Honoring Our Heroes:
Three Coastal Virginia Businesses Paying Tribute to Veterans
Every year on November 11, Americans pause to reflect on the bravery and heroism of the men and women who have defended our country’s freedom. Veterans Day, originally known as Armistice Day in honor of the truce with Germany that essentially ended World War I, was recognized for the first time in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson. Almost 20 years later, in May of 1938, it was designated a federal holiday. Raymond Weeks, a World War II veteran, began celebrating all who had served, not just soldiers from World War I, and he encouraged the government to formally recognize all former members of the military. That is why, in 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower officially renamed the holiday Veterans Day.
Most of us are familiar with the Veterans Day Ceremony held each year at Arlington National Cemetery. The solemn ceremony begins promptly at 11 a.m. with a wreath placed at the Tomb of the Unknowns and continues with a parade of colors put on by veterans’ groups, as well as speeches from some of the country’s top officials. The event is an annual celebration of those who have served in the armed forces, whose patriotism inspired them to sacrifice their personal comforts and safety to protect the lives of their fellow citizens.
Here in Coastal Virginia, we are especially proud of our veterans. With the world’s largest naval base, Naval Station Norfolk, right here in our backyard, we have a deep appreciation for the sacrifices that military men and women—and their families—make every single day. In our region, we never lose sight of the fact that the veterans we celebrate each November are our family members, coworkers, neighbors and friends. The military has always been an integral part of Coastal Virginia’s identity, and we are proud to have so many veterans call the area home.
We’re also proud of the many veteran-owned and -operated businesses here in Coastal Virginia. We’ve selected three local businesses that are known for either being started by veteran or showing that they care for veterans by recruiting them to work, creating a culture that suits their needs and finding ways to give back to veterans in need. The businesses vary greatly in size, type and overall mission, but in each, we’ve found a passion to serve our Coastal Virginia community while making a difference in the lives of those who’ve served our country.
– Jamie McAllister
Young Veterans Brewing Company
After Serving Their Country, These Young Veterans Are Serving Beer—And Paying Tribute To Other Veterans In The Process
By Angela Blue
“Veterancy is not a brand,” says Neil McCanon. “It’s something that you earn.” He earned his veteran title after serving three years in the Army with the 1st Infantry Division and completing a tour in Iraq. He then re-enlisted as a drill sergeant in the Army Reserves for an additional seven years.
At just 32 years old, McCanon doesn’t look like what you might imagine when you hear the word veteran. Neither does his best friend, Thomas Wilder, who served four years in the Army National Guard as a combat engineer/equipment operator and completed a 14-month tour in Iraq.
Because of their military background, their young ages and their passion for brewing beer, it seemed only natural to open a brewery in Virginia Beach with the name Young Veterans Brewing Company (YVBC). “When we came up with the name Young Veterans, we thought it was cool because it’s an oxymoron to be young and a veteran,” Wilder explains.
They opened in 2013 as the first in Coastal Virginia to have a military theme. Their website and the brewery’s interior is decked out in World War II and Vietnam-era propaganda, giving a nod to the vintage veteran time period.
Even their beer names and labels are well thought out to reflect the nature of the theme. Their Jet Noise Double IPA is an obvious one. But others may not be so well-known to those without a military background, like the Jody Beer Amber Ale, named for Jody, “the hypothetical person at home with your significant other while you’re deployed,” McCanon explains. Or the Beach Stormer Black Rye Ale, with a label that proclaims “Hints of Flash” and “Notes of Thunder”—named for the countersign “flash” and “thunder.” “When American forces are in the field, you’ll have a call and response that changes by operation or even by day,” McCanon describes. “One person will call out, ‘Flash!’ and the other person responds, ‘Thunder!’ That’s how you know it’s friendly over there.”
“In branding, when we do our labels and names, we cover it from a lot of different angles; we don’t just say, ‘That sounds cool,” Wilder notes. “One of the things we really wanted to do was, in some ways, pay homage to our history.”
They have also found several ways to pay tribute to local veterans.
In 2014 YVBC partnered with the Hampton Roads Military Relocation Team to start a movement called Vet Noise, aimed at creating opportunities and acting as a voice for veteran charities and causes. The brewery hosts monthly events for veterans and supporters to come together and enjoy offerings from local food trucks, play corn hole and other games, listen to local musicians and—of course—drink beer. YVBC then donates a portion of their proceeds to veteran nonprofit organizations.
The brewery also started the Buy A Veteran A Beer program (BAVAB for short). On the 11 days leading to Nov. 11, they ask their customers if they would like to purchase a veteran a beer for Veterans Day. “Nine times out of 10 the answer is yes,” Wilder says. On Veterans Day they have a huge stock of pre-paid pints so that veterans can come in and drink without having to pay since their beers were already paid for. “We usually limit it to two beers per veteran, so that way everybody gets a chance,” Wilder says.
The brewery has recently doubled its size, with a much larger tasting room, more barrels to increase production and double the tap lines. But their mission to honor veterans remains the same. “People that know me have said they’ve only seem me passionate about two things really: the military and this,” McCanon says as he gazes around the expanded brewery. “The military is an important part of our life, and we want to keep it a part of our life.”
ITA International, LLC
Supporting The Men And Women Working To Protect America’s Freedom Is The Essential Mission Of This Yorktown Company
By Jamie McAllister
All of his life, Mike Melo had two career goals: to serve in the military and own his own business. He accomplished the first goal when he spent 23 years in the Navy, retiring in 2002 as a surface warfare officer. His second dream became reality in 2005, when he and his wife, Kathy, started ITA International, LLC, a company that provides support services to government and private-sector clients. The company is headquartered in Yorktown.
Melo grew up in a military family. His father served 25 years in the Air Force, as well as two years in the Marine Corps. When he retired, he brought his family back to Coastal Virginia. “That’s the great thing about this area,” Melo says. “So many people come in and out of the region. They go away, and they come back. Many times, they end up staying and calling this area home.”
After retiring from the Navy, Melo went to work at Old Dominion University for a U.S. Department of Defense program called Troops to Teachers, recruiting veterans to teach in public schools. Before ITA, he started two other businesses that, in his own words, “failed miserably.”
Melo knocked on doors for two years before landing the first contract for ITA. The company started out offering analysis, then moved into planning, training and tech support. “As our business grew we kept adding skillsets and increasing the services we offered,” Melo explains. Eleven years later, more than half of the company’s contracts are with the Navy. They also work with the Air Force and National Guard Bureau.
ITA is an acronym that stands for “In the Arena.” The company’s name serves as a constant reminder to Melo and his employees that they are supporting the men and women working every day to protect America’s freedoms. “About 75% of our employees are veterans, which means they have all been in the arena at some point,” Melo points out. “They have been out there and have lived through what our clients are dealing with every day.”
When Melo wakes up in the morning, his first thoughts are about his employees. “I take human resources very seriously,” he says. “We have to find the right people to solve our clients’ problems, and veterans are an ideal solution.” ITA is certified by Virginia Values Veterans (V3), which is a Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Veterans Services Program that assists employers with the resources they need to recruit, hire and retain veterans.
“Veterans are all highly trained in a variety of occupations,” Melo explains. “They are also flexible and are used to adapting quickly to changing situations. That means our teams are still able to move forward even if circumstances change.”
Since January of 2013, ITA has hired 166 veterans as a result of the V3 program. In 2015, ITA received a V3 Governor’s Award in the Medium Employer Category.
“It was an honor to walk up onto that stage and shake Governor McAuliffe’s hand,” Melo says. “But it was an even bigger honor to be able to have so many veterans want to come to work for the company.”
Melo and Kathy have been married for 34 years. Kathy is the Chief Governance Officer for ITA and works with Mike on day-to-day operations. The couple has two adult daughters. Their oldest, Katelyn, also works in the family business.
“We are a military family, and we want to help take care of veterans,” Kathy says. She and Mike are firm believers in corporate responsibility, and they focus their efforts on nonprofits that benefit veterans and children. “We want to be able to give our employees many opportunities to be able to serve their communities,” she says.
“ITA is a service organization, and veterans are a perfect fit for the culture we have created,” Mike adds. “Veterans have given so much already to defend us, and now we are focused on what we can do to help them.”
This Corporation Of Aerospace Pioneers Has Maintained A Close-Knit Relationship With The Military For Nearly 100 Years. Today, Their Efforts To Help Service Members And Their Families Are Stronger Than Ever.
By Amy Poulter
For almost 100 years, Lockheed Martin has built and sold aircraft to the nation’s military branches. Their close-knit relationship with the military began in 1918, when the U.S. Navy purchased a flying boat, called the Curtiss HS-2L, from the company.
By the end of 1920, Lockheed Martin regularly supplied the armed forces with the aircraft that would allow them to carry out special missions and equip millions of service members with the power of flight. Some 96 years later, as a result of that invaluable partnership, Lockheed Martin strives to support service members and their families today.
“We have a very strong tie with the military,” says Marianne Downs, manager of Military and Veteran Programs and Corporate Community Relations. “We produce products that enable them to complete their missions.”
Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin employs almost 100,000 people worldwide, including an office located in Virginia Beach.
Throughout Coastal Virginia, the company frequently donates to programs like the Navy Seal Foundation and the Armed Services YMCA. In an effort to help service members and their families further their educations, the company also supports several military scholarship programs that provide monetary assistance to those in need, including the Dolphin Scholarship Foundation, Wings Over America Scholarship Foundation and the Anchor Scholarship Foundation.
“Our support is geared to the people we serve,” Downs says. “Extending that through the community is a great way for Lockheed Martin to give back. We look to educate the next generation and help show them the values associated with military service.”
Though continued education is a company focus in the region, Lockheed Martin’s community outreach extends beyond financial support. The company regularly hires veterans and carefully structures their work environment to help the thousands of veteran employees that are making the transition from military to civilian life.
“Nearly a quarter of our employees have served,” Downs says. “We participate in programs that support them while they’re in service and address the unique positions that goes along with service. We also aid those that are making the transition from serving in uniform to serving in a corporate career.”
Veterans are welcomed with open arms within Lockheed Martin’s workforce because Downs says they understand and appreciate the distinguished skillsets and training that service members often bring to the job.
Downs explains that veterans, as former customers of Lockheed Martin, hold a unique perspective on the company’s business practices and understand what it means to serve in the armed forces. Veterans are also familiar with the company’s products because they’ve likely operated the aircraft and other technologies that the company creates.
“There’s a natural alignment to having veterans work with us,” Downs says. “They have intangible qualities as a result of their military service, which are incredible assets to our company.”
Strengthening community bonds is a priority that maintains its spot at the top of the company’s list. Through the organization The Mission Continues, company volunteers help to improve the communities they live in by acquiring better educational resources and mentoring at-risk youth.
These service projects are deployed in Washington, D.C. and Dallas, Texas, but Downs explains that Lockheed Martin would like to expand on the hard work of their employees in other locations.
“As our partnership with The Mission Continues evolves, we’re always considering other areas. It’s a great opportunity for our employees to work alongside other veterans,” Downs says.
For veterans who are eager to start their own businesses, Lockheed Martin helps hopeful entrepreneurs forge their business plans through the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.
Through a three-year, $1 million commitment, Downs says they are eager to watch new veteran-owned businesses flourish. “It allows us to provide training to veterans to ensure that they’re ready to do business in a corporate supply chain and have all the certifications and training they need to be successful.”