The former Marine and cancer survivor made waves recently when he won a contest to open his own store. By Ho Lin U.S. Marine Corps veteran Edward Schrank refuses to boast about it, but he's probably just a little bit tougher than the rest of us. In 2006, the former Gunnery Sergeant was diagnosed with lacrimal adnal carcinoma, a rare tumor of the tear duct. He subsequently underwent numerous radiation treatments, including experimental proton therapy, and ultimately received 13,000 rads of radiation, which is double the amount a typical cancer patient receives. Although he lost his left eye, Schrank is now recovered, and with a medical discharge from the military, he has embarked full speed ahead on his new career: small business owner. "Looking back at my 14 years of experience in the military, it just felt right as a next step," says Schrank. "Being able to take the leadership skills I've learned and adding the business component was a great challenge." Schrank is no stranger to running an organization -- he is also the major force behind the organization Cancer Star, an online community and resource center for people with cancer. "I always had confidence and belief that I could manage a business, but there's a difference between having the knowledge and confidence to do something and the ability to do it," he says. "My experiences with Cancer Star confirmed that it was something that I could do." Thanks to "Operation Stores and Stripes," a nation-wide Sears Hometown Stores contest in which the grand prize is getting the opportunity to own and operate a Sears Hometown Store, Schrank is now getting the chance to tackle that challenge. Sears Hometown Stores provide the same services and products as a larger retail Sears store, but are owned by members of the local community. As the winner of the Operation Stores and Stripes contest, Schrank chose to open his store this year at 540 Eagle Drive in Rochelle, Illinois, an hour and a half west of Chicago. Following the grand opening of the store last month, he is getting down to the business of owning (and running) a business. The winner of the contest was chosen from a field of qualified candidates who allied themselves with potential communities, and was determined by votes over social media as well as an interview process which included Kelley Perdew, a former Army officer and current CEO who appeared on The Apprentice on television. Tom Aiello, Division Vice President of Public Relations for Sears Holdings and a disabled Army veteran, adds, "We find that some of the best, most qualified new business owners out there are military veterans. They bring a high degree of entrepreneurship to the table, and many times these veterans are also retirees, so they have alternate income they can invest in a new business. There's also a lot of government programs like the Small Business Administration and services to make sure they're successful. All those things combined make veterans very attractive when we're looking for owners for our licensed businesses." Working with the Community For Schrank, deciding on Rochelle as the location of his new store was a no-brainer. "As a servicemember, you learn to get a read on people real fast, and the support the community in Rochelle gave me from the start was incredible," he says. "I have nothing but respect for the other candidates who I was competing with, but I truly believe the difference wasn't me but the support we got from the community." Certainly the town of Rochelle has been very positive about the new Sears Hometown Store. "It really fits with what we do in the military, because it's about managing teams of people who are great individuals, making a positive impact on the community, and having that drive our progress as an organization," says Schrank. Schrank also wasn't afraid to break the mold when it came to getting the staff of his new store together. "I decided early on that I wanted to hire people based on their talent, character and ability to operate in a team environment, rather than their sales experience," says Schrank. "The joke is that you hear and read about that approach in school and in books, but no one does it in the real world. It turned into a real gut check, because it's not a big deal to train one person with little experience, but we had to train an entire store. But it worked and I'm proud of the environment we've created here." When asked for advice to give other servicemembers who are getting into the civilian job world, Schrank says: "I would tell them to cast the widest net possible. Take a look at every type of work that you can possibly look at. I think that the Sears Hometown Store is an excellent place for transitioning veterans, and fits in with the particular leadership model that the military practices, but there's other opportunities out there too. "Look at everything. When you get an idea of what to do, you might not know for sure if it's perfect, but if you get a tingling that it might be a good opportunity, pull the trigger and go, because you don't want to let it pass you by." Fitting words from a former Marine who has seized his second chance at life and isn't letting it pass him by.
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