Citizen Airmen serve country, local community

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dylan Gentile
  • 919th Special Operations Wing

Visiting a brewery hiding under an oak canopy on the Emerald Coast, you’ll find veterans, young couples, and children enjoying a Friday evening. On the wall amongst other military memorabilia are a 919th Special Operations Wing shield and a painting of a C-146A Wolfhound aircraft. This is one of several local businesses run by Citizen Air Commandos living in the community.

This brewery started in a friendship far from home by three loadmasters from the 859th Special Operations Squadron. They met and began their long-lasting friendship while loading and offloading cargo between flights. Their comradery eventually evolved into a small business partnership. The trio is part of a larger group of reservists throughout the country who own a business in pursuit of their entrepreneurial passions while also serving their country.

“We go to a lot of places because of our squadron’s mission and we get the opportunity to see a lot of things,” said Tech. Sgt. Parker Christianson, 859th SOS loadmaster. “It opens doors to potential opportunities for many of us here at home.”

Tech. Sgts. Galen Cooper, Jeff Lockwood, and Christianson, discovered a shared passion for craft brewing. What started with brewing in a garage became sharing samples with friends, then became selling at fairs and festivals, and finally turned into a brewery in Niceville.

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

The bonds the loadmasters forged through years of working alongside one another extend to their families as well. They 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. The time spent at the brewery helping with chores and tasks forged new friendships among their wives and children also.

Christianson says 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 this second job.  

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

Their establishment is adorned with 919th Special Operations Wing memorabilia from different missions and squadrons that they’ve 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,” said Cooper. “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, said Christianson.  

While Cooper, Christianson, and Lockwood take craft beer to new heights, their compatriots in the 919th SOW are involved in communities across the Florida panhandle and beyond, bringing skills and ideas from around the world back to their hometowns.