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To commemorate Veterans Day this year, we will be amplifying the diverse voices and experiences of the Veterans within our community. 

By Justin Allen (2Y, 2022)
Zell Fellow

It was late 2019 and I was on the final deployment of my Army career. I was sitting in the Anar Darah District Center, an old, blown-out building in the middle of a remote valley in the western part of Afghanistan. My team had been sent on a mission that was only supposed to last one day, and we were going on day seven. Our team was called upon because an important district center had been taken over by Taliban, and the local villagers had nowhere safe to vote in the upcoming presidential election. Our mission was to take back control of the district center, establish security with a local Afghan Army unit and set up a voting site for the locals. My senior commander didn’t have any answers on how we were supposed to do this; he simply gave me his intent and sent my team on our way. It was a tough problem with no clear solution, something Green Berets are known for handling well.

During the daytime, we couldn’t do too much more than secure our position and watch for the enemy. It was safest for us to conduct operations at night because we had night vision and the enemy didn’t. My team handled the uncertainty like rock stars; we made an aggressive plan of action and moved quickly. Within days, we had the entire valley secured and coordinated with the local Afghan Army unit to take over our position and provide security for locals to vote. We took some lumps along the way, but everyone was in one piece and ready to head back to our main camp for some much-needed rest. We reported mission success and packed our bags to head back to the main camp only to discover that my commander needed us to stay in the valley for a few more days to maintain security. We immediately began to assess the safety of our position and how much supply we had, realizing we were in for a rough couple of days.

Laying on the roof of this district center, I thought about the sequence of events that had gotten my team sent out to this remote valley in the first place. I also questioned why I loved the chaos and adventure so much. There was no doubt we were facing ambiguity and danger, but it was exhilarating to lead a team through a situation with no clear answer. Moments like these made me think back to my “why.”  Why did I sign up for this? Why me? Why now? Even in those tough moments, everyone’s “why” was clear, and it kept us united. Green Berets thrive in uncertainty, working with teams of highly capable people to solve problems that don’t always have a clear answer. Through this scrappy approach, small teams can make massive impacts, just like my team did in Anar Darah Valley.

The thrill of uncertainty and opportunity for impact that drove me to become a Green Beret continued to guide me in my career — even in choosing to pursue entrepreneurship at Kellogg. As an MBA student, I am focusing my entrepreneurial passion towards real estate in military communities. It’s an area I am incredibly passionate about, and I think there are huge opportunities for growth and improvement. Most people are aware that military life is very transient, meaning families usually pick up and move every two to three years. Because of this, many service members spend a majority of their career renting homes with their monthly housing allowance. It’s unfortunate because these families are missing out on the benefits of homeownership, even though they have access to incredible home loan benefits through the VA. I think these families deserve better, so I decided to blend my passion for real estate and for these military communities with the knowledge from my MBA to create my own company, which I am calling Vet Equity. Vet Equity is focused on providing quality rental properties to families in military communities where a portion of rent payments are allocated towards actual equity in the home that the service member can keep. This disruptive model provides the equity benefits of homeownership without having to buy and sell a home at every duty station. While I am still early in my development process, I have had the full support of Kellogg faculty and programs. I am extremely proud to say that I was accepted into Kellogg’s prestigious Zell Fellows program, and I am honored to have the full power of Kellogg’s network available to help me through my start-up journey. It is humbling to have so many supportive people who want to help me succeed in making this company successful at a large scale.

It is hard for me to say that I knew I would end up at Kellogg focusing on entrepreneurship, but my life has always taken me to places I didn’t expect. This journey with Vet Equity is a product of me following my goals, pursuing my passion, and fulfilling my “why.”

For those who are interested in entrepreneurship, I will tell you that Kellogg has some of the best resources and programs in the country and I am lucky to be a part of this group. I am grateful for my experiences as a Green Beret, for the individuals I was able to serve with, and grateful that Kellogg is preparing me to launch the next stage of my life. Anar Darah was one of the early steps in my entrepreneurial journey, and I look forward to seeing where I will end up next.