What happens when two former Green Berets and teammates partner up for a post-transition business venture? Lessons in teamwork, trust, accountability, and all-American business values come to the forefront in the conversation that we had with Nate Kouhana and Pat Lynch, who today are at the helm of Anthem Snacks—a lifestyle brand spotlighting handcrafted, wood-smoked, MSG-free and 100% American beef jerky, as well as stylish apparel with outdoor appeal, that gives back 10% to organizations like the Green Beret Foundation and others supporting our nation’s military and first-responders.
GBF: OK, gentlemen. Let’s start from the beginning and have you tell me a bit about yourselves.
Pat Lynch: Well, I was born and raised outside of Chicago. Had a normal life growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s; went to private school, did one year of college, played hockey there, but none of it was fulfilling to me. The classroom just was not my deal, so I joined the Marine Corps and served 8 years before honorably separating in February of 2001.
GBF: Just before 9/11!
Pat Lynch: Exactly. After leaving the Marines, I had gone back to college to try and finish my degree. Seeing the towers fall, though, I couldn’t just sit in the classroom again. I watched the Green Berets invade Afghanistan on horseback in October of ’01, and I knew that was what I wanted to do. They had just started the 18 XRAY program at that point, so I did all of that stuff and got to 3rd Special Forces Group right after the invasion of Iraq. I was fortunate; I ended up on a phenomenal team of experienced mentors at 3rd Group, and that’s where I met Nate. On that team, I experienced a lot of combat in a short amount of time, and by 2007 I felt mentally and physically like I needed to step away. I stayed in the Guard in 20th Group after that, and went on to work as a federal agent, on counterterrorism teams, in the intelligence community, and overseas in a high-threat protection environment. It was great money, but the schedule and lifestyle were grueling; 90 days away, 90 days home. Having my daughter put things into perspective for me; she’s an amazing little girl, now 9 years old, and she’s the reason I decided it was time to take a break from working in the intelligence community.
GBF: What was your next move after that?
Pat Lynch: For one thing, I decided that I wanted to stay home and be a dad. It is the most important thing that a man can be in this world. Government contracting, shooting guns, and blowing stuff up is fun, but it can’t fulfill you forever in the way that family can. To be closer to my daughter, I started a woodworking business, and it’s something that I still enjoy sharing with her today. Here she comes; she wants to show you one of the wooden American flags that she built!
GBF: What an incredible bond you share with her.
Pat Lynch: I never realized before now that I had any artistic ability. I think it’s important, though, for veterans to find something that will give you a little bit of therapy. Whether it’s equine therapy, archery, woodworking, or meeting with an actual therapist—all of those things will help you. For me, I found that working with my hands was a kind of therapy in itself.
GBF: What about it do you find to be therapeutic?
Pat Lynch: I think that the act of creating something is therapeutic. In war, combat veterans like myself have spent so much time destroying things. It is healing for us to take time now to create things. I love the artistry of creating things and putting things back into the world now that make the world a little more beautiful and a little bit better. Maybe that’s where my passion for working with my hands comes from. I know so many veterans, especially from our community, who have done some serious stuff, and got involved in serious things for altruistic reasons. 99.9% of the people I know did it to fight for our country, and the brothers and sisters on their left and right. After 30 years of that, you realize that we fought for peace, so it’s ok now to enjoy a little bit of that peace. What we do at Anthem, and what we are able to do to give back to organizations like the Green Beret Foundation, means a lot to us. We want people to be able to enjoy the peace that we fought for, and do it in honor of our brothers and sisters who didn’t make it home. If something that Nate and I say today does good for someone—if it helps someone get out of a bad place emotionally—this is what we live for. It’s all we want.
Nate Kouhana: Just to be clear, everything you just heard is EXACTLY why I wanted to work with Pat again. It’s the best part about him; his mindset that we do what we do for everyone who didn’t make it home. How do we live lives worth living? How do we give back? When I thought about who to bring onboard to help with the mission piece of Anthem Snacks, core to our value system, everything that Pat just said is the reason why he was the perfect man for the job.
GBF: Yes, it makes perfect sense after hearing from Pat that he would be the one you would want to partner with for Anthem Snacks. So, Nate, can you fill in your part of the story for us now, too?
Nate Kouhana: Of course! Well, I grew up in Houston and had a typical life, much like Pat’s. I got to travel pretty often because I had family in various parts of the globe. When 9/11 happened, I was studying abroad in Paris. I had friends in NYC, and everyone was calling me; I didn’t know what was going on. I just remember, being overseas, how united the world felt at that time. Everybody in Paris was behind America, and I feel like we all saw it the same way that day; liberty and freedom had taken a blow for ALL freedom-loving people across the globe. I was amazed at the support that I saw, and it was a tremendous learning experience to see how other people thought of America. It really resonated with me.
GBF: How did your career in the Army begin?
Nate Kouhana: When Afghanistan kicked off, I remember watching the TV and seeing these guys on horses with beards. I didn’t grow up with a huge military background in my family, even though my dad had served for the Israeli Defense Forces. All I knew was what I had seen in the movies—some guy with a shaved head screaming at you in boot camp. I just couldn’t get it out of my mind that, after 9/11, I needed to do something. So I went down and checked out USMC, Navy, and Army recruiting offices, and for me, it really came down to the recruiter. I just had an amazing recruiter, and that’s how I wound up going with the Army. He showed me the videos, I saw the Horse Soldiers, and I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that the 18 XRAY program was a quick way to get me from point A to point B. I knew that was what I wanted to do.
GBF: And that’s how you wound up becoming a Green Beret.
Nate Kouhana: Yes. I earned my Green Beret and got put on 384, the Military Freefall Team. It was a HALO team, and those guys had just gotten back from Iraq. The whole team was just stacked. All of these senior E7s, and even the Captain was former enlisted. It truly was a team of decorated warriors, and then little old me just showed up there as the smallest new guy. I had to work hard to earn my stripes every day! I had an incredible mentor there, a Chief Warrant Officer named Scott Dyer. I ended up going on ADVON with him, and it was my first taste of what we were really getting into; we did it for about 3 weeks, hooked up with the 7th Group guys, went on missions, and did cool stuff. I was mentally preparing that this was going to be what I was going to do.
GBF: But something happened…
Nate Kouhana: Yep. When we came back, I was all prepped and ready to go with my team. I don’t want to say it was last minute, but all of a sudden Pat and I both got pulled off our teams to join this new team that essentially had a different mission. We each had skillsets that they needed, and that’s why we were pulled to go over there. At the time, it was devastating to me. The team I had grown up in, and was ready to deploy with, suddenly wasn’t the same. Still, meeting Pat was one of the best parts about joining the new team. We got to know each other really well downrange. The mission was good, and we learned to work together.
GBF: And just like that, a business partnership is born.
Nate Kouhana: For sure. I have high respect for Pat and what he does, and it is good that he got to know me so early in my military career. Overall, that is why we are still working together today. He understands what I bring to the table and my work ethic; in turn, I understand what he does.
GBF: How did the rest of your first deployment with Pat go?
Nate Kouhana: We had a good deployment, but we lost guys, and it was devastating. We lost my mentor, Scott. My teammates came to visit me at the base where I was and we had a little ceremony for Scott there, but it wasn’t the same because I wasn’t able to be there with him or for him when he was killed. Still, the rest of that deployment was highly successful. When we got back, I was put back on my original team, and the experience I had gained on my mission with Pat set me up to be the senior intel guy on my team. Everything was going great until I wound up getting wounded.
GBF: What happened?
Nate Kouhana: I took a grazing head shot, and they wanted to send me back home. I fought hard to stay there, so they agreed to put me on bed rest for a couple of weeks to make sure I could pass all of these tests before they would send me back out on missions. I ended up finishing the deployment and came home, but I knew something had changed. We were doing HALO training, and the higher altitude jump it was, the more I could feel the migraines coming on. My hearing was also an issue, and in training, I couldn’t hear where gunfire was coming from because I had lost hearing in my left ear. I wasn’t reacting how I had been trained anymore; I was just following how everyone else was reacting. I felt at that point I had a choice. Either I could stay in and tough it out, or make a decision about what was next in my life.
GBF: And you chose to move on…
Nate Kouhana: Yes. I got out in March of ’09, and I figured that I would go into contracting just like most people do. I started doing training and instructing, but then it hit me: either I’m going to be defining myself for the rest of my life as a wounded vet doing contract work, or I’m going to have to find something that fulfills me. That’s when I made the choice to move out to San Francisco and get into tech. I was fortunate to find a position at a startup which expanded rapidly, and within 3 months I found myself riding that wave of success. I held various positions with them, and by the end I had learned so many valuable lessons: the whole venture capital piece, presenting at board meetings, the startup world, and technology. It was this 3-4 year window of drinking from a firehose, but it felt the same as joining the military. If you’re left standing, you have good stories.
GBF: It sounds like you had a good thing going. Why did you decide to leave tech?
Nate Kouhana: I loved the speed of decision making in the tech world; it was a good contrast to how slowly decisions are often made in the military. At the same time, I missed the structure, frameworks, and decision process I had known in the Army. There’s no rhyme or reason to tech; no structure. You’re working for a 26 year-old who changes his mind all the time. I realized that I’d had this valuable experience in tech, and was at a point where I had this small window of opportunity to capitalize on that and attend business school, so that’s what I did. Attended the University of Chicago.
GBF: So Anthem Snacks was your next venture?
Nate Kouhana: I had made some good money in real estate while living in San Francisco, and I saw an opportunity to choose what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. That’s how my wife and I wound up in Montana. We considered some opportunities in the meat processing business, but some of the deals I was looking at didn’t come through. At that point, I shifted my focus to crafting a jerky line. People like Pat and I love jerky! All the jerky I had ever had tasted like shit, and I knew we could do better. So I started looking for a partner.
GBF: That’s when you reached out to Pat?
Nate Kouhana: After living and working in San Francisco and Chicago, I felt very disconnected from the rest of the world, like I had been living in this bubble. I missed being in the team room, being direct with people in a no-excuses environment, and knowing that the people next to you have your back. I wanted to start a business that gives back to the community and stands with my values. Good partners; good programs. Once the business launched, about 8 weeks ago, I reached out to Pat because I wanted to let him know what I was doing, and I wanted his feedback. Having worked with Pat in the past, I knew we complemented each other, and he sees the world a little bit differently than I do, which is what I wanted. He’s not so corporate. He brings an additional lens and perspective to me that’s not the corporate lens. Pat’s point of view is authentic, and it resonates with the military community. I reached out to him not expecting anything, but he had my back from the get-go.
GBF: What is different about working in the business world with a former teammate?
Nate Kouhana: Pat is someone with really high character and work ethic. I have met so many people since leaving the military who claim to be hard workers, but they don’t work hard. I wanted someone no-excuses, with high character. Someone who would help us come to a decision, but would respect that decision once it was made and then move forward together as a team with no questions asked. I knew that I could trust pat’s judgment, work ethic, and character without question, so I told him I was looking someone full-time, let’s be in this together—and he jumped in with both feet.
GBF: And a fellow Green Beret is the ideal business partner because…
Nate Kouhana: I’ve worked with really smart people in tech and in business school; all of these people with high credentials. But at the end of the day, I know what it’s like to sit in the team room with the guys. When you find good guys in the team room, you know that you are surrounded with people who are capable of wearing a lot of hats. In today’s world, everyone is almost too highly specialized. The problem is, though, that you can’t start a business with limited resources and only specialty people. You need people who are jack-of-all trades, and that what Green Berets DO. Green Berets are people who are capable of doing everything, no matter what their MOS officially is; they can meet the minimum MOS standard across all those elements. They are problem solvers who can put all of the pieces together. In the civilian world, you have people who are subject matter experts on one thing or another, and they often can’t understand how to work outside the scope of what their degree or job titles says their job is. Sometimes, for that reason, I have found it hard to get on the same page with them and collaborate. For me and Pat, in contrast, as Green Berets we are just problem solvers. Nobody is ever too good to be the guy who goes and cleans the bathroom. And that, in my opinion, is where you will have the best experience in entrepreneurship. Build a good, disciplined foundation of good people when you’re building a business and a team. Choose people who will roll up their sleeves, solve problems, and set the culture. If you set that foundation properly, the rest will grow.
GBF: Do you think that there are civilians out there who also fit this description in the work place?
Nate Kouhana: Absolutely. The world is filled with doers. It has nothing to do with being in the military or not. But if you don’t set the foundation with a group of doers, it is hard to find more. You have to begin building your team of doers with the right key people.
Pat Lynch: One thing I’m sure you’ve also seen working at the Green Beret Foundation, and which Nate and I also know, is that Green Berets are mission focused. We will get the job done. If you are aligned with what that mission is—whether at a not-for-profit or for-profit organization—you will do what it takes, at the end of the day. Improvise, adapt, overcome, and figure it out. The team, whether military or not, needs to have the mindset of, “Hey, your mission is on the other side of that obstacle. How you get around, under, or through it is for you to figure out. Blow it up, sneak around it, jump over it, doesn’t matter. But get the job done.” At my age, approaching my 50’s, those challenges are the things that keep me loving life, and loving the work that Nate and I are doing. Always looking for the next problem to solve, because solving problems is what we love. I know that it is what all Green Berets love. We love that problem set. It doesn’t always have to be a war; back home, it’s the same thing. It’s all about finding that problem to solve to keep us engaged and satisfied.
Nate Kouhana: Agreed. These are the things that you take for granted being in the team room. Everybody gets so caught up in the sexy buzzwords of job titles, but all success really comes down to is doing the basics and making sure that the rest of your team is doing the basics, too. It’s about focus, and adapting when things go wrong. For some reason, this is more difficult for most people than it should be. Things go wrong and they panic; things go downhill fast, because they don’t have the work ethic or the discipline to weather the storm. It doesn’t have to be that hard, though. It’s all about mastery of the fundamentals, something that any other Green Beret will tell you.
GBF: So, there’s really no good way to transition from this deep conversation to asking you about beef jerky now, is there?
Pat Lynch: Listen, Nate is too humble about the jerky. It is REALLY good. 100% American beef, no MSG, real wood-smoked. But Anthem is about more than beef jerky and apparel; we are striving to be a lifestyle brand. Military and first responders are our first love, so-to-speak, but we love all Americans who live the Anthem lifestyle. Whether you are an active single parent with 3 kids trying to work through the COVID crisis, or heading out on a mountain climbing expedition, you need fuel for your body. “Fuel your freedom,” is what we say. We have been inviting some really inspiring people to come in and speak to the company, veterans and regular folks who are accomplished athletes and in other areas, looking to do good in the world.
Nate Kouhana: My number one priority, after my experiences in San Francisco and Chicago, was to create a brand that was based on genuine authenticity. There are a lot of businesses out there selling you things based on manufactured stories. They see an opportunity in the market and then hammer it with marketing spin and stories. Pat and I believe that having an authentic story, and living it, is priority number one. So many people take for granted farming, outdoorsmanship, and everything that happens in the midwestern states in the everyday lives of good American people. It’s the part of the American story that doesn’t get told by the big media and marketing companies that live on the coast and invent all of their marketing stories to sell you things. That’s what inspired me when I first came out here to Montana. Just seeing cows out here grazing by the side of the highway. So much of our meat in this country comes from places like Brazil, where the cattle industry leads to deforestation, and people don’t realize that they’re not eating these happy Montana cows.
Pat Lynch: Our world is so international, physically and economically. We lose a lot of hardiness this way. Not everyone has to be Backwoods Bob and build a cabin off the grid. But have some skills, at least; take care of your business and take care of your family. At Anthem, we talk about lifestyle and invite everybody in, regardless of their background or geographic location. We encourage you to take part in a lifestyle that is bigger than any one of us; go out and take a hike. Get out of the city. Bring some Anthem jerky—because that’s what we do; we sell jerky—and then go out there and be an inspiration. Live a little bit better and be a better version of yourself.
At the Green Beret Foundation we are proud to support our members and their endeavors into the private sector. We want to thank Nate and Pat for taking the time to chat with us and talk about “life after the tab”.