Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sounds almost apologetic when he talks about how little he knew about the people fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for the first 10 years of the wars.
He followed the headlines but didn’t go out of his way to talk to a veteran or visit any of the military bases that are a short drive from his Seattle headquarters.
“I’m embarrassed that I did not fully understand the sacrifices that the men and women who served were making on behalf of the country,” the former Seattle SuperSonics owner said Monday during a visit to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
A 2011 visit to West Point opened his eyes to the dedication Army cadets showed on their way to war, and Schultz has been trying to reintroduce the public to America’s 2.6 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans ever since.
“I’m committed to really raising the level of understanding and empathy so we do not have a bifurcated nation where the military and the people do not understand each other,” said Schultz, whose father served in the Army as a medic during World War II.
Now he has published “For Love of Country,” a book he wrote with Washington Post senior correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran to highlight the heroism veterans showed on the battlefield and at home since the wars began. Their book tour concluded this week with events at JBLM and in Seattle.
They’re aiming to counter common perceptions of veterans as “ticking time bombs” by revealing five stories of bravery in the wars and five profiles of former service members serving their communities.
The hard part was choosing which inspiring stories to include in the 200-page book.
“Those five stories are not by any stretch of the imagination the extent of the honor and valor seen in the wars,” Chandrasekaran said.
The book is peppered with references to soldiers with roots in the Puget Sound region, or troops who passed through here while serving with units at JBLM. They include:
Schultz and Chandrasekaran linked up for the project over shared concerns about challenges veterans face after leaving the military. The authors were especially troubled by a Post and Kaiser Family Foundation survey that showed 55 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans feeling disenfranchised from the civilian world.
“How could the America outside military bases feel so alien to our veterans? It revealed a giant divide between our military and our civilian populations,” they wrote in “For Love of Country.”
Schultz is overseeing a $30 million commitment to improve veterans’ transition programs through his family foundation. One project could lead to retail management training programs that troops could take as they wind down their military careers.
Proceeds from book sales will also go to veterans programs through the foundation.
In addition, Starbucks is playing a role in easing transitions through Schultz’s pledge to hire 10,000 veterans or military family members. These individuals are a good investment for his company, he says, because of their demonstrated “leadership, integrity and problem-solving” abilities.
“These are all qualities any company would want,” he said.
So far, Starbucks has hired 1,000 veterans toward its bigger goal.
Chandrasekaran, author of two books that were critical of American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, acknowledged he was skeptical about Schultz when they began.
“I’m a cynical journalist,” he said. “I thought, ‘How deep is his commitment to this?’ ”
But since they’ve worked together, “I’ve been completely stunned. He’s genuine. He’s passionate. This is not what I expected.”