Some veterans find their place working as a military contractor or support civilian after their service to the country finishes, but Darrin Swan had a different path in mind.
“I was offered a lot of jobs. They offered me a job in Afghanistan basically doing what I had been doing as an aviation safety officer,” said Swan, a retired chief warrant officer 4. “It was a very well-paying job, but that was why I retired and got out of the Army — so I didn’t have to go to war anymore.”
Instead Swan and his wife Gina — also a veteran — started two businesses in the Dothan area: Alabama Home InspeXions and more noticeably, Mural City Coffee Company.
“My wife and I always wanted to have our own business,” Swan said. “We wanted to stay serving people but be our own boss.”
The Swans had similar starts to their Army careers. Darrin served as an electrician for nine years before becoming an Apache pilot, and Gina majored in special electronics repair — working on things like night-vision goggles and battlefield illumination setups.
In fact, the pair met at their first duty station in Baumholder, Germany. After their son, Zach, was born, Gina separated from the Army while Darrin remained another 20 years.
Despite flying some high-profile missions in the invasion of Iraq and during two tours of Afghanistan, Darrin knew something more than the Army awaited him after retirement.
“I got offered jobs at Fort Rucker, but it was in a cubicle, teaching classes,” Swan said. “I could have done some safety stuff. I didn’t want to be in a box anymore — I kind of wanted to step back and not be so dependent on the military.”
Thanks to his family’s background in the construction business and their own experience in electrical work, Darrin and Gina launched Alabama Home InspeXions in November 2011 — almost a full year before Darrin retired.
When Darrin encountered some health challenges, the Swans expanded their home inspection business to include Cody Wojasinski, a Navy veteran. Swan said veterans often work well together thanks to their camaraderie and the situations they similarly experience.
“In a small business, discipline is very important,” he said. “There’s an understanding in the structure — timeliness, being able to work on your own, effectiveness of working on your own — you learn a lot of the disciplines.”
Attention to detail, also a skill developed in the military, constitutes a critical piece of a good home inspection, as well.
“Very detailed-oriented,” Swan said. “We’ve invested a lot in Alabama Home InspeXions to make sure we have consistency across the board. You’re not just making stuff up as you go.”
Swan said veterans are worth an investment for businesses of all types, especially if they possess the right credentials.
“Any service industry, any labor industry, any veteran could get into that,” he said. “There’s plenty of opportunities, especially in the Dothan area, to get a job.”
Even though he is a successful businessman, Swan knows other veterans encounter major obstacles. Some even end up homeless, and since Mural City Coffee County occupies a spot downtown, he encounters them regularly.
His position in the community allows him to assist the brethren that have fallen on hard times.
“I ask them, ‘Have you been to the VA? I happen to know several of the representatives in the area,’” he said. “‘I can give you a name of somebody that can get you back on your feet.’”
Swan said struggling veterans may not be aware of the programs available to them since new initiatives have developed over the years.
“There’s a lot of opportunities for veterans period,” he said. “What’s not available to them probably is the knowledge of where these things are at because a lot of these programs have come about since 9/11. They may be in a mission or they may be homeless, and they don’t know what’s new.”
But like soldiers who watched out for their fellow men while in uniform, veterans possess a “veterans taking care of veterans” mentality.
“Any veteran would be able to point them in the right direction,” he said.