The bond formed between members of a military unit is a strong one, and it is often tested through fire. These people depend on each other, look out for each other, and entrust their lives to each other. This deep connection means that when a member of the unit passes, that loss cuts deep. Coping with the loss of a brother-in-arms, Korey Shaffer, a US military Veteran, created a plaque to commemorate his fallen brother. This humble tribute sparked a movement and a business that paved the way to give back to veterans and their families in need.
“I exited the Marine Corps in 2015 after sustaining several injuries. In 2016, one of my Marines took his own life. I did not take the loss well, and I was an absolute wreck,” he shared. Grieving and dealing with demons of his own, Korey turned to alcohol as a solution. He lost many friends to suicide after they came back from Afganistan. “I was losing people at a rate I never expected to experience,” he said. “Every day was like waking up to a nightmare because you never knew how many of our guys made it through the night. It was mentally exhausting to watch these string warriors you know crumble under the weight of their own minds.”
As a coping mechanism, Korey started making plaques during his free time. The act of making these items to honor his fallen friend served as a reminder to keep going. “However, when I got sober, the plaque was too painful for me to keep. So I gave it to his mom.” Upon seeing her reaction to the plaque, Korey knew that this was something he wanted to do for other people as well.
With this simple token, the Til Valhalla Project was born and Korey started making more plaques, and he had them delivered to the families of the Marines and the family members they lost; He was doing this out of pocket, and he was not taking donations. Eventually, funds were starting to run low, and so wanting to keep the project going, Korey turned to social media to ask friends for advice. Someone suggested he create a logo for the project and put them on shirts to sell.
That is when Korey went from being “the free plaque guy” to the CEO of a company that sells products to help fund mental health support for Veterans. Today, Til Valhalla Project is a brand that offers a range of items such as memorial bands, hats, and shirts. They also provide tumblers and steel art. Proceeds from their sales go into creating plaques for the families of fallen heroes. The company also donates 20% net proceeds towards reducing Veteran suicide.
Til Valhalla Project makes it a practice to ship memorial packages anonymously, calling their faceless deliverers “Legacy Guardians.” Korey tells us, “These plaques provided a measure of comfort to bereaved families. It showed them that they had the love and support of a huge community and that their hero lives on.”
Since becoming official in 2017, Til Valhalla Project has outgrown the garage where it started. The company now has over 60 employees and six shops. “The growth we have seen and the overwhelming support we receive is a humbling daily experience. It tests me daily as a veteran, CEO, and person,” Korey shared.
And while he does not see himself as an expert at business, Korey Shaffer has learned a few things about being a leader. “There are some things I jotted down that helped me stay on track as the company grew. My number one rule was humility, and I was not ashamed to tell my team that I am sorry or admit my mistakes. Another mindset I implement is to make business part of life. I study every day and find new ways to innovate. As a leader, I also find it important to define my standards and expectations before asking anyone to follow me,” Korey said.
To learn more about their efforts with Korey leading the way as founder and CEO, go visit their website.