A Waterloo resident and Navy veteran appears on the bottle of one of the most popular brands of bourbon in the country.
Joshua Perschbacher was one of six veterans selected to have their photo and story appear on the Evan Williams American-Made Heroes edition bottle being released June 19.
“It’s very humbling,” Perschbacher said of the recognition.
Perschbacher was honored for his military service and the work he has done to help veterans after his time in the Navy.
A Herrin High School graduate, Perschbacher earned his teaching degree from Southern Illinois University Carbondale but could not find a job in the midst of the Great Recession. So, in 2009, he enlisted in the Navy as an operations specialist.
Normally, people in that position are responsible for tasks like monitoring radars.
“I did not do any of that,” the former petty officer said. “I was doing things like personnel manning and training requirements. The training officer pulled me when she found out I had a degree in education and said ‘I’m going to have you do this, college boy.’”
As part of that job, Perschbacher helped service members attend Transition Assistance Program classes focused on assisting people with transitioning to the civilian workforce.
“Every single person comes back and they say ‘my chief told me to not get out of the Navy because there’s no jobs out there and nothing for me to do,’” Perschbacher recounted. “And I thought ‘I don’t want you to be in the military at all if you don’t have a heart for it.””
That planted a seed that would grow in Perschbacher’s mind.
After four years and two deployments to the Middle East, he left the military and obtained a master’s in higher education administration and student affairs from Northern Illinois University.
Perschbacher aimed to use that expertise to help individuals find alternative career paths if they did not want to continue serving in the military.
He worked at several universities, handling jobs like academic advising and GI Bill processing, including the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
At one of his jobs in Chicago, he became aware of three events targeted to help veterans with their civilian careers taking place at the same time in different parts of the city.
“We’ve got to consolidate and work together and collaborate more,” Perschbacher realized. “I said, ‘somebody’s got to do something.’”
He decided to become that someone, starting The Vetwork as a network-focused organization that aims to help various nonprofits work together and support each other as they help veterans.
Perschbacher explained that while he was in the Navy, he worked on an aircraft carrier that had 18 departments and coordinated with three other vessels, multiple countries and the other branches of the military.
“We do all that for the most elaborate things this world has ever seen militarily, and as soon as we get off active duty it’s like a brain dump. We just forget we are as good as we are because we work together,” he said. “A rising tide raises all ships. If we all work together, we can accomplish so much more.”
When Perschbacher moved to this area a few years ago, he realized the St. Louis area had fewer of the events he had seen in Chicago, so The Vetwork shifted course.
“It was a pivot from ‘we want to aggregate all these different groups and what they’re doing’ to ‘we’re going to have an event and bring everybody in,’” he said.
Those efforts have been successful, as The Vetwork has helped veterans in the St. Louis region find jobs and friends – even when events shifted to Zoom because of the pandemic.
“This is a good organization. It’s helped people get jobs and connect in the area,” Perschbacher said.
For Perschbacher, who has lost both his parents, The Vetwork also serves as a way to build his legacy, which is critically important to him.
“I want to have something that can outlive me,” he said. “The work being done for all of this, it’s trying to do something you hope your parents can be proud of.”
Although the virtual events were still effective in terms of connecting people, Perschbacher said they made funding difficult because he could not obtain sponsorships.
So, he applied for a grant through Evan Williams designed for a veteran-serving nonprofit affected by the pandemic that he saw on social media.
The Vetwork did not receive that grant, but Evan Williams used those applicants to select the people who would appear on its special edition bottles.
Perschbacher went through an interview process and was selected for that honor, which also means Evan Williams will donate $1,500 to The Vetwork.
“It’s been a really great experience so far,” Perschbacher said, adding that it helps motivate him to continue the nonprofit. “Having done the work since 2017, it’s been a lot of work, and it means a lot to have that recognized after all of that time.”
Monroe County residents can support Perschbacher June 19 by picking up one of his bottles during a release party at Stubborn German Brewing Co. in Waterloo. He will be at the event to talk with people and sign bottles.
The brewery is donating $2 of every bottle sold to The Vetwork. Each bottle costs $25.69 plus tax, and there will be an extremely limited supply.
For more information, visit the brewery’s Facebook page.