Video: Watch military veterans Jacquelyn Dyer and Stephen King share their experiences in Dog Tag Inc.'s five-month program to help disabled veterans, military spouses and caregivers find new purpose. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)
Story by Linda Dahlstrom, Video by Joshua Trujillo / Starbucks Newsroom
Washington, D.C. – There was something about the way he put his hand on the small of her back when they danced on a December evening when they met in 2006. “It was unlike any connection I’d ever felt before,” remembers Betsy Eves.
At the time, she was a single mom going to college and raising a young daughter. Dave Eves was a soldier in the Army stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash. Within a week, they were inseparable. Within a few months, they were engaged. Knowing her passion for baseball, he proposed to her via the JumboTron at Seattle’s Safeco Field. “Betsy Jimerson, I love you,” the sign flashed. “Will you marry me?”
“Of course I said ‘yes’ immediately! How could I deny the connection we had?,” said Eves. “We were meant to be. It was a hard yes.”
Three days later, on April 7, 2007, he was deployed to Iraq and dropped into a situation so dangerous he called her to say that he didn’t want to wait until he came home to get married. If he died, he wanted to die as her husband. So, on different continents, they were married long-distance by proxy that summer when two attorneys, one representing each of them, stood before a judge. She learned in a phone call later that day that they were legally married.
Dave Eves was deployed a total of three times, twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan. During missions, he saw his fellow soldiers and friends die. He had been at close range to at least 17 IED explosions. At that time, she said, “No one knew what the blasts were doing to people’s brains. If you came back and you had all your limbs, you went back out there.”
The soldier who came home to her in 2014 was a wounded warrior. But she didn’t even know it – not until one day when she needed help changing a lightbulb and called to him in the basement. He slowly climbed the stairs, crying and shaking. He’d been moments away from killing himself, he told her.
A new way forward
As Betsy Eves recounted her story, she sat at a table in the brightly lit lobby of Dog Tag Bakery in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The bakery is a place where different worlds come together. A few feet away, customers lined up to buy cookies, pastries and thick sandwiches made at the bakery. Nearby sat a disabled veteran and his service dog. While culinary delights are what’s sold at the bakery, what’s really being created there is less apparent. Behind the counter, in the kitchen and upstairs in classrooms are service-disabled veterans, military spouses and caregivers, like Eves, looking to find a new purpose in life.
Air Force Veteran Stephen King participates in a discussion at Dog Tag Bakery on Wednesday, April 18, 2018 in Washington D.C. Dog Tag works with service-disabled veterans, military spouses and caregivers participating in a five-month fellowship aimed at helping them find new purpose through professional and personal training. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)
The bakery is part of a Dog Tag Inc.'s five-month transitional training program where fellows spend the morning taking business classes through Georgetown University and afternoons gaining hands-on training experience learning what it’s like to run a small business and practice the craft of being a baker.
“What we do is give them the tools and resources to allow them to move forward,” said Meghan Ogilvie, chief executive officer of Dog Tag Inc., a non-profit founded in 2012 by The Rev. Rick Curry and Constance Milstein.
Starbucks has been a longtime supporter of Dog Tag. In support of National Military Appreciation Month, between May 1 and June 4 or until supplies last, more than 8,000 Starbucks stores across the United States will carry the popular Dog Tag Brownie, a smooth, rich chocolate sweet treat topped by salty potato chip crumples.
“Starbucks has been a proud supporter of Dog Tag over the years because they provide a unique combination of business knowledge and culinary skills that set veterans and military spouses up for success,” said Matt Kress, a Marine veteran who leads Starbucks veterans and military affairs program. Starbucks has hired 15,000 military veterans and spouses since 2013 and has a commitment to hire 25,000 by 2025 to help them succeed in their lives after the military.
Transitioning from the familiarity of military life and away from the support of fellow soldiers, back to a life as a civilian can be fraught, say many veterans and their spouses. Eves said Dog Tag played a critical role in helping her make that adjustment.
After that 2014 day when Eves’ husband almost killed himself, he spent time in and out of hospitals being treated for post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and depression. After a second suicide attempt, he received a permanent change of station to Fort Belvior in Virginia and the Warrior Transition Unit where he received care until he was medically retired in 2016.
As she had been since they met, Eves was at his side through it all. The way she saw it, taking care of her husband was just doing her job. “I couldn’t see myself supporting my soldier through three deployments and not supporting him through the consequences of those deployments,” she said. But as time went on and her husband slowly recovered, she began to wrestle with who she was.
Then she heard about Dog Tag Bakery’s program that included caregivers of service-disabled vets, and she decided to apply. Originally, Eves, who started the blog Java Cupcake to keep herself busy during her husband’s second deployment to Iraq, thought she wanted to start her own small bakery. Once she joined Dog Tag, she realized her true passion was in marketing and building community.
“Dog Tag provides a space to figure out what you want in your life,” she said. “It allowed me to discover who I am as an individual, a leader and as a strong, capable woman. I had never been those things in a professional setting.”
‘The journey doesn’t end’
During the program, she started a consulting business named Be Creative Consulting and, by the time she graduated from the Dog Tag program in the winter of 2016, she had landed a big client. Today, in addition to running her company, she is the president of Dog Tag’s alumni association, a group comprised of 57 graduates who provide support and camaraderie to each other. It also helps form professional connections.
“The journey doesn’t end when you graduate,” said Eves. In the alumni group, Dog Tag veterans look for ways to help each other out. “Someone will say, ‘I’m applying for a job, can you look over my resume? Or someone will say they want to start a job doing government contracts and someone else will say, ‘Hey, I know how to do that.’”
Sixty-four percent of those who’ve graduated from Dog Tag’s fellowship programs are back in the civilian work force, Ogilvie said. Another 17 percent are in school.
Dave Eves is also on a new path. After completing treatment, he began training in IT. Today he’s a financial analyst consulting with the Army. And after years of his wife being there for him, he wants to make sure he’s there for her, supporting her in her new career. “I’m extremely proud of her,” he said. “She’s a real go-getter.”
Last year, the Eves, who never had a real wedding, renewed their vows beside a lake in Alaska. Just as it’s always been since that first night on the dance floor, neither one can imagine life without the other, they say.
“I want people to know it can get better,” said Betsy Eves. “I want them to know it’s possible. Being part of Dog Tag changed my life."
Navy veteran Jacquelyn Dyer and Air Force Veteran Stephen King raise the flag outside Dog Tag Bakery. (Joshua Trujillo, Starbucks)
For more information on this story, contact Linda Dahlstrom