Stranger To Veteran And Military Families

 Transitioning Army veteran Keith Norman, his wife Lina Norman and two of their four daughters, Shelia Encheva, 12, and Kiara Norman, 3. Bobbie O'Brien WUSF Public Media

Transitioning Army veteran Keith Norman, his wife Lina Norman and two of their four daughters, Shelia Encheva, 12, and Kiara Norman, 3.
Bobbie O’Brien WUSF Public Media

A 2014 survey found that almost 20 percent of the households using the Feeding Tampa Bay food bank were either veterans or active duty military.

The Norman family is a military family recently arrived from Colorado and transitioning into civilian life in Tampa. Never in a million years did the parents imagine that they would need help feeding their children.

“Everything changed from two, three weeks ago – we have a normal life. I worked. He worked. We’d go to the mall,” Lina Norman said. “Now, it’s nothing like this anymore. My little daughter asks ‘Can we go to the mall, can I have a hamburger? No. We always have to say no for everything now.”

Just a few weeks ago, Keith Norman was still in the Army. But after almost 10 years on active-duty and two deployments to Iraq, he wanted to follow his dream to become a law officer.

“We planned a year out. We made arrangements for housing because that would be the main thing we needed,” he said.

 Keith Norman served almost 10 years in the Army including two tours in Iraq before pursuing his dream to become a law officer. Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

Keith Norman served almost 10 years in the Army including two tours in Iraq before pursuing his dream to become a law officer.
Credit Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

They found a house to rent online. Lina said they got photos of the house and assurances from the landlord that it was in a safe neighborhood.

“We sent a security deposit, rent, everything. And we think okay, he has the job interview, we have the house, we’re good,” said Lina, who met and married Keith in Germany about five years ago.

But things weren’t good. They said the house they rented online ended up being in a bad neighborhood, and was infested with roaches and full of trash.

“My kids just get scared,” Lina Norman said. “They say ‘Where are we?’ They never lived in, they never been in situation like this.”

The Normans used up their savings staying in motel rooms while they tried to get a refund and find another house. When their money ran low, they pawned their television, borrowed money from family and then Keith and Lina started skipping meals.

The executive director of Feeding Tampa Bay said about 70 percent of the food they distribute is perishable, vegetables, dairy and frozen foods and supply about 65 percent of the food to soup kitchens and food pantries in a 10 county region.

The executive director of Feeding Tampa Bay said about 70 percent of the food they distribute is perishable, vegetables, dairy and frozen foods and supply about 65 percent of the food to soup kitchens and food pantries in a 10 county region.

“We just buy food for the kids first. They say ‘Mom why you don’t eat?’” Lina Norman said. “They just give us pieces and just say we going to be fine. And we try to don’t lose it completely in front of them.”

The family including the four girls, Shelia, 12; Esli, 9; Jeida, 7; and Kiara, 3 started sleeping in their two cars.

“Basically, we had to stretch our money out,” Keith Norman said. “When we were living in our vehicles, it was a big life changer.”

Both parents were embarrassed and distraught by how quickly their finances disintegrated. And they worried that asking for help might affect their job prospects.

But after sleeping in their cars for about a week, the family got a motel voucher and meals from Metropolitan Ministries and help finding a modest, single-family concrete block home in the Palm River neighborhood.

The three school-aged girls are enrolled in school and Keith said he’s taken his first test in the process of becoming a law officer.

“My daughter (Shelia), she has a birthday on (Nov.) 25th.  She’s going to be 13. We try to save our last money for cake,” Lina said.

But she said they were not planning on celebrating Thanksgiving because they didn’t have a reliable source of food that was until they visited Feeding Tampa Bay.

 Feeding Tampa Bay CEO Thomas Mantz and new employee Marlon Sykes, a 18-year Air Force veteran, stand before a large banner of people's photos, all helped by the food bank. Bobbie O'Brien WUSF Public Media

Feeding Tampa Bay CEO Thomas Mantz and new employee Marlon Sykes, a 18-year Air Force veteran, stand before a large banner of people’s photos, all helped by the food bank.
Bobbie O’Brien WUSF Public Media

“When I hear a story like that, I’m struck by the idea that they’re willing to do whatever is necessary in order to make the life for their children and their family what we would all want it to be. The lengths that they have to go to though are extraordinary,” said Thomas Mantz, Feeding Tampa Bay executive director.

The regional food bank provides an estimated 65 percent of the all food used in the soup kitchens and distributed through food pantries in a 10 county area.

Feeding Tampa Bay did a quadrennial survey that found 19 percent of the households they serve have a veteran or active duty military member.

New employee Marlon Sykes, a  18-year Air Force veteran, was only slightly surprised by that statistic.

“It mostly startles me because I don’t feel like any veteran should be in that category. But it doesn’t surprise me because I’ve seen it,” Sykes said.

What happened to the Norman family is becoming a lot more common.

“It’s particularly awful that veterans who we’ve asked to stand up and guard us and defend us should be hungry. I agree with that 1,000 percent,” Mantz said. “I also believe that no one else should be hungry.”

Feeding Tampa Bay provided the Norman family with a box of food and details on how to find their mobile food pantries.

The loading docks at Feeding Tampa Bay which provides about 65 percent of all the food at soup kitchens, church pantries and other charitable food programs in a 10-county region.

The loading docks at Feeding Tampa Bay which provides about 65 percent of all the food at soup kitchens, church pantries and other charitable food programs in a 10-county region.

Free Screening: Coming Back with Wes Moore

Executive producer Wes Moore.

Executive producer Wes Moore.

What’s it like for combat veterans to be on the battlefield one week and trying to fit back into their local community the next week?

Reintegration is the challenge for many service members who are returning home and entering the civilian world. And it’s the topic of a new PBS series.

Army veteran and executive producer Wes Moore will be in Tampa Wednesday, April 30, 2014, for a screening of his three-part series, “Coming Home with Wes Moore.”

The screening is scheduled at the Tampa Theater and will be followed by a discussion panel with Moore, local Army veteran Taylor Urruela, Bank of America Senior Military Affairs Executive Jeff Cathey, and Tampa Tribune military reporter Howard Altman.

The documentary screening is free and open to the public. Seating is limited and RSVP is requested at

The PBS series premieres on WEDU Channel 3, May 13 at 8 p.m. and later this summer on WUSF Channel 16 in Tampa.


Student Vets Invite All to a Free Screening of “The Welcome”


A photo from The Welcome Home Project, basis for the documentary The Welcome.

All are welcome to a free screening of the documentary film, The Welcome, which tracks veterans and their families through a five-day retreat that transforms the experience of war into “the beauty of poetry.”

Air Force veteran and president of the University of South Florida Student Veterans Association, Kiersten Downs, is extending an open invitation to encourage better understanding between veterans, other college students and staff and the general public.

WHEN: Wednesday, February 27 starting at 2 pm

WHERE: University of South Florida Tampa Campus, the Oval Theater in the Marshall Student Center, 4202 E. Fowler Ave.

The special event will include an introduction by Michael Dakduk, Executive Director of Student Veterans of America, Additionally, the SVA and the USF Office of Veteran Services will be launching the Got Your 6 Campus Success Network prior to the film. There will be free food to follow.


Military Retirement, Veteran Benefitts: Are Changes Coming?

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen visits the memorial commemorating seven CIA agents that were killed in a December 2009 suicide attack at Camp Chapman, Afghanistan, July 31, 2011. DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released)

American Forces Press Service – The military retirement isn’t going to change any time soon, Defense Department officials said.

“There’s no immediate plan to affect retirement,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told service members at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, July 31.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said any changes to military retirement should be studied carefully and should be “grandfathered” so the military doesn’t break faith with those in the service.

Breaking the faith with those currently serving in active duty is a concern. Recently, an Army Major with close to 20 years service shared with me that the retirement benefits were part of why he stayed in. Now he feels their threatened and worries those who have served may become a budget sacrifice.

The budget reduction process in Washington DC has veterans fearing betrayal well.

Veterans for Common Sense and sent a strongly worded joint letter to Congress demanding that veterans’ healthcare and benefits be removed from consideration for budget cuts as part of the recent deficit deal. The organization’s talking points:

1. Veterans want a guarantee from Congress that healthcare and benefits for our troops and veterans are “off the table.”  That means no cuts.

2. Veterans support increased funding for jobs, healthcare, and other benefits for our veterans, as the GI Bill is a proven successful model social program that benefits both our veterans and our entire country.

3. Veterans support increased revenue, especially from the rich, as mentioned by billionaire Warren Buffett, to demonstrate shared responsibility.

4. Veterans support greater oversight of trillions of dollars missing from Department of Defense accounts and the continued military withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan as ways to save Americans’ money.

The Associated Press article on their efforts.

The Mission Continues for Wounded and Disabled War Vets

Eric Greitens in Fallujah. After he returned from Iraq, Greitens founded the nonprofit group, The Mission Continues. He is author of the new book, The Heart and the Fist. Photo courtesy of the author.

After the United States entry into WWI, there was a song that focused on returning veterans. The refrain: “How are you going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?”

A century later there’s a different refrain being repeated by many of the wounded or disabled war veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan: ” .. an unwavering desire to continue serving (their) country, even if (they can) no longer do so in the military.”

That’s a void being filled in part by Eric Greitens, author of  the new book, The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL.

Greitens talked with NPR’s Scott Simon on why the author believes humanitarianism and military missions need each other and that knowledge of local cultures is a key to the effectiveness of any operation.

A former U.S. Navy SEAL who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, Greitens founded a group called The Mission Continues, which works with wounded or disabled war veterans to contribute to their communities at home.

Military Retirement = Going Back to School for Both of Us

Rex Temple and Liisa Hyvarinen Temple, April 22, 2010, the day he returned from a year's deployment in Afghanistan.

When they tell you retiring from the military is a gateway to a whole new life – they mean it. These last few months going through my husband’s separation from the United States Air Force after 28 years of service has at times felt like we moved to a new country and learned a whole new society and a language – and we stayed in the same town where we’ve been since 1996!

I am the first to say we are incredibly blessed to have awesome retirement benefits. But learning to navigate them has been quite interesting. Just getting my husband’s entire medical record transferred from the military to the Veterans Administration has taken months coupled with multiple medical evaluation appointments. Fortunately my husband is currently using his educational benefits and attending graduate school fulltime so we don’t have to worry about taking time off from a civilian job to go to all these appointments. He also transferred 28 months worth of educational benefits to me so I will be able to go back to school and update my skills. That transfer will not only pay for my tuition and help with my books but it will also pay a housing allowance, which will help with our mortgage payment. (The housing allowance varies based on location and is higher if you attend a physical “brick and mortar” school versus take courses just online.)

Being able to access your spouse’s educational benefits is a great benefit for military spouses who may need updated skills to help spruce up a resume that reflects all those mandatory PCS (Permanent Change of Station) moves as they followed their spouse from one duty station to the next. (For more information about transferring education benefits to your dependents, check here: ) Keep in mind also that this fall you can use these benefits to pursue non-college degrees, on the job and apprenticeship training, flight programs and correspondence training.

(More on that here: – be sure to scroll down the page to heading “Effective October 1, 2011)

SMSgt. Rex Temple with his parents, Raymond "Skip" Temple and Maxine Temple, and his wife, Liisa Hyvarinen Temple, during his retirement ceremony, April 6, 2011, at the MacDill Air Force Base Officers' Club.

The hardest part about retirement is of course deciding what you will do now and where you will go. Many retiring military families face the decision about whether to stay in the area where their last duty station is at or moving to someplace else – for example closer to their families. In our case my husband has not been home for Christmas in 26 years and ultimately it would be nice to get closer to his family (my family lives overseas in a very cold climate so that’s not an option).  But mix in the current tight job market and the high unemployment among veterans – and deciding where you will enjoy your retirement is not so simple. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate for veterans who have served since September 2001 was 13.3% in June, up from 12.1% the month before. In June 2010 it was 11.5%.

Another hurdle has been dealing with friends and family. Retirement is a difficult process for anyone who has had an active career – whether it’s a civilian career or one in the military. Making the transition can take an emotional toll especially these days when you may have “survivor’s guilt” for being able to leave the service and your buddies and their families are still facing many more deployments and night and days filled with worry and separation from their loved ones.  Many friends and family are eager to spend time with you and constantly ask what your plans are for the future. When you don’t have an answer, having that conversation gets old quite quickly.

One of the most amazing blessings about retirement has been the ability to spend true quality time together. We recently were separated for 15 months when my husband first trained for a deployment out-of-state and then spent a year in Afghanistan. Although my husband returned from Afghanistan in the end of April 2010, life has not really returned to “normal” until a few weeks ago. Decompressing as a couple after a combat tour takes time and getting used to being together is also a time-consuming process. We have enjoyed gourmet cooking together, going on long walks with our dogs and getting into a routine of working out together at the gym.  Surprisingly this last deployment brought us much closer together as a couple because it was so incredibly demanding on our relationship and it’s been great to build on that strong bond even further. Now we get to go back to school together although we are studying vastly different subjects. But it will be fun to see just who has the higher GPA!

Troops to Energy Jobs Program

The unemployment rate among post-9/11 Veterans is in double digits. Couple that with the statistic that in the next five years 40 percent of the workers in the nation’s energy workforce are set to retire or leave through attrition and you come up with the national program: Troops to Energy Jobs.

The jobs program is managed by the Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) and is designed as an ongoing process of outreach, recruiting, education, and training to create a pathway for military personnel to transition from the service into civilian careers in the energy field.

Steve Dunwoody, a Veteran and Department of Energy employee, recently wrote about the pilot program. The partnership hopes to bridge the Veteran employment gap and increase opportunities for Veterans in the energy sector.

Learn about energy careers, job match-ups and training at Get Into Energy Military.

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