Creating Opportunity Cassie Hodges & Cordell Eddings  | January 10, 2019

How One Veteran is Turning Combat Soldiers into Artists and Building a Business

Ninety-eight percent of the watercooler talk at the Flags of Valor workshop is about sports, the weather and the typical small talk you’ll hear at just about any other office in America.

It’s the two percent that’s leftover that matters to Brian Steorts, the CEO of Flags of Valor in Ashburn, Virginia. That’s where his colleagues—the majority of whom served their country in combat—can talk about what they’ve been through with people who understand. It’s where they find healing, camaraderie and peace. For men and women who lived through some of the most stressful days of warfare and have the wounds to show for their service, that time and space makes all the difference.

The fast growing business, which makes beautiful wood carvings of American flags, makes it a point to seek out and hire mostly veterans. And the company has had no shortage of applicants.

“Everyone here understands and we get it,” explained Steorts, who started the business with the mission of giving men and women returning from the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan and other battlefronts a space where they feel welcome and empowering them to make something beautiful. And to talk about the things that sometimes aren’t.

“We’re not asking what’s wrong. We all understand,” Steorts said. “Whether it’s reliving traumatic experiences overseas or simply helping each other navigate the Veteran’s Administration system. We’re here to help them out through the process.”

Military service is difficult, demanding and dangerous. But returning to civilian life poses its own challenges for the men and women who served in the armed forces. One out of every four veterans say reentry into civilian life was tough for them, according to a Pew Research Center survey. And that number balloons to nearly one out of every two veterans who have served since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Steorts knows because he’s lived those stresses first hand. After serving in the Air Force, including eight consecutive combat deployments to the Middle East, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, he found himself rehabbing a service-related injury. Needing a new way to focus his mind while he rebuilt his body, he took up woodworking. His focus became and obsession and ballooned into an all-consuming passion. And longing to reconnect with his military roots he naturally came back to something beautiful and meaningful for inspiration: the flag.

Building a Community
After donating several pieces of his woodwork to the families of fallen soldiers, raising thousands for charity and seeing the response his work received his dream grew. He transformed his passion into his dream of a veteran-owned and operated company that creates beautiful works of American art in America.

For Steorts, it’s not just about building a business and creating art. It’s about helping a community heal and prosper. And focusing on helping others has powered the company’s bottom line. Along the way he’s also learned an invaluable lesson: Hiring veterans is just good business.

“Who wouldn’t want employees that can excel in a dynamic environment, under extreme stress.”

The company started two employees in 3,000 square-feet. Within eight months they outgrew the space. And has since grown to 23 employees—18 of which are veterans– working out of a 12,000 square foot space.

That space has meant the world to veterans he serves, who often struggle with depression to relationship issues, health challenges and unemployment. Alone, they are unique struggles to overcome. But many of these challenges overlap and can make matters worse.

“Often they can’t find the right job, preferring to work odd jobs, or late nights because they don’t want to be around groups of people based on experiences they had down range or overseas,” Steorts said.

The growth of his company is just a cherry on top to be able to live his mission of being there when his fellow vets need him the most.

“It’s really humbling to come to work every day,” Steorts said. “It’s a feeling you can’t buy.”