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With possible defense cuts, soldiers prepare for 2nd career

As a child, Gene Tidwell ran lemonade stands, hosted garage sales and - after finding a discarded pressure washer - went door to door cleaning neighborhood homes.

Scott Renteria pushed his parents' lawnmower across his neighborhood and would go from yard to yard pulling weeds for cash.

Decades later, their entrepreneurial spirits haven't dampened, and now both men are returning to those roots in the face of defense cuts that may force them out of the Army.

Tidwell and Renteria are chief warrant officers with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade. The soldiers fly OH-58 Kiowa helicopters.

But their beloved Kiowas are on the chopping block under the latest Army budget plan, and both men expect to leave the Army later this year.

To prepare for that coming life change, each has started his own businesses.

Tidwell owns Fun Factor Inflatable Rentals; Renteria owns Auto Envy Detail.

Earlier this year, they teamed up to open All-American Chem Dry, a carpet cleaning business at 941 Hope Mills Road.

"We want to set ourselves up for success when we get out," Tidwell said.

Tidwell and Renteria each have multiple deployments under their belts. They said those experiences, and the rest of their Army training, would serve them well.

Kiowa helicopters fly just over the treetops, providing watch over troops and providing reconnaissance to commanders.

"We have leadership skills that we learned in the Army," Tidwell said.

"And there's the attention to detail," Renteria added. "(In a Kiowa) you're always trying to paint the picture for the ground commander. That attention definitely translates into the civilian world."

While their entrepreneurial habits started at an early age, both said the military has helped them focus and mature.

"I had no direction when I first came in," Tidwell said. "Now I'm settled. I know how to leverage others to make it work."

Tidwell said he has met many soldier entrepreneurs who have served as inspiration.

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel," he said. "But with news of the Army cutting the Kiowa, we didn't want to wait until the day we got out."

The business isn't without its risks.

Renteria said the men were investing valuable dollars.

"It's scary," he said. "But you have to jump in. It's plug and play."

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