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Iraq vets hope to brew up success with craft beer

By MICHAEL FELBERBAUM Published: August 21, 2013
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Two Iraq War veterans eager to slake a growing American thirst for craft beer are setting up a brewery less than a mile from the main runway for the Navy's East Coast master jet base.

Their beers have names like “Jet Noise Double IPA and “Pineapple Grenade Hefeweizen.” And their motto strikes a military chord: “Brewing With the Freedom We Fought For.”

Young Veterans Brewing Co. is set to open in September in military-heavy Hampton Roads. For the brewery president, Thomas Wilder, and the co-founder, Neil McCanon, the business was born of struggles the two endured after they returned to American soil in 2005 from their overseas assignments.

The craft brewery is one of a growing corps popping up in Virginia and the nation.

Virginia, which is celebrating its second craft beer month in August, has seen the industry grow from about 40 craft breweries last year to more than 60 in 2013.

The 29-year-old Wilder spent more than a year in Iraq after joining the Army National Guard in 2003 right out of high school. He lost two close friends in a 2004 bombing at a base in Mosul that killed 22 people, including 18 Americans.

“Being at war is tough, but you don't realize how tough it is while you're there,” Wilder said as the sound of F/A-18 fighter jets roared overhead from nearby Naval Air Station Oceana.

Many vets face trouble reorienting to normal jobs, finding adequate paying jobs or employment period after military service. Many also grapple with war wounds or invisible post-traumatic stress.

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