"A lot of that came from the Vietnam experience, when folks who were Vietnam vets started businesses and turned their backs on their military experience," he said — pointing out that the mood in the United States at the time was profoundly anti-war, and often anti-vet.

Dyer, an active-duty Army officer for 51/2 years in Germany and the U.S., says times have changed.

"The general mood in the country right now is positively disposed toward veterans in general, and that carries over to veteran business owners," he said.

Vernon Williams, a Columbia-based consultant and president of the Vernon Williams Co. LLC, served in the Army from 1964 to 1967. He says he is hoping to use his veteran status to attract business but is not sure the pitch will work.

"I've registered on various websites as a veteran-owned business, but I don't know I can say that's opened some doors for me," said Williams, who runs workshops on saving money as well as a comparison-shopping website.

Even if it's not bringing them business directly, some vets say their military experience has influenced the way they run a company.

That's been the case for Alan Klug, 75. The third-generation president of Klug Uniforms in Baltimore, a supplier to restaurants, hotels and hospitals, graduated from Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg with an accounting degree before being drafted in 1958.

In Korea, the Army specialist served in a "fire direction control" unit before moving to a special division designed to boost morale. He was an assistant coach of what ended up being the championship football team that represented the Army in Korea. Before coming home, he also helped put together a baseball team with players from minor league teams back home.

"The biggest thing it did was give me the confidence to step forward," Klug said. "In accounting, you take the quiet role. However, in running a company you have to be dynamic, you have to be innovative, you have to be imaginative, and all these things I picked up while working for [military leaders] in Korea. It's either produce or catch heck."

Klug says he hadn't promoted his veteran background until recently, when he began adding it to his emails and direct mailings and listing his firm in veteran business directories.

"There's a state of awareness now that people that served the country are special people," he said.

Today's returning veterans have an especially great interest in starting their own businesses, according to statistics from the Small Business Administration. The SBA, which says veterans age 35 and younger make up the largest age demographic of veteran business owners, has found that about a quarter of returning veterans are interested in entrepreneurship.

Iraq war veteran Christopher Gonzalez, who served in the Marine Corps from 1999 to 2007, was a scout in a reconnaissance platoon, moving ahead of his outfit to look for danger. He ultimately oversaw a group of 50.

In 2008 he began doing project management contracting for the government.

"You go from a person that has no responsibility and are groomed to be a small-team leader, then in charge of larger [groups]. You're taught to think independently and work independently, but the work is for the better good of a team," Gonzalez, 32, said. "You're taught if you have an opportunity, you take it, and that's what I did."

Running A-G Associates in Annapolis with his business partner, Peg Anthony, Gonzalez has relied on his Marine Corps training and finds parallels between his military and business experiences. The Annapolis company offers project management and human resources consulting and training as a government subcontractor.

"I was new to the government sector but understood the way the military worked and [Anthony] had a lot of experience with defense agencies," Gonzalez, A-G's president, said by phone from Afghanistan, where is he is currently deployed with the Marine Corps reserves. "The concepts of the military are the same: discipline to get the work done."

McCormack, owner of MapleWorks, also credits his military background with giving him the discipline to run a small business. After leaving the Army in 2007, he began running the company he'd bought two years earlier. He has broadened the company's name recognition outside Maryland, built up the website to become the firm's main selling tool and counts drummers for national recording acts among his customers. He makes about 10 drum kits and up to 20 snare drums a month at a workshop behind his house in Millersville.

He has found that customers often appreciate the fact that the business is veteran-run. His two employees are Iraq veterans.

"There's a good amount of custom drum companies out there, and [being veteran-run] sets us apart," McCormack said.


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