The customer pulled up to Cassie Schumacher’s drive-thru window on a recent afternoon and noticed the designation on the Starbucks barista’s green apron: Navy veteran.
But they were all that were needed to convey that the women had a shared bond and deep understanding. They knew what it was like to serve the country alongside other troops who have a shared goal. And they knew the isolation that can come when you leave the military.
“As she waited for her coffee, we talked about how it’s hard to find friends when you leave the military. In the Navy, it’s kind of built in,” she said. “We were able to make that quick connection just through the drive-thru.”
Schumacher works at a Starbucks Military Family Store in the Miramar area of San Diego. Her store, located near several military bases, serves a number of active duty customers as well as veterans. She tries to connect with each customer, making them feel at home.
That sense of being at home is how she feels when she’s there, she said. Her store partners have become her family. “All my close friends in San Diego have all been made at the store I work at,” she said. They get together regularly for meals and “we call them family dinners and hang out all the time. We try to support each other. There are a lot of military spouses who work in the store.”
In 2013, Starbucks made a commitment to hire 10,000 veterans and military spouses by 2018. Today, the company is announcing it has reached more than double that and has hired 25,000 veterans and military spouses to date. The company also announced a commitment to hire 5,000 more each year going forward.
It's not just about doing the right thing for those who have served their country, but veterans and military spouses also make the company better, 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,” he said. “One of the reasons they identify 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 in 2013, 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 59 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.
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.
Learn more by joining the Starbucks Military Community Facebook group
While having hired 25,000 veterans and military spouses is a huge milestone, behind the number are myriad stories of the men and women who have served the country in countless ways. Here are just a few of them:
Cassie Schumacher: Service in her blood
Schumacher, 25, 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.
Schumacher has transferred several times with Starbucks. After leaving the Navy, she was originally hired in a store in Ohio and transferred to fulfill her dream of attending the University of Tennessee in Knoxville using the GI Bill. Then she transferred to San Diego with her then-wife, a Marine on active duty.
Starbucks offers military spouses, who face three times the national unemployment rate, the ability to transfer within the company. Too often they are put in the difficult position of having to choose between a job or being with their husband or wife, said Virginia Tenpenny, vice president of global social impact at Starbucks.
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, she said.
“The first word that comes to mind when I think of Cassie is thoughtful,” said Joann Richards, Schumacher’s 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.”
Schumacher is currently finishing her degree in accounting at San Diego State University and said she credits Richards with helping encourage her, giving her a flexible schedule so she can work around classes and setting a tone of support for her and the other partners, celebrating milestones like graduations with cake and balloons.
As a veteran, “the biggest thing I feel now is pride,” she said. “(Starbucks) is a great place for veterans to work – especially with military family stores. There’s a feeling it’s a place of camaraderie and being connected.”
Ron Jarvi Jr.: ‘Leading through the lens of humanity'
Ron Jarvi Jr., 36, recalls exactly where he was when he saw the Twin Towers fall. He was attending the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minn., and had just woken when he turned on the TV in his dorm room and saw the gray ash that covered everything, the bent metal bones of the melted towers and images of the ambulance bays that waited, empty, for survivors who never came. “I was just shocked that it could happen to us,” he said. “I kind of remember it like it was yesterday. It made an impact on my patriotism.”
His grandfather had served in the Air Force during the Korean War and his father was a retired Army veteran. Growing up, he was drawn to the military, but figured he’d serve four years and then be done.
But 9/11 changed everything. “I wanted to join something bigger than myself.”
He enlisted in the Army and, in 2009, deployed to the Middle East. Now, 16 years later, he is still serving as a major in the Army National Guard.
Three years ago, he was recruited to become a district manager for Starbucks and now works in Minnesota. He continues to work part time with the National Guard in human resources, often helping connect those in uniform with job opportunities when they leave the military.
As a Starbucks district manager, he says he’s able to do many of the things that he valued in the military to help build community. “Tonight, (my store) is volunteering at an event for homeless youth,” he said. “I still get to do the things I love to do in the military – support people. We lead through the lens of humanity.”
James Porter: Life-changing interactions
James Porter knew he wanted to go to college – he just had no idea how he could pay for it. He grew up in Texas in a in a single-parent family where money was tight; the only person who had gone to college was an aunt who married in to the family. But he studied hard in school and when he was a sophomore, he went to his guidance counselor to ask for ideas on how to get college paid for. The counselor suggested trying for an ROTC scholarship.
Porter applied and received a full scholarship. “I was that guy who just wanted to get my college paid for and that was it,” he said. “I knew I owed (the Army) at least four years after that and I thought I’ll do my four years and that will be it.”
But it wasn’t.
Today, Porter, 48, is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves and is attending the Army War College in Pennsylvania. He’s also a Starbucks district manager, based in St. Louis, Mo.
He joined the company several years ago after meeting a battalion commander at an Army Reserves exercise who also happened to be a Starbucks partner. He told Porter he thought Starbucks could be a good fit for him.
While Porter was deployed to Kuwait in 2015, the partner reached out to him and asked him if he was interested. He was. After he returned, he accepted the position as district manager.
“Starbucks is very respectful of the military and those still serving,” he said. “That experience and knowledge is valued.”
The leadership experiences he’s had in the military have informed how he leads at Starbucks, he said. And it also goes the other way too. He stresses consistency and collaboration among his troops and the Starbucks partners he manages.
He’s also aware of the power of one person to change someone’s life. Just as the guidance counselor all those years ago set him on the course to college and a military career, he watches out for others, seeing where they are and helping them get where they wanted to go.
A few months ago, he was on Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, Calif., and saw a face that seemed vaguely familiar. The man, now a sergeant first class, refreshed his memory. Fifteen years ago, he served under Porter, he said. On the eve of their deployment to Iraq, the soldier suddenly didn’t want to go. Issues at home made him reluctant to leave and he had a host of other concerns. Porter spent an hour with him, calming his fears and helping set him up with programs that could help.
In the end, he not only left with the group when they set out to deploy, but he was still in the military all these years later.
“He told me, ‘That conversation with you changed my life,’” Porter recalled.
For Porter, it was just part of being a leader. At Starbucks, he aims to continue having that kind of positive impact. Recently he worked with a store manager who had been with the company for 20 years and struggled with confidence, he said. He knew that she was an exemplary partner, and also that she was ready for more responsibility.
He encouraged her to transfer to a larger-volume store and challenge herself, but she wasn’t sure she could do it. “I told her I wanted to support her and that she was more than capable of making that move,” he said.
Today, that store is breaking records for service time, he said, and that store manager partner is thriving.
“The leadership experiences I’ve had that I’ve learned from the military have helped me at Starbucks in knowing how to teach and lead,” he said. “I want folks to know how great of a company Starbucks really is to work for.”
Dan Dinsmore: ‘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 hired by Starbucks, 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 year and a half 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 at Camp Pendleton, Calif., just at different times. Now they go cycling 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.”