Hard-earned bond: Military spouses find family at Clarksville, Tenn., store

By Linda Dahlstrom / Starbucks Newsroom

Katie Scragg scanned the faces until she could find him amidst the matching uniforms and haircuts. Her husband was coming home.

On that hot summer day in July, she counted the returning soldiers as they dismounted the bus until she saw him, 10th off the bus, the man she had loved since college. Her heart raced as they filed into a line, standing at attention, looking proud and worn out. She tried to catch his eye, but at that moment he was focused on following orders. He was still Sgt. Andy Scragg.

After more ceremony that seemed to take an eternity, he was finally all hers again. When they dashed into each other’s arms, all was right with the world again. “It’s like everything is OK now,” she said. “It’s all OK.”

From the time she met him seven years ago, Katie Scragg knew she’d found “everything I could have ever wanted. The first time he kissed me it was like in the movies. There were fireworks,” she said. “Of all the people in the world, he’s perfect and the one thing I always want.”

But in equal measure to that deep love and the joyous reunions is the searing pain of separation. The couple, married now for four years, have been through two deployments; the most recent one ended this summer.

Scragg remembers that after she said goodbye to her husband when he deployed the first time to the Middle East, she went home and “banshee wailed from the bottom of my soul. I just thought, what am I going to do for this many months without him?”

For Scragg, who was stationed with her husband at Fort Campbell, an Army base on the line between Tennessee and Kentucky, solace, understanding and a new family came from a surprising place: the Starbucks where she works as a barista.

“We’re like a family, for better or worse,” she said of the Clarksville, Tenn., store. “I’m from Wyoming. I’m a long way from home and knowing that I can have a place to go and just talk to someone and see a friendly face, even if it’s a day I’m not working, means a lot.”

Partners at the store, which employs six military spouses and four veterans, understand each other in a deep way. Last Valentine’s Day, with their husbands both deployed, Scragg and a coworker marked the holiday together with a girls’ night. And when Scragg was competing in her district’s barista championship, every single person from her store who wasn’t working showed up to support her, carrying signs and flowers. (She won.)

“It’s so nice knowing I have a support system, even though my biggest support is away,” she said. “I can call on them to be there and support me and make me feel loved.”

With Veteran’s Day a week away, it’s important to think of not only those who serve, but their loved ones as well. When a solider is deployed, it’s the entire family who serves, notes Kathy Roth-Douquet, chief executive officer of Blue Star Families, a non-profit that provides support to more than 1.5 million military families a year. Those left behind need support too.

At the Clarksville store, as well as other Starbucks stores around the country, one visible reminder of support for those who are deployed and those who love them comes in the form of R.E.D. shirts, part of a campaign to Remember Everyone Deployed. Partners at the Clarksville store started wearing them on Fridays this summer and are still going strong.

“The feedback from customers has been awesome,” said Scragg. “Sometimes just being recognized is all that matters and I think that R.E.D. Fridays really reflect that.”

‘We feel like we belong together’

The Clarksville store is a designated Starbucks Military Family Store, which are staffed primarily by veterans and military spouses, in line with the company’s commitment to hire 25,000 by 2025. (More than 12,000 have been hired since 2013. Currently Starbucks has 34 Military Family Stores.) Since it’s located only 4 miles away from the Fort Campbell Army base, many of its customers are also military. Scragg said when her husband is deployed, many of her regular customers check in with her to see how she’s doing. And, as always, she has her co-workers for support.

That atmosphere has been cultivated by the managers of the store – first Shannon Feltz, who was recently promoted to district manager, and now Allie Fiorino. Both are military spouses.

Fiorino’s husband has been deployed twice. Feltz’s husband, Eric, has been deployed six times. At one point, three partners at the store all had spouses deployed.

“The store has a strong sense of community. We feel like we belong together. We understand what others are going through,” said Feltz, whose husband is now retired from the Army. “If someone’s having a bad day, we can talk to each other or if they are afraid of things they heard on the news, we can console each other.”

The store is a “very special place,” adds Fiorino. Her husband is now in the reserves, but she’ll always remember what it was like to have him away from home for those long months. They have an 8-year-old daughter, Chloe, and Fiorino said she struggled to find a new routine when her husband was in Iraq.

And, she worked to keep creeping fear at bay when there were stretches when he couldn’t contact her. “It’s hard not really knowing what he’s going through or being able to support him.”

Scragg said she wrestled with isolation during her husband’s deployments. “It’s a lot of me sitting around talking to my cats,” she said. That’s where her colleagues come in, getting her out of the house, checking up on her and just being there.

“If I have any worries or I’m feeling lonely, I can call them up and hang out with them,” she said, adding that she can say things to her partners that she doesn’t want to burden her husband with during deployments. “Sometimes I didn’t want to tell him how much I miss him because I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t getting along OK here.”

Scragg said Fiorino, Feltz and other partners have helped her understand, through their own hard-earned knowledge, that she is strong and during the times her husband is deployed, her team is there to back her up.

“I’m so proud to be a military spouse,” she said. “And it’s so nice to know you aren’t alone.”

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