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How a Michigan Veteran, and a Small Town, are Paying it Forward to Our Troops at the Holidays

How a Michigan Veteran, and a Small Town, are Paying it Forward to Our Troops at the Holidays

Mike Mermuys knows the power of a genuine act of kindness.

The surface warfare officer had been deployed on the USS Ponce for four months in February 2017, and was already “feeling beat down and trapped [by his] command,” when a surprise birthday card arrived. Fuzzy and bright pink, the card sang a high-pitched birthday song. Inside, Mermuys found the signatures of all 20 members of his previous division on the USS Jason Dunham.

That card not only brightened Mermuys’ day, but it obliterated the negative emotions that had been weighing him down. A simple, kind gesture “replace[d] the fight” in him.

One pink fuzzy card set off waves of kindness for deployed personnel (Courtesy of Mike Mermuys)

Mermuys unearthed the card again this summer, as he digested article after article about service members going on record-setting deployments, and spending sustained periods away from home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Inspired by the memory of how that card shifted his mindset, he “wanted to give something back to our deployed service members, but wasn’t sure how.”

Decide for yourself whether the events that followed were an instance of fate, or just a happy coincidence.

Mermuys came across Freedom Hill Coffee Roasters’ website. Our company’s mission to support the troops “really resonated with [him.]” Before he could even taste Freedom Hill’s coffee, Mermuys decided to start a fundraiser at his workplace, Corteva Agriscience, in Harbor Beach, Mich.

Mermuys took orders for a company hat emblazoned with a small American flag. He planned to use the profits to send Freedom Hill coffee to service members to brighten their prolonged deployments during the holiday season.

Mermuys’ fundraiser started with a patriotic company hat (Courtesy of Mike Mermuys)

The support and generosity of his fellow Corteva employees overwhelmed Mermuys’ expectations. The funds they raised set a record for the largest single donation received by Freedom Hill Coffee Roasters.

Though Harbor Beach is “a small town,” Mermuys says it has “some of the most patriotic people [he] has ever met.”

The Power of Coffee

Before Mermuys entered the Navy, he was not a habitual coffee drinker. During his service, from 2012 to 2018, he consumed a lot of bad coffee. First, “after a few weeks of sleep deprivation,” he drank coffee out of the necessity to stay alert on watch.

Later, coffee would become part of Mermuys’ morning routine. Standing on a ship’s deck, staring at the sunrise with a cup of coffee in hand was a simple “quick mental break” before he closed the hatch and spent the rest of the day in a world without sunlight.

On the ship, “coffee was burned, sour, about twice as strong as it should be, [and had] a lingering musty smell.” Some of his shipmates disguised the taste with sugar or powdered cream, but Mermuys simply became “accustomed to drinking coffee that most people would dump out.”

Memorable mugs of coffee are luckily among the worst relics of his time in the Navy. Mermuys’ civilian career has been positively impacted by the lessons of his service, like how to keep a cool head under pressure, the importance of going against the current to stand up for what’s right, and the power of being respectful of all above and below yourself in the chain of command, and of genuinely caring for the people you lead.

Mermuys (far right) with his fellow officers (Courtesy of Mike Mermuys)

In the civilian world, Mermuys is also thrilled to be drinking better coffee – he likes the Freedom Hill Breakfast Blend, with a bit of cream. It brings him a great deal of joy to be able to send quality beans to the men and women who have the watch.  

Thanks to Mermuys, and a host of Corteva Agriscience employees, Freedom Hill coffee is on its way to a Naval Special Warfare Group in Virginia Beach, Va., a chaplain’s team ministering to soldiers in Kosovo, and an Aviation Brigade in Kuwait.

This holiday season, we at Freedom Hill are grateful to Mermuys for helping us give back to so many who are ensuring our safety, particularly during these challenging times. We wish all our troops, whether deployed or at home, a happy and joyful holiday season. We hope the weeks ahead are filled with the happy coincidences that draw us into closer companionship with our fellow Americans.



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