Alex Svenson: First of all, let me start by saying how excited we are to have both Jonathan Drew and 1st Sgt Storm Boen of "Op: Cigars for Warriors" (CFW) here with us for this historic interview. Today we are discussing the Cigars for Warriors organization, which provides over 85,000 premium cigars per year to deployed U.S. service members.
Storm, it’s an honor to have you here with us today. Can you tell the Cigar.com community exactly who and what is "Cigars for Warriors?"
Storm Boen: Thank you so much, Alex. Let me start by saying that the support from the Cigar.com team is appreciated by thousands of our deployed service members. Cigar.com, along with DE, came in for this year’s headline sponsor position of our festival at the end of May. We were able to provide the funding necessary to significantly impact a lot of good people who have made big sacrifices for all Americans.
CFW has 163 donation centers, primarily located in cigar shops, where people drop off cigars that we collect and send to deployed troops. Additionally, we have 89 event coordinators, 23 members of the board, and 10 people on the board of directors. Our team is made up of active duty military on staff, veterans, and folks who just love the military.
AS: Drew Estate has long been known to support the US military’s deployed troops, probably more than any other cigar company in the world. Can you please share some insight as to how this all began, specifically from the early years?
Jonathan Drew: Thank you for hosting Storm and me today. This interview is greatly appreciated, and with the strong reach of Cigar.com, even more people will become aware of Cigars for Warriors and how each person can contribute to our efforts.
Now to answer your question, we have to rewind back in time to my first eight years living in Nicaragua. During that time (1998-2006), Drew Estate was doing many events each month for our troops, helping to raise money for a plethora of small and large organizations and private clubs and groups.
The first time that I really participated in looking at our monthly spends back in the U.S., I was shocked to see the support that DE was contributing to our military men and woman. I don’t take any credit for those generous and thoughtful gestures during the early days. As a matter of fact, it really opened my eyes as to how patriotic the entire company was. It made me feel very proud of the entire Drew Estate team.
AS: Was it at this point in 2006 that you met JD and introduced him to Cigars for Warriors?
SB: It was actually much later than 2006 when I got to know JD, I believe in 2009, about three years before Cigars for Warriors was formally founded. In ‘06 I was finishing Arabic school and getting ready to deploy again, this time back to Afghanistan, despite just having learned Arabic.
I started by helping out a couple of other groups that were sending out cigars, because this was a way I could still be a good Non Commissioned Officer (NCO). I remember my experiences of having a good cigar, especially after a particularly bad day, and the positive effect that it had on me, and even more importantly, the effect it had on my men.
Cigars are the #1 requested item for deployed warriors. However, each group that I participated with was very disorganized or less than forthright with the cigar inventory. So several of us got together and wanted to do it by the book. We signed our bylaws on May 1st, 2012 and became an NPO, and in September of 2013 we finally received our Federal Charity Status (501c3).
AS: I imagine that this is when Cigars for Warriors and Drew Estate began to work together?
SB: JD and I had already become good friends well before this, and I had approached him to ask for his support with our new effort. At this point, we hadn’t even selected the name. I knew I wanted DE behind us, as it would give our new organization additional credibility, and of course, actual cigars to send the deployed warriors. I have to admit that I was a bit shocked when I heard JD’s response to our request. (A big smile comes over Storms face and then he chuckles as he looks at JD).
AS: Oh boy, sounds like it didn’t go too well...?
SB: Well, it wasn’t that JD said, "No,” it’s that his response was more detailed than I had anticipated. I had worked for years in planning the vision for Cigars for Warriors, including our objectives and strategy. JD, however, was more interested in a lot of the technical aspects such as Articles of Incorporation, Shareholders Agreements, and who was on the Board of Directors.
He said that DE would not move forward without evidence that CFW was legitimate, and that all documents were professionally prepared. Moreover, he wanted to personally meet the entire board of directors – every single person on the team. I was a bit stunned.
AS: As a main sponsor for CFW, how many cigars do you give away each year and how do you know that they are actually getting into soldier’s hands?
Before CFW, we used to worry that the cigars would be dry or mishandled or even stolen. I demanded that Storm demonstrate that CFW was an organization that would be different, better, and have a long- term plan. He went well beyond that and created a web-like network that is highly effective.
AS: Storm, 163 donation centers and 89 event coordinators is impressive. Are there other dimensions to the CFW "network?"
SB: C.A.T.S. is one of the most active social media cigar communities, now over 7,000 strong and growing. The primary charity focus is Op:CFW. The members are a cross weave of consumers, retailers, manufacturers, etc. Both groups can be found on Facebook groups.
Cigar.com was one of two retailers who stepped up and supported C.A.T.S. on the very first week of its inception 3 years ago, and has become a significant part of the C.A.T.S. and Op:CFW family.
AS: JD, how does it feel to know that you are doing so much for our deployed service-members?
JD: It is inspiring to be part of something so pure. All of the CFW staff, including Storm, are unpaid at this point. They even donate out of their own pockets quite often to make ends meet.
Drew Estate has taken CFW to all of our yearly festivals and all of our trade shows nationwide. We have some great stories, real tear-jerkers. Being charitable is contagious. I really love the connection that we share with the other supporters, from shops to consumers.
AS: How do other cigar shops or regular consumers get involved?
SB: Shops can contact any staff member to become a donation center, and these requests get funneled to me or to our event coordinator director. They can also go to our website, www.cigarsforwarriors.org, or the Facebook group, Cigars for Warriors.
Someone who wants to become a volunteer can go to cigarsforwarriors.org and click on "Contact Us," and then send an email right there. They can also contact any staff member including me to become a volunteer. Most volunteers want to become event coordinators. We do have specialized positions as well.
AS: What kind of cigars do you recommend for people to send CFW for our deployed guys and girls?
Storm - All premium cigars are greatly appreciated.
AS: What is next on the Cigars for Warriors platform?
Storm - We are sticking to plan and not straying from our course. Our charter is planning to send cigars to our deployed warriors; our heroes. I’d like to extend a special thanks to Drew Estate and Cigar.com for remembering our country’s bravest.