November 9, 2018 Opportunity

A life of service: Meet some of the 21,000 veterans and military spouses Starbucks has hired

By Linda Dahlstrom / Starbucks Newsroom

Cassie Diederich was at a crossroads. She was newly out of the Navy and needed a job. But, she also didn’t think anyone would hire her since she’d be moving out of state soon with her wife, a Marine who was being assigned a new duty station. Still, she walked into her local Starbucks in to find out what it would take to join the company – and was surprised to be hired by the store manager who offered to train her for three weeks and then help her transfer.

“I knew about Starbucks commitment to hire veterans and spouses, but I didn’t realize how easy it would be to transfer. It’s been easy to move around,” said Diederich, who has now transferred to a third Starbucks, near San Diego, to be with her wife.

Veterans Day 2018

Military spouses are too often put in the difficult position of having to choose between a job or being with their husband or wife. It’s one of the areas where Starbucks is trying to make a difference, said Virginia Tenpenny, vice president of global social impact at Starbucks.

Military spouses face three times the national unemployment rate, she said. When they are hired, they bring a lot to companies because of who they are and their spirit of sacrifice and working for something larger than themselves.

Tenpenny, the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, was instrumental in a commitment Starbucks made in 2013. That year, she and members of Starbucks internal Armed Forces Network went to Howard Schultz, then Starbucks chief executive officer, with an ask. Could Starbucks, they wondered, do something to help reduce the veteran unemployment rate, which was high at the time, and also the unemployment rate of military spouses?

The result was a commitment to hire 10,000 veterans and military spouses by 2018. Today, Starbucks has hired 21,000 – more than double that original commitment. And, noted Tenpenny, the company has a lot of opportunity ahead for deepening its work with veterans and military spouses.

As the hiring ramped up, it became clear that hiring veterans and military spouses wasn’t just about doing the right thing, said Matt Kress, senior manager of Veteran and Military Affairs at Starbucks.

“Veterans and military spouses bring unique experiences and culture – they have an incredible sense of dedication, leadership and service,” Kress said. “One of the reasons they identity with Starbucks is our strong commitment to social impact and making world a better place. It’s a way to continue serving others.”

Kress, himself a veteran who served 22 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including a special operations combat deployment to Iraq, said that transitioning out of the military into civilian life can be challenging for many veterans.

“The military is a very communal place and when you leave the military you are giving up a huge sense of community and a very strong identity and purpose,” Kress said. “We realized with our stores, which are a third place, (we) could help change that.”

At the time of the hiring commitment, Starbucks set a goal of dedicating five Military Family Stores, which are typically near military bases and are heavily staffed by veterans and military spouses. Today there are 50 around the country, with two more being dedicated next week. They are often a hub for both those in the service and veterans. Customized green aprons, which identify Starbucks partners as military spouses or veterans, provide a point of connection with customers.

Diederich, 24, works at a Military Family Store in the Miramar area of San Diego. Her apron denotes that she’s both a Navy veteran and a military spouse, something that often opens the door for conversations, she said. Understanding how isolating it can be to be stationed away from family and friends, she tries to make sure her customers feel supported. On a recent day, when she saw that a regular, who is also a veteran, was going to stay in the store to drink his coffee, she offered to put it in a ceramic mug instead of the usual cup. “You make me feel right at home,” he told her.

In the military, there’s a culture of troop welfare, said Kress, of taking care of people so they can do great things for others. It’s what Starbucks aims to do with its veterans and military spouses. And, in turn, they do that for customers in large and small ways.

“The first word that comes to mind when I think of Cassie is thoughtful,” said Joann Richards, her store manager. Richards has been a Starbucks partner for 18 years, but this is her first Military Family Store. “I felt like a brand-new manager. Cassie was the first one to step in and help me understand what being a veteran and a military spouse felt like.”

Service in her blood

Diederich came from a military family. Service was in her blood. Her dad was in the Army National Guard, one grandfather was in the Army and another was in the Navy. “It was something I’d always wanted to do,” she said. After high school, she joined the Navy and spent the next four years training and working as an avionics technician.

It was also where she met her wife, Madison, who was also serving as an avionics technician. “She’s probably the most compassionate person I’ve met in my entire life,” said Diederich. “She puts others before her and makes sure everyone else is taken care of. The Marines are her life.”

Veterans Day 2018
Madison (left) and Cassie Diederich

As both a veteran and a military spouse, “the biggest thing I feel now is pride,” she said. When she left the Navy, she missed the community and sense of camaraderie. As a military spouse, she also faces the sacrifice of being away from her wife when she is deployed.

She keeps busy working and also going to school to earn a degree in accounting. And her dog, Jax, a 4-year-old Boxer Pointer mix, and her cat, named Seattle, keep her company. But one thing that’s really helped her combat the loneliness are her colleagues, she said.

“They are my family,” she said. “Everyone is always ready to help and make sure you are OK. When the holidays pop up, they’ll invite me if my wife isn’t home. They understand we’re out here on our own.”

‘As long as I have coffee, I can do anything’

At the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle, the company’s headquarters, Dan Dinsmore was standing next to the Military Honor Wall. Thousands of medallions are on it, each bearing the name of a military spouse or veteran, along with their branch of the military. A sign in the midst says, “There are heroes among us,” an ever-present reminder to all who pass by. 

Dinsmore, 43, spent more than two decades in the Marines. From his very first day in the service, when his drill instructor walked into the room of new recruits and barked, “Sit up straight right now!” the military felt like home, he said. “I remember thinking ‘This is exactly where I need to be,’ with that intense accountability and cause-and-effect relationship.”

He spent much of his career with the Marine Corps special operations component. As time went on, he reveled in the opportunity to teach younger Marines, 18- and 19-year-old men and women. Dinsmore, who has framed copies of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution at home, is proud of having defended the right to freedom in America in all its forms. “Freedom of speech, freedom of the press. When I see expressions of that, I’m proud that I defended people’s right to do that,” he said.

During his last years of service, he worked as a Marine recruiter, where he became friends with the manager of a Starbucks near his office. Sometimes, if she’d drive by and the lights would be on late, she’d bring coffee for those still working.

Many of the profound moments in his military career centered around coffee, he said, often Starbucks coffee sent from the United States. He remembers being deployed to the Middle East and making a cup of Starbucks Aged Sumatra in a coffee press on the hood of a Humvee. Another time, after being given increased responsibilities, his Chief Warrant Officer checked in to see if he was too overloaded. “I told him, as long as I have coffee, I can do anything,” he said.

So, when he was considering retiring from the military, he thought his passion for coffee, and Starbucks support for the military, might make the company a good fit.

But the day after he retired from the Marines, he had a beer with a friend who cautioned him that while in the military if someone says they have your back, they absolutely have your back, in the corporate world, that may come with a lot of caveats. He wasn’t sure what to expect in his first job in decades outside the military.

In the 10 months he’s been at Starbucks, he’s found the sense of camaraderie core to the military through the deep friendships he’s built with other veterans at the company. He was surprised to discover that he and Kress actually were in the same special ops unit on Camp Pendleton, Calif., just at different times. Now they go biking together regularly on weekends, and both are active in one of the 16 Starbucks Armed Forces Network chapters around the United States.

Although the company has hired more than twice the number of its original hiring commitment, there’s more work to be done, said Tenpenny. Creating more ways for veterans to connect with each other, such as through the AFN and veteran service organizations that partner with Starbucks is one area the company can continue to improve. Another is to continue to find ways to help bridge the gap between veterans and civilians in a time when fewer than 1 percent of the population choose to serve.

“Our continued work is to help build understanding and connections between those related to the military and those who aren’t,” she said. “Veterans volunteer to serve their country out of patriotism and love of country. That love of country is something we can all learn from, their sacrifices and being motivated and connected to something bigger than you.”

Veterans Day 2018

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