This month is Military Appreciation Month. As an active-duty U.S. Army officer on assignment at The Coca-Cola Company, I want to share some of the learnings I have observed firsthand about the relationship between Coca-Cola and the military.

My assignment is to serve as a Public Affairs/Military Fellow through Training with Industry, a program in which the military places soldiers in corporate America to expand their skillsets within their respective fields and bring these enhanced skills and new learnings back to the Department of Defense. In my case, this meant placement on the Strategic Communications team in Coca-Cola North America. I have had the opportunity to work on several projects, some of them include: water conservation communications, social media content development, assistance with filming/development of short stories, and attendance at numerous executive level decision-making meetings. Throughout my journey, I have observed how The Coca-Cola Company supports the military through a relationship that has spanned the past 76 years.

Major Rick Galeano and Jamal Booker, communications manager at The Coca-Cola Company visit during a tour of the archives.

Some Quick Facts

What story would make it past the editor without adding in some facts that may be of interest to readers? The Coca-Cola system provides beverages to more than 200 military bases and other affiliated outlets worldwide. Officers and enlisted alike have enjoyed Coca-Cola beverages from Tal Afar, Iraq to Yokota Air base in Japan.

Many in the military do not realize Coke’s wide range of products. Before my fellowship began, I had no clue that many popular brands such as Dasani, Simply Orange or Honest Tea are part of the Coca-Cola family. These drinks add up to approximately 2.4 million beverage servings per day to active-duty members of the armed forces, National Guard, reservists, veterans and their families. That is a lot of different types of beverages, right? But this relationship did not start overnight.

Coke and the Military

Coca-Cola’s longstanding support of service members dates back to the 1940s. Coca-Cola began supporting U.S. military troops during World War II (1941) when former President Robert Woodruff committed “to see that every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for five cents, wherever he is and whatever it costs the company.”

Throughout the years, an enduring partnership has lasted, adding a special dimension between Coca-Cola and the military. Here are a few examples:

  • Coca-Cola participates in military career conferences, job fairs and networking events. In 2013, the company set a goal to hire 5,000 veterans nationwide within five years’ time. Coca-Cola reached that goal in October 2016, more than a year ahead of schedule.
  • Coca-Cola partners with Army PaYs, a program that multiple U.S. companies have committed to support. PaYs guarantees soldiers an interview and potentially a job after they have fulfilled their commitment to the Army (this is often an enlistment incentive). In 2016, I was present as over fourteen new recruits enlisted into the Army at Coke’s annual Veterans Day event in Atlanta.
  • Coca-Cola supports the United Service Organization (USO) through sponsorships, volunteerism and promotions that drive donations and awareness of USO’s mission. A few examples of the USO partnership include:
    • Operation Care Package – an annual USO stuffing party for Coca-Cola associates to put together care packages for military troops overseas. To date, Coca-Cola has sent over 60,000 packages downrange.
    • The return of limited-edition patriotic packaging for the summer on Coca-Cola products. In addition, available this year starting May 25, the Share an ICE COLD Coke program added new customizable patriotic glass bottles and USO-label glass bottles to the campaign. For every one of these bottles sold, The Coca-Cola Company will donate $1 to the USO. Coca-Cola patriotic packaging honors the nation’s service men and women and commemorates the company’s partnership with the USO.
  • The Coca-Cola Military Veterans Business Resource Group (BRG): a group, made up of hundreds of associates, focused on supporting veterans and service members both inside and outside the company.
    • Through the BRG, Coca-Cola is a founding partner of VETLANTA, an organization in Atlanta focused on veteran networking and philanthropy. On May 2, 2017, VETLANTA hosted its quarterly summit at Coca-Cola headquarters.  

Coca-Cola employees hard at work during a USO stuffing party.

With over 10 months of BoG (boots on ground) at Coca-Cola, I had the opportunity to take part in Coca-Cola’s Veterans Day ceremony, be a member of their Military Veterans Business Resource Group, see the ground-breaking of the National Army Museum, which is supported by The Coca-Cola Foundation, and to proudly walk the halls of an iconic American company. Most importantly, I have observed genuine honor and respect for all soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guardsmen and airmen from the employees and leadership of The Coca-Cola Company.

The Coca-Cola 600

This Sunday, May 28, in honor of Memorial Day weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway: the 58th running of the Coca-Cola 600 will occur. This event – collectively put on by NASCAR, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Consolidated – will be attended by thousands of NASCAR fans and military personnel; Coca-Cola will help salute all branches of the military through a host of specially-planned events throughout the day. Activities will kick off as fans will bow their heads to remember our fallen and raise eyes to the sky to see our future as Airmen from Seymour Johnson Airforce Base fly F-15s overhead. Additionally, soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division will have static displays on the ground, helicopters in the air, and a special recognition ceremony of five Medal of Honor recipients. These events, alongside tens of thousands of people in the grandstands, will pay tribute to our veterans that have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Military fellows Erika Glon, USAF (left) and Major Rick Galeano , USA (right) speak with David Lewis (center) the Senior Director of Development for the Army Historical Foundation at Fort Belvoir, VA.

Coke Through My Eyes

Fellow Coke employees often ask me to talk about my experiences here at Coca-Cola. I like to respond with one of two stories, which I believe demonstrate the relationship between Coca-Cola and the military.

The Class A Uniform

Last Veterans Day, I wore my Army Service Uniform (ASU) to work at Coke’s headquarters. My uniform was sharply pressed, ribbons were dress right dress, and shoes were highly glossed.

Unexpectedly, all of a sudden it was as if I was a superstar. Throughout the day, Coke employees (AKA “civilians”) approached me, thanking me for my service and asking if I would join them for a selfie. Not anticipating this reaction, I was a little bit surprised by this attention, but more importantly I was honored that Coke employees want to say “thank you” for my service. They understand how much it means to us as military members to feel proud to be in uniform, and I was moved by their recognition of my service.  

Military Jargon

My primed use of words and abbreviations is the result of our military jargon that we are all very competent in speaking. And though fellow employees here at Coke are no strangers to acronyms themselves, no matter how many times I have defined BLUF (bottom line up front), I am still continuously asked what it means. When I ask someone for a SITREP (situation report) or to link up at the ECP (entry control point; translated - the front door) for lunch, and the blank stare I receive is priceless. I do not do this on purpose. It is an instinctual way of speaking, but it always makes me smile. Now towards the end of my tour, I receive emails from Coke employees and they are saying Roger and WILCO (will comply), probably mostly in jest, but I love it nonetheless. 

Thank you, Coca-Cola. CHARLIE MIKE (military code for “continue the mission”)…

 

 

 

Major Rick Galeano is an active-duty member of the U.S. Army assigned as a Fellow with the Training With Industry (TWI) Program with duty at The Coca-Cola Company.