Five minutes before the phone call, Ashley Bomke was pulling shots of espresso at a Starbucks store in Oregon. Five minutes after, she left her job as a barista and would soon become a full-time caregiver to her husband who was severely wounded in Iraq.
Ashley’s name was the first to be embroidered on a Starbucks patriotic apron. The special aprons feature the U.S. flag, partner’s name and military affiliation along with the iconic Siren logo. Distribution of the patriotic aprons began one year ago as a visible sign of Starbucks commitment to hire 10,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2018.
This is the story of why Ashley’s name ended up on the prototype for the thousands of Starbucks green aprons that are being distributed to partners who are veterans and military spouses. Dozens more patriotic aprons were presented (July 2) at a ceremony in the Starbucks Support Center (the company's Seattle headquarters).
The Day Everything Changed
Ashley was 23 years old and newly married when she watched her husband Tim Bomke, then 29 and an officer in the Army, leave for Iraq in the spring of 2005.
“Exactly half way through his one-year deployment it was a sunny day in June,” Ashley recalled. “Although I was stressed out the entire time he was gone, for some reason I woke up feeling good about things, and might have even said out loud, ‘I’ll be able to make it through the last six months.’”
Ashley was cheery as began her work day at the Starbucks in Portland where she’d been a barista for three years – the store where she and Tim met. During a break in her midday shift, she checked her cellphone and discovered she’d missed a few calls from her in-laws.
About 7,000 miles away, 2nd Lt. Bomke had been leading a route clearance mission near the northern city of Kirkuk. He was among 10 soldiers who were wounded when two bombs exploded, lifting their Humvees off the ground. Eight of the soldiers were treated and released. Two of the men were injured so severely they were flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
“All I was told was ‘his legs are hurt,’” but I didn’t know what that meant. It was confusing,” said Ashley, recalling the phone call informing her Tim was being flown to Germany for treatment. “The gravity of the situation hadn’t sunk in yet, but on one hand I felt relief because at least he wasn’t in Iraq anymore. I went to sleep that night thinking everything would be okay because he wasn’t in a war zone.”
Days later, she received more information about Tim's injuries.
It was apparent Ashley’s new job would become taking care of her husband who had a traumatic brain injury along with broken bones and shrapnel throughout his legs. Another soldier lost both legs in the attack. Both men were transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for surgery and therapy, so Ashley flew to Washington, D.C. to be with Tim in the hospital.
“I had a warning from another military spouse who was there that Tim’s leg had to be cut open to let the swelling go down. It was shocking to see and no one was holding my hand going through this,” she said. “I did a lot of growing up, very quickly, because I had to be strong for him.”
She remembers one moment when she “lost it.” Walking around the city streets, she saw a familiar green sign. “I’d spent the week with so many people throwing information at me, alone, with no one to turn to. Then I saw a Starbucks store,” Ashley said. “The baristas didn’t know I was a fellow partner, and they didn’t know what I was going through, but they were so nice to me. I started to cry. I’ll never forget that feeling of comfort simply because I was in a place that felt like home.”
Honoring Service and Sacrifice
Tim was transferred to Madigan Army Medical Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for recovery. A year later, his leg was amputated, which Ashley said was “a turning point that allowed him to move forward into a better life.”
Today, that life includes being the parents of two children – ages three and six. Tim began a new career with Starbucks in December of 2013, first as a consultant after the company announced its commitment to hire 10,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2018. (To date, Starbucks has hired 4,200). He was then offered a position on Starbucks Global Responsibility team. In that role, he worked with other veterans to help achieve Starbucks hiring goal and to create ways to honor those within the company who’ve been a part of the Armed Forces.
“I thought about my wife being a Starbucks barista when I was in Iraq, and wondered what would have made her feel acknowledged for her sacrifices too,” he said.
At the time, veteran partners within Starbucks had many ideas about what baristas could wear as a symbol of pride. Partners at the company’s military Community Store in Lakewood, Washington near Joint Base Lewis-McChord were the first to discuss adding a flag or pin to their green aprons. What would that look like?
Tim printed a paper image of an American flag, cut it out, taped it on a Starbucks green apron, pinned it to thick cardboard, and mounted it to the wall.
“I just wanted to see what the reaction would be, and a lot of people were intrigued by it,” he said.
Next, the mock up. Tim took a green apron to an embroidery shop to have the Stars & Stripes added slightly above the Starbucks Siren logo. To the side, these words were stitched in white lettering: ASHLEY Army Spouse. He left the finished sample on his desk for a while, and soon had a “thumbs up” to pursue the concept.
One year ago, Starbucks presented the first patriotic aprons to partners at the Community Store in Lakewood. The team has continued collecting names of Starbucks partners affiliated with the military through the company's Roll Call website, and distributing patriotic aprons to recognize service and inspire conversations among partners and customers.
Just before Independence Day, Starbucks chairman and ceo Howard Schultz presented almost 100 of the customized aprons to partners who work in departments throughout the company’s headquarters. Eventually, at least 10,000 patriotic aprons will be handed out, mirroring Starbucks military hiring commitment.
Ashley, who already has the prototype, will be among those receiving an apron even though she is a former partner.
“My wife didn’t get to leave Starbucks on her own terms. I certainly didn’t leave the Army on my own terms for that matter, but for me this brings some closure to what she went through. It’s my legacy to her,” Tim said. “I’m proud the team was able to find a simple and elegant way to honor veterans and military spouses.”