It’s similar to a roaming secret party, but really not secret at all and they’re actually tending to business.

Held somewhere around Raleigh/Durham, NC the Bunker RDU Braintrust is a varied group of business citizenry gathering with Vetrepreneurs. It’s casual and professional at once.

I’m a civilian, and highly creative. An artist. In college and just afterward I started 3 small businesses.

[In college I was a distributor of Mace protective spray. There, I also bought used cotton waiters’ jackets from the University for $1 a piece, then decorated and sold them for a profit. Later, outside Chicago, with my then husband I founded a company that designed well-organized closets and storage spaces and installed them.]

At the Braintrust entrepreneurs in the Bunker cohort practice pitches and discuss their ideas and plans with the rest of us. We want them to succeed in their endeavors.

We help Vetrepreneurs weigh alternatives and see themselves from different perspectives.

Currently I’m the Founder and Executive Director of a pending 501c3 non-profit corporation called Sadie’s Place for Veterans’ Arts (SPVA). ( It’s going to be a campus of small businesses and art studios owned / operated by Veterans.

Here are examples of what I mean by “art”- by 3 Veteran artists from the Vietnam era.

  • Stained glass by Rick Wobbe
  • Memorial sculpture by Jerry Domask
  • Women warrior painting by Barbara Barnett Harsh.

stained-glass pow-art art-11111

There’s more than one reason to attend a Bunker RDU Braintrust event. Yes, there’s the potential for collaboration. Networking, etc.

There’s also building rapport: the Braintrust is a place to act normally, and talk about substantive subjects in the company of Veterans.

As a civilian wanting to work with Veterans at SPVA as a highly-trusted business partner, early months – including afternoons at these Braintrusts – were all about learning, and revealing myself to Veterans as being authentic and capable.

I have to let Vets observe me – to judge my authenticity and my capability for themselves.   

I’m not just one of the 50,000 ‘veteran non-profits’ around the country: I’ve got the plan for a multi-acre modern American community center lead by Veteran business owners and Veteran artists. I’ve got a lot to learn, so I’m like a sponge around Veterans.

At the second Bunker Labs RDU Braintrust I attended my goal was simple: to prove to the room – quickly, and unequivocally – that Veterans are artists too.

Not all Vets are “left brained” analytical types who live in straight lines.

And, some who are that way are also growing by delving into the arts. Not just left-brain focused business people. Veterans are songwriters, musicians, painters, glass blowers, novelists – and metalsmiths.

Ahhhh, metal!

There’s something so stereotypically male about working with large amounts of metal. Getting dirty. Being dangerous with sharp things that are heavy.

A good way to metaphorically disarm Veterans would be to use a form of art that’s ‘manly’.

When the time was right I stood and pivoted my laptop around so all could see. (Yes, the civilian artist chick stood in the middle of the room and spoke loudly.)

There, in living color, was a Veteran-made guitar built of motorcycle parts. This gorgeous metal sculpture was designed and welded by post-911 Marine Veteran artist Dave Garcia, in Oregon.


In Dave’s metals and sculpting studio-arts course in college he took wrenches, gears, and a gas tank and designed them into an actual working 3-string steel guitar.

Dave plays his guitar with a gas tank cap. Here’s the video on YouTube. [Dave’s also an entrepreneur with a tattoo studio called Tattoo RV (David Lee Garcia at]

I pivoted the laptop to show the steel guitar and was met with oohs and ahhs coming from the Vetrepreneurs and others at the Brainstrust. Goal met!

At the local Bunker Braintrust Meetings anyone from the community of civilians or Veterans can grab a seat and get involved in the discussion. It’s lending a hand – by giving perspective.

It’s an opportunity to observe what entrepreneurs are working on. I love this stuff.

It’s particularly interesting that these are Vetrepreneurs: entrepreneurs who are US Military Veterans. We get to see this side of what our service men and women are up to after service to our country.

We get to see Veterans as humans we can relate to as business people. As people pushing hard to be wise and achieve goals. As people who are open to hearing from civilian business people as colleagues.

Vetrepreneurs from the current cohort present to the group – practicing for upcoming pitches to funders, new clients, or TED Talks. We in the seats ask for clarification, and when the stars align just right there’s actually something super useful we contribute at just the right time.  

What I bring to the Braintrust is decades of experience in the business of living a complex life. Being a middle-aged civilian female is valuable in many scenarios – including working with Vetrepreneurs.

Written for Bunker Labs RDU by Diane Baren, November 2016,

See more Art by Veterans here:

Barbara Barnett Harsh –

Jerry Domask –

Rick Wobbe –

Dave Garcia –

Sadie’s Place for Veterans’ Arts (SPVA) has over 100 boards of interest to Veterans curious about art, with over 1,000 images pinned –

[Visit the SPVA “Art by Veterans and Military Witness Art” board on Pinterest. www.pintere ]