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Friendship turns into business for Citizen Air Commandos

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dylan Gentile

A trio of loadmasters assigned to the 919th Special Operations Wing, Duke Field, Florida, have transformed their friendship and a shred passion for craft brewing into a successful business in Niceville. 

Inside their quaint, but bustling, brewery under an oak canopy on Florida’s Emerald Coast, you’ll find veterans, young couples and children all having a great time surrounded by walls adorned with military memorabilia.

Tech. Sgts. Galen Cooper, Jeff Lockwood and Parker Christianson have traveled the world as loadmasters assigned to the 859th Special Operations Squadron. While loading and offloading cargo, they discovered they shared a love for brewing their own beer.

“We just started hanging out and a conversation came up about home brewing,” Cooper said. “We figured we would buy some equipment and start doing it ourselves.”  

“We go to a lot of places because of our squadron’s mission and we get the opportunity to see a lot of things,” Christianson said. “It opens doors to potential opportunities for many of us here at home.”

The trio started brewing in a garage and began sharing samples with friends. Then, they began selling at fairs and festivals and recently opened their own brewery.

The bonds the loadmasters forged through years of working alongside one another extend to their families as well. The loadmasters and their families find a work-life balance between orders and deployments by sharing many of the tasks that come with running a business. Often, their wives and friends come in and tend to customers to cover for the trio while they take care of their military duties.

Christianson said running the brewery is fun, but it takes up a significant amount of time. Most days, he leaves Duke Field and changes right into his brewery t-shirt to get started at his second job. 

“We all find ways to make it work by sharing the load,” Cooper said. “My wife does a lot of the work in the brewery for me while I’m gone.”

Their establishment is adorned with 919th SOW memorabilia from different missions and squadrons they have collected over time in their shared adventures. They carry that military experience over into how they run their business.

“On an aircrew, everyone can work together without using hierarchy,” Cooper said. “We learned how to trust people to do their jobs and safely land a plane. We can talk to one another to resolve any issues or disputes.”

Splitting their time between so many obligations can be tough, but watching veterans and other military members come in and enjoy their products makes the job worth it, Christianson said.

(Gentile is assigned to the 919th Special Operations Wing’s public affairs office.)