On this Bring It In podcast episode, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci sat down with Tony Stewart, veteran and founder of Us4Warriors, a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of the troops, veterans, and their families.
On this episode of Bring It In season two, Tony sat down with Sam and discussed the skillsets veterans retain, putting your people first, and how to make effective training programs.
Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.
Below are some of the insights Tony shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.
Sam: Tony, let’s kick it off. Maybe give us a little background on yourself and Us4Warriors.
Tony: So a little bit about myself, I did some time in the Navy, I grew up in Kansas looking for something to do with my life out there and the exact center of the United States. You can’t get any more Midwest than me is what many people say. But I was looking for something to do and I wound up going into the Navy. And after I got into the Navy I found out, Hey, there’s those things under the water called submarines? I had no idea. In Kansas, there’s not a lot of ocean, so you don’t really know too much about it.
I jumped in and wound up being in submarines, stuck with it for 20 years. Been all over the place a lot, really high operational tempo. So I spent a lot of time at sea during my time. And then when I got done, I didn’t know what I wanted to do afterwards. The way that the military is, it’s sometimes a challenge to transition outside of the military, because when you give 150% and you’re in a cocoon of operations going on consistently, it’s hard to know what you’re going to do next. And for me, it was almost like, all right, the submarine pulls in and I depart, you know, and now what am I going to do?
So after that, I was very fortunate. I worked for the VA for a small bit, but the Navy called me back to work with the Navy seals as a director of administration for the command that trains and makes Navy seals. So they were going through a transition over there and making new commands because the demand back in those days, really ramped up after 9/11 and everything the desire to make more seals and have more classes and everything ramped up.
So they broke off the commands and I was hired to start one of the commands. So I was there for 13 years. It was an amazing time but I just retired in January. Now let’s take a step back while I was doing that, I started the Us4Warriors Foundation. Previously I’d been with the American Legion, I still am a member of many veterans service organizations, a proud member. And from my travels, I saw that there were some things I could do. So it started a Us4Warriors foundation with two other folks, and have been going nonstop ever since, but up until I transitioned from the Navy I was evenings, weekends, and holidays for seven years trying to make the programs create them and make everything operate and run. We’ve been very successful, but now we’re changing things. So that brings us a kind of, sort of snapshot view of the present day where.
Sam: Running a non-profits is tough, huh?
Tony: Oh, it is. Where’s the money come from? I can’t really sell anything and I wouldn’t really want to, because the passion is here to help others. Right. So that’s probably the biggest challenge, is, how do you do it? We had volunteers for seven years and that’s all we operated on. So a lot of that extra leadership that it takes to motivate and inspire people to want to do things and to keep the mission going, and that funding is always an issue.
Sam: Can you talk to me a little bit about the programs and services that Us4Warriors delivers?
Tony: You bet. So we operate everything. I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek, and I know you probably heard of Simon, obviously. When we started the foundation, I got the first board together and Start With The Why was the video that I had everybody watch. And since that time, when I was working with the seals, Simon Sinek, ee had them out there.
So talking to the CEO’s and everything, it was a great experience. But the programs developed from our why, which is simply everything we do supports the troops, veterans, and their families. And when we do it that way, we sparked forward and figured, well, how can we best serve? So I thought about it and came up with a three latter approach.
We helped them live. Cause that’s the first thing you gotta do. We helped them live for a stronger life. Now that brings many things. But our biggest thing is Food4Warriors. Food4Warriors has become a large program that has helped out thousands especially during the pandemic. We became an essential piece of support for many.
So you’ve got Food4Warriors. And from there we had Wheelchairs4Warriors, all these different things, community service projects our warriors volunteer for, which has had about 4,500 people over the course of its life who have volunteered to support. So you got your help and you’re helping them live.
The next one is, well you helped them live, that’s a temporary solution for things that may be blocking them from pursuing anything after and we help them prosper. That’s the next thing; prosper for a brighter future. And by doing the prosper aim group, we come up with things like Work4Warriors, which is how we came about with Work4Warriors, we’re helping folks get employment and helping them brand themselves, learn a little bit about themselves and they know a little bit more about who they are and what pursuits that they can do and the things that can happen.
Now, once those happen, the next tier doesn’t really materialize for everybody. But we asked a question, all right. We’ve helped you live. We’ve helped you prosper. You’re doing well. Now, are there any dreams you have?
We helped them aspire. Once they’re self-reliant we help them aspire to reach their dreams. And we do that from different aspects, depending on the person. Our first ones were wounded warriors that simply wanted to be athletes and wanted to go to the Paralympics and go to some of the different games and stuff like that they could pursue.
A few of them made it into Time Magazine as wounded warrior athletes. And it was because of the collaborative effort of us and others that work together to help them achieve their goal. We sent him to Hawaii, got him an Olympic training coach. They were able to put them there for weeks so they could learn how to be the best sharpshooters that they can be at the Olympic level.
And there’s been many others. We have Art4Warriors that help our artists. We have Books4Warriors that we take our talented New York Times best selling authors, and we pair them up and have panels and teach people. Some have done their own books and they’re out there in the market and all that kind of stuff.
So it’s a three tier process and we always adapt and come up with other ways to fill in the gaps that others may not be doing.
Sam: You brought up Simon Sinek. So I have to ask you, why are you doing this?
Tony: So for me, I want to make things better for others. I want it. I really am passionate about smoothing out the world for the people that may have seen the challenges that maybe I’ve seen some, and it wasn’t as smooth for me. And I want to make it a little bit better or smooth it out for people that I have interacted with that have had severe challenges. There’s a lot of things that can be done to make the world a better place.
And whether it’s working for veterans or it’s working for other things out there, passion to do that is a really driving, motivating factor that pushes people to do things. It’s like yourself and the things that you’ve done. But for me, it’s always been making the world a better place, as lofty a goal as it seems. If I don’t try, then my part or piece of pie is never gonna happen.
Sam: On that smoothing out point. You know, just over the last bunch of months, there’s been a labor shortage that’s being talked about a lot in the news and certain businesses are having challenges trying to find folks. I’m interested, the labor shortage, great resignation topics, how do you process that as you think about the impact on veterans?
Tony: So I tell you it’s really tough. I say that the ones that have been doing it for a long period of time have been in the workforce and they may not be as hungry as they were when it was the military to civilian transition. But I can tell you that those that are in the military seeking their next challenge or the next mission, they are hungry. And I know that they’re looking to get into the workforce and all that that entails. And there’s many of them.
And the thing with the great resignation is it’s a challenge, but I think that every company has just got to face it and take a look at it. And how do we make things better for people to come back? And it can be making the environment better, there’s a lot of companies out there that people don’t want to leave. They don’t want to leave because they enjoy working there. They’ve got good leadership. They are becoming better as people and becoming better in their industry or better in their technology that they’re using and they’re not jumping out, but there’s a lot of other things that can be involved too.
During the pandemic, you got burnout. That’s really the next big thing is burnout. And some of that may have come and created some of that aspect of the great resignation. There’s a lot of people dealing with mental illness, and it may not be debilitating mental illness, but it may be enough to cause burnout.
And when you have burnout, you’re not effective and you need to remove yourself, or the thought is to remove yourself, to get right. And to get back in when the time is right. And I think that there’s an element to that. And that’s partially how I process this, is how do we make it better and more inviting for them?
Sam: The point you mentioned on seeking their next mission, just hit home. And it makes me think about so many businesses. It’s easy to go on social media and post an American flag on Veteran’s day or the fourth. It’s a totally different thing to actually proactively seek out, hiring veterans into your workforce and making your interview process more purposeful and accommodating to try to seek out folks.
Let’s say I’m an HR director. Could you sell me on why we should proactively seek out veterans as a part of our future workforce?
Tony: Let me start that by one sentence. If you look at it from the aspect of trying to find great talent, a veteran can be your biggest asset. If you do it right. A veteran comes equipped with flexibility, comes equipped with adaptability. There is a certain element of resilience that they already are part of because they lived their life and their military time fixing complex situations that others may not even realize or combating things of adversaries that are in front of them, that they’ll never encounter when they’re in their workplace.
So if you can harness all of that and realize some of the talent that they already possess, and the hunger to learn more. I mean, no veteran that I know of, doesn’t realize that this is a new industrial revolution that we’re in right now. If you’re out there fighting missions in the military and doing all the things there, you’re working on your inner self and you do have technology that you’ve learned and all that type of stuff. But the industrial revolution is going to have innovations that maybe didn’t transpire or didn’t make the security level of the military, et cetera.
But that is the new horizon. And when you get somebody that’s a veteran that is flexible enough, adaptable enough, and technically savvy enough to pursue those new horizons, why not? Reach out for them. And it’s all about trust, that’s the biggest thing about it. Once you gain trust, you are going to find that you have the best employees that you could ever have.
And oh, by the way, the government gives you tax credits. So that’s not the big selling point, but it’s a caveat because some people don’t even realize that. If you’re an HR person, maybe you want to look into it.
Sam: You mentioned when we started the conversation about your background and it is super interesting, your work with the Seals and specifically your work around training programs. As you mentioned, veterans come equipped. What are the keys that you have observed to building an effective training program? I’d imagine Navy Seals are pretty well-trained, it’s just a hunch. So I’m assuming you have some perspective on what are a few hints for folks on what’s made the most effective training programs in your opinion.
Tony: So you start with your best asset and your best asset is the person, the people that you have, and the fact that they are, you have to look at the whole. A lot of times, training comes out as cookie cutter. You put it out there, you’re checking the block, you got this information out there. It’s kind of a push, here’s the information. And it takes a long time to digest all that. There’s not a lot of retention. There’s not a lot of that stuff now.
Going back over and over things obviously is the best way to absorb them and realizing everybody learns differently, but you have to focus on the person. You have to focus on how they take in information and how the information is going to be kept for them for a long period of time. Because if you’ve got something that’s key that you need them to know, you can force it at them, but we find that that does not work. You’re going to wind up having to be in a position to force it day after day.
But if you get them to the point where they own the information, it’s theirs, it’s become part of them. They absorb it, move forward and move on to the next lesson or the next element of training. And I think that that’s really key. Seals, they do it totally differently as far as the rest of the world. High pressure stuff. But at the end of the day, they got books stuff too. And they have a lot of ways that they help people absorb information and they care because they really have to count on people for their lives.
Sam: I would imagine that Navy Seals create that pressure environment on purpose. And again, it makes me wonder about, as veterans that are transitioning into a workforce environment where they may have been again in countless situations that are high pressure, that’s a valuable skill set to lean into for many jobs in our workforce.
Tony: I agree with that. I mean, I can take it from my perspective. So 20 years of the submarine life, 20 years of submarine life going out to sea, our days consistent in my time, our days consisted of waking up in the morning to a fire, next flooding, next, maybe another type of casualty out there. there’s many to choose from. Some days they may be real and most of the time they’re not, but you don’t know, and you don’t really care because you have actions that you need to transpire in order to make sure that you’re taking care of each other.
Now those are high stressful, complicated moments in time for you, but it’s each and every day. And when you have that, similar to the Seals in that regard, you’re getting those things all the time. So if you get hit with a deadline out there in the workforce that you may not be able to meet, well, at least you’re not having somebody shooting at you. And at least you’re not going too far in the depths of the ocean. At least you’re not having all those different things happen.
So there’s a sense of, okay, we can handle that, which allows us as military folks to take it down a notch, see it for what it is and provide the best paths forward in a complex situation.
Sam: I had to ask you one question, Eddie Jimenez, who, you know, our 1Huddle head of partnerships, told me, I got to ask you about what you’re doing with Bitcoin. He says, you can’t have a tech conversation without asking what Tony’s doing with Bitcoin.
Tony: Okay. All right. So during the pandemic, I hate to say it, but during the pandemic, we were struggling so bad because of finances, because of the fact that they’re just, we got great programs. I mean, we’ve helped over 35,000 people. We know what we’re doing, but when it comes to a small group of people trying to go out and get money, it makes it tough.
And I did some research, came up with the fact that we’ve entered the realm now, where you can do Bitcoin fundraising. So I created Crypto4Warriors. So when I created Crypto4Warriors, now we have Stocks4Warriors too, but when I created Crypto4Warriors they saved us. The crypto community saved us.
They basically the giving block is the guys that we use out of DC. Fantastic guys, and they set us up with a portal. They took care of all the aspects of we get the crypto. It becomes dollars. Then it goes into our pipelines and we help feed and help employ people and put roofs on people’s heads.
Do all these different things that we try to do. But the reason why he’s saying that is because we took something that was unknown, not many were doing it, and we said, let’s go all aboard and let’s do this. And from there that community has really supported us. And now look at the community as a whole. It’s just a part of life now.
We hope that Stocks4Warriors help us as well. We’re still small in some regards, we’re not the big fish out there, but when it comes to the people we’ve supported, our numbers make us somewhat larger than we look.
Sam: That’s great. Last question for you, Tony. We’re talking about the future of work. Oftentimes it’s all about robots and automation and the latest AI that’s replacing someone. So I want to ask you Tony, what’s your hope for the future of work?
Tony: So my hope for the future of work is that we continue to advance in innovation. We really need to immerse and understand all of those aspects so that we still steer everything. And the intent of all is to make our jobs easier. Right? It’s one thing to be stuck in a rut, and we’ve always punched a clock and done this one thing forever in a day. Are we truly advancing in those aspects?
I think as leaders we have to look at all of that, but we also have to remember that our assets are our people and it goes back to the same thing. Innovation for the sake of innovation sometimes is not the best push forward, but innovation to alleviate tedious tasks, things that become roadblocks for our employees or things that could help them advance in the industry or their technology or knowledge, I think those are just exciting things. There are so many things that are out there in machine learning and artificial intelligence that are great things.
Now here’s the thing about veterans, veterans are all over this, because it’s already part of the makeup of the military. Military looks at these things in order to advance the military front. So now you’ve got military people who look at these types of things too. And if they don’t, while they’re in, if they’re doing mechanical things or other aspects, they will quickly adapt because the fact that if it’s part of their mission, they’re gonna want to do it. And they’re going to want to excel at it because that’s what veterans do.
Sam: Tony. Thanks for your time.
Tony: You bet. Great talking to you.
Topics Discussed: Unemployment, Future of Work, Labor Shortage, The Great Resignation, Veterans, Military, Cryptocurrency, Training
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