The Coca-Cola Company’s longstanding legacy of support for the U.S. armed services dates back to World War II, when President Robert Woodruff declared that “every person in uniform should get a Coke for a nickel, regardless of what it cost the company.”

With thousands of young GIs deployed to foreign lands, the nation’s leaders recognized the need to boost morale and keep these brave soldiers connected to the things they missed most. Woodruff’s 1941 pledge – which led to an investment in 64 overseas Coca-Cola bottling plants – was a way to ensure servicemen could always enjoy a refreshingly familiar taste of home. It also laid the foundation for Coca-Cola’s global botting system.

Coca-Cola’s commitment to the U.S. Armed Forces has only grown deeper since. Over the last 77-plus years, the company has partnered with the United Service Organizations (USO) to strengthen its ties to the military and support veterans and their families.

“Our commitment to serving those who serve is part of who we are, and always will be,” said Jim Dinkins, president, Coca-Cola North America. “It’s deeply rooted in our heritage and our values.”

In 2017, The Coca-Cola Foundation announced $1 million in grants to 11 organizations dedicated to assisting veterans and their families through every step of their transition back to civilian life. Coca-Cola also is a founding partner of VETLANTA, a community effort to make Atlanta a premier destination for veterans to live and work, and is an active participant and supporter of American Corporate Partners (ACP). For the last three years, 80 Coca-Cola employees have worked with ACP to mentor fellow veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce.

Coca-Cola employees volunteered on Nov. 6, 2019, to stuff care packages for deployed U.S. troops overseas and wounded, ill, and injured troops in military hospitals. Over the last 10 years, Coke has helped send more than 110,000 packages to troops in partnership with the USO.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of The Coca-Cola Company’s Veterans Day celebration. Employees gather at Coke’s Atlanta headquarters to honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces – including their more than 4,000 Coca-Cola system teammates who have served. The company’s Military Veterans Business Resource Group also invites colleagues to stuff care packages for deployed troops overseas and wounded, ill, and injured troops in military hospitals. Over the last 10 years, Coca-Cola volunteers have helped send more than 110,000 care packages to U.S. troops in partnership with the USO.

We asked few of the more than 4,000 Coca-Cola employee veterans to share how they leverage their legacy of military service in their roles and bring their unique leadership skills and commitment teamwork and discipline to the company’s culture. They also offered some words of advice to fellow veterans transitioning into the civilian workforce.

Lillian Norton

Senior Commercialization Manager, Coca-Cola North America

A U.S. Army veteran, Lillian is passionate about serving as an American Corporate Partners (ACP) mentor to fellow veterans transitioning into the workforce.

“My military experience is core to who I am. One of my biggest takeaways from my military service was the ability to take things as they come, react and figure things out as a team. Nothing is going to be perfect going through for the first time, so you learn, adapt and overcome.”

As someone who definitely needed help when I transitioned out of the military, I know how critically important these mentorships are for the veterans trying to figure life out after the service and want to give back. It’s something I am passionate about and will continue to do as long as I possibly can.

No one is going to give you a path to follow. You have to blaze your own path and get comfortable with networking and reaching out for help. That is something that veterans are historically not comfortable with, being vulnerable and putting yourself out there.”

Dan Avenick

Vice President, Strategy and Planning, Supply Chain and Commercialization, Coca-Cola North America

A U.S. Army veteran, Dan leads Coca-Cola’s Military Veterans Business Resource Group (MVBRG), a network of employee veterans committed to supporting each other and local communities.

“The military provided the foundation onto which everything following was built. My understanding of the significance of these experiences grows with perspective gained over time. Right now, lessons learned on dealing with hardship come to mind. Most people aren’t aware of what they’re capable of handling if they’ve never really been pushed or tested. But regardless of the depth of challenge faced or your experience in getting through difficult situations, these challenges are much more easily overcome if you truly believe you’ll get through them. Some military experiences force you to get quite good at this. As daunting as that presentation may be, it’s not that bad in comparison to what you’ve likely seen, and you’ll be through it soon enough. Having that perspective has helped me stay balanced and focused.   

The military network here at Coca-Cola, supported by the MVBRG, has helped advance my career by creating additional networking and exposure opportunities, as well as helping other employees understand the significance of military service. We’re fortunate to work for an organization with true military support in its history, dating back to World War II, and that’s tangibly felt in our shared culture today.

Veterans need to recognize that they have to evolve to achieve their potential and to fully apply their military skills in the civilian world. Transitioning members know how to accomplish missions, and they’ll be much more successful if they have an accurate understanding of the obstacles to overcome. Keep the best of what the military has taught you, but don’t let it define or limit you – so you keep learning and evolving throughout your career.”

Albert Cooper

Employee Relations Manager, Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED

Albert uses valuable lessons learned as a U.S. Marine Corps Officer as he coaches others on their career goals at Coca-Cola UNITED.

“My military experience sharpened my decision-making skills. We would all appreciate being able to make decisions with perfect information, but that doesn’t happen often. The military taught me to make decisions under pressure using information that is available, and to consistently provide positive results. I also learned that taking care of your people allows them to better take care of their work.

My advice to fellow veterans transitioning to the workforce would be to attend a Transition Assistance Program (TAP) multiple times prior to getting out. Think about transferrable skills. Find military-friendly employers. Adjust from military to corporate speak. Connect with recruiters who focus on military-to-civilian transitions. Play up to your strengths… veterans are known for precise communication skills, individual accountability, impeccable execution and natural leadership. All of these skills are in high demand no matter what industry you are trying to get into. Finally: network, network, network.”

Hope Cronin

Global Public Affairs Fellow, The Coca-Cola Company

Hope is an active duty U.S. Air Force Officer participating in The Coca-Cola Company’s 10-month professional fellowship program for military personnel.

As a service member, you always have a built-in community and tribe no matter where you’re stationed. Replicating that level of community can be difficult, so get creative. Schedule as many meet-and-greets and coffee chats as you can fit into your calendar. Get involved in social groups in the community. Host meet-ups or join a civic organization. There are many ways to build a sense of belonging, but it takes some focus and effort to build it quickly.”

David Wattenmaker

International Treasury Services Analyst, The Coca-Cola Company

David, who served as a U.S. Marine Corps Infantry Officer, is a founding member of VETLANTA. The organization’s mission is to convene Atlanta corporations, nonprofits, government agencies and academic institutions around a shared mission to support veterans.

“It’s important to me to serve a larger purpose. After the Marines, I sought out other groups I could have the same collaborative experiences with to make a difference in the world, and Coca-Cola stood out to me. I appreciate how Coca-Cola brings people together. Refreshing the world and inspiring moments of optimism... these are things the world definitely needs.

VETLANTA has become bigger and more successful than any of us ever imagined. In fact, the Veterans Administration and other cities study VETLANTA so they can replicate the model that is working so well in Atlanta.

My advice? Do your best to become fully aware of both what you can offer but also what gaps you need to fill based on your goals and interests. Transitioning careers takes a lot of effort for anyone, not just veterans. In the long run, broad experience is an asset, and military experience joined with additional skills and knowledge from years in a new career is a beneficial combination.”

Quinton Martin

Chief of Staff, Coca-Cola North America

This U.S. Army veteran’s passion for leadership has never wavered. Quinton believes the best teams have a shared vision of success.

“My military experience created a bias for action and leadership regardless of my formal role. It helped me understand that failure is only a problem if you don’t learn from it and immediately create a plan to succeed next time. I also learned that if the team wins, we all win. You cannot effectively accomplish your mission alone. You need to be an active part of a well-trained and motivated team whose focus is on mission accomplishment instead of personal glory.

My advice? It is your responsibility to grow and adapt to your new environment. Use the values and skills developed in the military as stepping stones to success, instead of trying to make your workforce operate like the military. Use your adaptability and leadership skills to learn the landscape, adapt to the current situation and adjust as needed. Most importantly: ask questions.”