Military experience plays into the role as a small business owner, Weld County veterans say | MyWindsorNow.com

Military experience plays into the role as a small business owner, Weld County veterans say

Katarina Velazquez
kvelazquez@greeleytribune.com

Brothers Mike and Darin Echelberger both served in the U.S. Navy around the same time for about six years.

It was during the Desert Storm era, and Mike was in electronic warfare while Darin was an in-flight electronics engineer. Mike did two tours to the Gulf on his ship, and Darin was on an aircrew deployed out of Italy.

The two now make beer and own a veteran-themed brewery in Johnstown, Veteran Brothers Brewing Co., 21 N. Parish Ave., which opened earlier this year on Memorial Day weekend. While their duties require a completely different skill-set than what was required of them during their military service, Mike said, the discipline and strong work ethic that his father originally taught him, which was reinforced in the military, has helped build a solid foundation for their business venture.

Several veterans who own small businesses in the Weld County area agreed. The skills and values taught in any U.S. military branch transform easily into skills needed to run a business.

"The leadership attributes that you learn when you become an officer in military … the experience that you get is invaluable when translating to a work ethic," said Eric Croft, owner of Windsor Armory, 1525 Main St., Suite B2, in Windsor.

Croft, 33, served in the U.S. Army as a sniper for eight years — seven active and one in reserve. He was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. His expertise and passion for firearms led him to open his gun store in April, after three years teaching firearms, group tactics and long-gun classes under the name Croft Tactical.

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Croft said he knew in his early 20s that he eventually wanted to be his own boss, after several years of working for other people. He said being in the military instilled a drive in him to succeed, which was essential when it came to starting a business. Croft said there's also a sense of unity, in that he supports other veteran-owned businesses as much as he can, hopefully contributing and helping them with their own successes.

There's about one veteran-owned business for every 10 veterans, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

According to this year's Allstate and USA Today Small Business Barometer, small business owners who are veterans are typically more optimistic about the state of small businesses than the average owner. About 70 percent of veteran-owned businesses say they're doing well and 64 percent of veterans' businesses have experienced recent growth, the report stated.

Rock Jennison, 50, a Greeley real estate agent working with Sears Real Estate, spent 22 years of his life in the U.S. Army, originally as a mechanic. He had several other roles as well, such as a liaison officer and drill sergeant. Jennison retired as a sergeant first class in 2009, with a variety of skills that were applicable to several business ventures he pursued after his time in the military, including his current role as a real estate agent.

His versatility to perform a variety of roles in the Army, he said, has helped him flourish in anything he sets his mind to professionally. Also, his military service taught him to trust other people — for example, employees or team members he works with.

"I'm never going to ask somebody to do something that I wouldn't do myself — that was like being on the ground with the troops," Jennison said. "I may call it 'my' business, but everyone else contributes … I'm never a success on my own."

Ian Trujillo, 37, owner of Windsor startup Altitude Electrical Solutions, served in the U.S. Army from 1998-2002 as an electrician, enlisting when he was 17 years old. Obviously, that's where he got the education for his upcoming business, but he said he learned more from the military than just his formal education.

It taught him camaraderie — to take care of the people around him. That's relevant as a business owner with multiple employees, he said. Trujillo also learned to never give up, which is essential when tackling the sometimes daunting goal of opening a business, he said.

And, reiterating Croft, it taught him to lead — to be a mentor.

"The military makes you who you are to this day," Trujillo said. "I've been out for 15 years or so, but it's definitely made me who I am."

The Echelberger brothers make sure to honor current and former military members as often as they can through their business, Mike said, because they know the weight and importance those men and women carry. This holiday season, the brothers are encouraging the community to bring in wallet-sized photos of veterans or active military members to frame and hang on a Christmas tree in their brewery.

"We are hugely supportive of vets," Echelberger said. "We want to pay it forward any way we can."

Hire a Veteran First Month

Gov. John Hickenlooper declared November as Hire A Veteran First Month, which serves as a time to honor local veterans and make sure they’re returning home to job opportunities, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s “Hire a Colorado Vet” website provides vets with employment and training information and provides employers with information on the benefits of hiring those who have served in the military. Veterans can also learn about hiring events and resource fairs on the website.

For more information, go to hireacoloradovet.gov.

Veterans Day program

Weld County Veteran’s Committee will hold its annual Veterans Day program 11 a.m. Saturday at the Veteran’s Memorial in Greeley’s Bittersweet Park, 35th Avenue and 16th Street.