The Veterans Beer Club was founded in April 2016 by three retired Marine Corps veterans: Phil Kendro, Brian Grana and Kevin Cortes. Their plan was to keep in contact with fellow veterans and to bring veteran-friendly civilian workforce members in the community together. They held their initial meeting at Second Chance Brewing Company in Rancho Bernardo in June 2016. The VBC has expanded nationwide with numerous chapters in the United States and thousands of social media followers. We got to speak with Phil and Kevin about their experiences.
What do you do, why do you do it, and how much fun is it?
Phil: The Veterans Beer Club started back in April 2016. Kevin said, “Hey, let’s get together... I want to talk about something. [We] got another guy named Brian Grona, another Marine veteran; we went down to the University Club in San Diego, and said, “Hey were blessed and were cursed in San Diego. We have so many awesome organizations to help out veterans and transitioning service members, but some of them (veterans) just don’t know where to go. How can we help out?"
We had our first meeting at the Second Chance Beer Company in the Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego. From there it just blew up with people saying, “Hey, I wanna learn more. I need help with my transition. What can you do to make this less painful for me?” From finding jobs and networking opportunities, to financial, all of that stuff. There is so much out there that they didn’t know where to go. We finally created a group where we touch every industry in San Diego, and with multiple chapters across the U.S. doing the same thing.
What is the most recent chapter you have started and where is it?
Kevin: It’s funny you say that, because we are an organization that is growing and it’s like, “You’re building a plane as you’re flying it.” For us, it’s taken off to a level with dozens and dozens of chapters that are waiting in the cue to become official once they are vetted in VBC. The most recent one is in Orange County, CA. It is a thriving chapter. We are seeing a super growth of chapters with people who want to be part of this movement.
Phil: Augusta, Georgia, reached out two days ago. Central Oregon has been blossoming recently. I’m here in Denver and get to visit one of our most active chapters, VBC Denver. Kevin had been here before. D.C., Annapolis, Orlando are super active; Colorado Springs. It’s just cool to see the other chapters.
VBC Chapter in Socal. Photo courtesy of Phil Kendro.
It’s open to all branches?
Kevin: That’s true. One big note: this is an organization that took organically because it was never about beer. This organization allows them to be relaxed and what they want in their life after the military. I don’t drink alcohol, which is kind of ironic. It is for any branch, specialty or rank. It is agnostic and is open to anyone who has served. Reservists and Retirees. We’ve launched an opportunity for spouses to build their own community in VBC.
Phil: One of my favorite phrases is, “Brewing Authentic Connections.” BAC works out really well.
What has been the most impactful experience you have had thus far?
Phil: We have three tenets in the organization. One is helping that transition. It is about finding different network groups. We always talk about the crawl, walk and run. We are at the “crawl” stage of that networking to go out there to meet and greet people. We also help out with making sure people know about veteran events and job opportunities.
Two is translating that military service to community service. We try to get them on boards and volunteer organizations. We have a lot of energy as veterans, and we need to use that in the community.
Three is camaraderie. The fact is we need to have some type of bond. It was only months in with VBC San Diego with people coming in from out of San Diego and out of state. Veterans were telling us that, “I’ve got nothing like this in my organization I work for. I just want to hang out.” Many of them just needed to talk with someone. I travel a lot, usually 12 to 13 days a month, and if I can just catch up with everyone in one place, in VBC, to see what’s going on and help somebody else, that is so important.
Kevin: The biggest impact I have seen is that this brings veterans hope after they get out of the service. Me and Phil were on that journey and were both like, “What do we do now?” One of the stats I heard was, “83% of service members do not do the same job when they are in the military as when they get out.” My job in the military was as a helicopter pilot and my first job out of service was in finance, so I was part of that 83%. Many veterans want to seek a community where they can be vulnerable and honest. They can say, “I don’t know what I want to do.” We need to let them know it is okay to say that and for us to help them up along this journey. For us, the real impact is understanding how big community is in everyone’s life, especially the military when they get out.
Phil: What’s been really awesome as well is that a lot of these people from VBC sit in on transition panels. I’m not afraid to say the mistakes I made in my transition. I had a boss who was a mentor who told me five years before I got out that I needed to get on LinkedIn. I needed to get out in the community. I still failed at a few things and so I don’t mind sitting on a panel with some of these veterans. I joke about eating Ramen noodles after you get out for those veterans in the state of California. One of the other things is that we have a lot of VBC members say, “I made this mistake,” or “Here’s what I suggest you do to make it easier for your transition.”
Phoenix VBC chapter. Photo courtesy of veteransbeerclub.com
What plans do you have for the future?
Kevin: The most exciting thing we have going now, which has been a seven-year process, is we are going to be an official 501c organization. There are many reasons for that which is for us to build an infrastructure and want to put some skin in the game with due diligence. We want to cover our service members. We can really get people involved in the recruitment sphere or entrepreneurial sphere. It is probably the biggest news we have. We are currently working with several teams to help build that right now.
Phil: We have also been fortunate because organizations in San Diego and with other chapter locations recognize our worth as the VBC. They see us as the networking organization for transitioning service members, veterans and spouses. There are different veteran groups in San Diego…groups like the San Diego Military Advisory Council have no reason to do an event, they send people over to the VBC. Local universities and alumni associations come to VBC as well.
Everyone has recognized the worth of VBC. It’s awesome that they want to partner and collaborate. We have seen on our Facebook and LinkedIn pages where a veteran has applied for a job at a certain company and asks for help, and within 60 seconds someone has replied with, “I know the hiring manager at that company. Tell them you know me.” Or, “I need a veteran-owned food truck. Does anybody have one for a party I’m throwing?” Then you see a response with a veteran-owned food truck in their area. We have seen a quick response to requests for help.
What are your social media handles?
Do you guys have any saved rounds?
Kevin: One thing to add is that we do have a national presence. Nationalvbc@gmail.com gets you to the leadership. Then we have our site: https://www.theveteransbeerclub.com/ LinkedIn is probably the most important link. People will likely get employed through those connections. The job I have now is because of a VBC member. We have a volume of people who want in, it may take a few weeks to get back to them, but we will respond.