By Alta LeCompteLas Cruces Bulletin
When SCORE mentor Monroe Roberts got out of the military after Vietnam, he knew one thing he never wanted to do again: Take orders.
He found the answer in earning a college degree on the GI bill and starting his own business.
His mission now is to share the tools he acquired with other veterans so they, too, can become independent by running their own businesses.
“We have 50 percent of the mentors in Las Cruces who are combat vets – Vietnam, Korea. Some were drafted, some were commanding officers,” he said. “All of them went into business.”
The veteran-mentors formed the cadre that helped him put together the first-ever SCORE breakfast and information sharing event session exclusively for veterans Monday, July 28, at the SCORE office in Loretto Towne Center, 505 S. Main St.
Reaching out to vets
“It’s like a meet-and-greet to let veterans in town know about the free services SCORE can offer,” Roberts said.
He said veterans can follow up by scheduling an appointment with a mentor “so we can see where they are in life” and assess how SCORE could help them clarify and move toward their goals.
Roberts said the idea for the event came about because the U.S. Small Business Administration started a Boots to Business Program.
He said local New Mexico’s SBAs tailored and promoted services for veterans in Albuquerque and Alamogordo, but notLas Cruces.
Roberts felt called to fill the gap.
“Veterans have a lot of skills people in the regular population don’t have,” Roberts said. “(In the military) they’re madeto come to work on time and take orders. If they’ve been in combat, they’ve learned to make very quick decisions. Most of the time that’s a benefit in business.”
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Veterans are also trained to handle stress, he said, which gives them the ideal preparation for the long hours and other stressors encountered when one is in business for oneself.
“They’re perfect candidates,” he said.
He said the biggest obstacle most returning veterans face is lack of financial resources.
“If they have any kind of family, they may have been living below the poverty line,” he said. “They will have to initially start small and work their way up.”
SCORE mentoring and free classes can help veterans get there.
“I never made it above E5, and I did pretty well,” Roberts said.
Getting a new start
After serving, Roberts earned an electrical engineering degree at Springfield College in Massachusetts. Although he didhave to work for others for a while, at the first opportunity he started a hazardous materials and gas detection business, which he ran for 30 years.
He sold the business in 2002 and retired.
“That lasted about two or three weeks,” he said.
He and his wife, Marie, bought a camper and hit the road, settling in Las Cruces in 2006.
He opened Command Bunker, which he said put him in contact with many returning veterans interested in selling their weapons. After selling that business in 2010, he joined SCORE.
“My wife went to a volunteer thing, and she said: ‘You’d make a perfect candidate for SCORE. You’re not doing anything. You’re just getting in my hair.’” He said recently discharged veterans such as the ones he met at Command Bunker can be difficult to locate. Knowing that, he used every means he could think of to get the word out about the breakfast.
“Getting out is freedom to them. Many have an OMG moment when they say, ‘I’ve been reborn,’” he said. “It’s difficult to find these guys.”
Welcome home to entrepreneurship
To reach returning veterans, he and his committee put notices in newspapers, distributed flyers and posters and sent emails to veterans groups, including the one at New Mexico State University. They worked with the National Guard, Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce and the New Mexico Department of Veterans Affairs.
They wanted area veterans to know SCORE offers free assistance with startup, planning, taxes, legal issues, management, finance, accounting, franchising, technology and more.
One-on-one assistance from one or more of SCORE mentors is just one of the options.
Roberts said mentor Bob Worthington will be teaching a series of six classes this fall for small and start-up businesses. In addition, Manny Morales of WESST Enterprise Center, another veteran, will give computer courses this fall.
August, Roberts said, is the perfect time to connect with SCORE.
For more information, call SCORE at 523-5627.
Alta LeCompte may be reached at 680-1840 or alta@ lascrucesbulletin.com.
Monroe Roberts of SCORE directed the breakfast and networking event for veterans interested in starting or growing their own business.
Las Cruces Bulletin photo by Tara Melton