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USA TODAY SPECIAL EDITION

JOBS & EDUCATION COOKING FOR VETS

BLACK RIFLE COFFEE

GRINDING OUT A CAREER

Evan Hafer is the coffee guy. During the Iraq War, the Green Beret would brew coffee for the troops. “The guys would wake up to the sound of this grinder,” he said. “It was cold in the mornings. To have an incredible cup of coffee as the sun kicks over the edge of the Earth galvanized my love for it.” The northern Idahoan thrived on military work, especially in Special Forces. “I got to work with small groups,” he said. “It was like the Peace Corps with guns.” Hafer spent nine years on active service followed by another nine years in the U.S. Department of State and CIA before starting Black Rifle Coffee Company (blackriflecoffee. com) in 2014. Based in Salt Lake City, the online company roasts small batch South American beans on demand and ships around the world. Hafer enjoys employing a diverse mix of employees and more than

half are veterans. “We are eclectic and irreverent,” Hafer said. “Veterans have earned the right to not conform to what society said is normal. Black Rifle is based on the philosophy of ‘You do you.’ We want people to live without judgment. We are not lockstep military. Everybody is different. We have transgendered, openly LGBT employees, and next to them are fire-breathing conservatives driving trucks with rebel flags. Everybody here gets along because everyone thinks, ‘You do you.’” Hafer plans to expand the business. “I want to provide cool jobs for other vets who don’t want to go into corporate culture,” he said. And his commitment to the guys in the trenches hasn’t wavered either. In December, Black Rifle plans to ship 10,000 pounds of coffee to Army post offices across the world. “We try to do everything we can to help them.”

Prior to his medical retirement in 2008 from the Marine Corps, former infantry machine gunner Kyle Gourlie was attached to the Wounded Warrior Battalion-West at Camp Pendleton, rehabbing at the Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas, Calif. While there, he spent considerable time in the kitchen where he realized he had a love — and knack — for cooking for others. He moved back home to Washington state in 2008 and used the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend The Art Institute of Seattle, graduating with a culinary arts management degree in 2013. “I needed to get (an admissions) waiver because my grades were low,” he said, laughing. “Then I graduated with honors.” His Marine Corps background helped him become a careful cook. “I made sure my work was top quality — the way they teach you in the military.” Gourlie and wife Amanda have two young kids, so owning and operating a food truck was more cost-effective than opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant and fit perfectly into their busy lifestyle. The Vet Chef food truck (thevetchefllc.com) began operating in 2016, serving Mexican-inspired dishes. Its menu touts steak and pork tacos, Cubano burritos and carne asada nacho fries. Operating daily, the Vet Chef truck can be found in the greater Seattle area, including the Naval Station Everett on Fridays, when Gourlie serves those who serve: “That’s who we want as a clientele.” One of Gourlie’s goals is to hire more veterans to add to his roster of two — one from the Navy and one from the Army — who work alongside the daughter of a Navy vet. He’d also like to debut more food trucks. Gourlie likes to remind veterans that they have a choice in how to transition to civilian life. “Getting out of the military was hard for me. I was used to people telling me what’s next,” he said. Now he urges veterans to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill to get a degree. “By the time you get out, you’ll understand that you have a choice. Nothing’s harder than the military because you don’t have a say in anything,” he said. “The civilian world is not like that.”

VET CHEF

Profile for STUDIO Gannett

VETERANS AFFAIRS 2017  

VETERANS AFFAIRS 2017