Iraq War vets applying tech skills they learned to their Iowa business
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Under the bright light of a magnifying glass, Jake Long squints as he applies a screwdriver to the tiny parts of a Samsung cell phone. Beside him, Perry Graham chats with a customer on his HTC phone.
They are in the back shop of their business, Cedar Rapids Cell Phone Repair.
Behind them, Graham’s blue National Guard uniform hangs at the ready from a shelf while Long’s hangs on a nearby doorknob. At any moment, one or both of these 29-year-old Iraq War veterans could be called upon to help bury a U.S. veteran.
“We do it because we feel we want to recognize the veterans who have gone before us,” Long said. “They’ve served their country, and we want to show our respect for them.”
As members of the Honor Guard of the Army Reserve National Guard, these Cedar Rapids men help mourners pay their last respects to veterans — from World War II and the Korean Conflict through the Vietnam War to those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They will travel anywhere in a 33-county area in Iowa as well as in border towns in Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. They receive their rank’s pay, $70 or $90 in their cases.
“I do it for the love of the job,” said Graham, who is involved in three to six services a week.
He is approaching 1,000 services in all, even as he and Long build their fledgling business, Cedar Rapids Cell Phone Repair, that’s been off the ground just a year. They work on cellphones, televisions and electronic games.
It’s a business that Long suggested the Jefferson High School friends try after each had finished a second deployment to Iraq. A business they’ve nurtured with assistance from SCORE, in particular counselor Jim Williams, himself a veteran.
Long and Graham enlisted in the National Guard when they were 17, in 2000, to earn some money and to help with future college educations. Then 9/11 happened, and by 2003 they were deployed to Iraq.
In 2006, they were deployed a second time.
The pair learned about technology while in the service. So upon their returns, Graham joined the honor guard but Long moved to Ocala, Fla., where he began a backpack cellphone repair business.
Using the Internet, he’d get calls, meet customers in coffee shops and repair a cell phone in a half-hour or so for $50 or $60.
After Long returned to Iowa, he and Graham began to develop their business plan.They opened the storefront at 1539 First Ave. SE, in September 2011, even building their own display cases.
“We did what we could to save money,” Long said. “We don’t owe anybody any money.”
They added a kiosk at Lindale Mall this past September.
“I like the fact I can go to work and enjoy it and know I’m making pennies for myself,” Long said.