Austin Talley, OSD’s Chief Development Officer, On A Mission To Help Veterans
Written by OSD Staff Writer, Jason Carter
Austin is a veteran, entrepreneur, and proud Texan. His family has ties to the Lone Star State that stretch back through history, to a time when the land was still owned by Mexico. In fact, it was one of Austin’s ancestors who fired the first cannon shot for Texas independence at Gonzales under the famous yellow and black flag emblazoned with the words, “Come and Take It.” That same ancestor was also Commander at the Alamo and Commander of the Artillery at the Battle of San Jacinto. Austin says he has family who have served in every American war, “from the American revolution all the way to Desert Storm.” It is no wonder that Austin followed in his family’s footsteps and continued their rich tradition of service to country by joining the Navy at 18.
After serving in the Navy, Austin enlisted in the Army as an officer. However, it was around this time that the war in Iraq was getting started, and the night before graduating from Officer Candidate School (OCS), Austin received a phone call with a job offer that would change his path. He says, “I get this phone call that would send me to combat in eight weeks versus three and a half years of continued training.” In the end, Austin chose to defer his commission and accept a job as a contractor supporting the CIA.
Over the next six years, Austin spent a lot of his time deployed. Austin jokes, “I deployed more than most my friends on active duty.” The wear of constant deployments eventually took its toll. “I finally just had enough of being gone,” Austin says. “I hung up my hat. I sold everything. I didn’t want anything to do with that life. I got rid of all my gear. I sold all my weapons. I just wanted to be a hipster living in Austin, Texas, drinking coffee and minding my own business.”
However, the lure of organic beard oils and the convivial vibes of craft brew coffee shops could not distract Austin for long. “Slowly but surely, I started getting sucked back into the contracting life,” Austin says. “I ended up starting my own defense contracting company. And then I got sucked back into the veteran community because I knew there were a lot of veterans who were hurting.”
According to a 2018 report by the Department of Veteran Affairs, an average of 20 veterans a day take their own life. For Austin, this is a reality that hits close to home. He lost his cousin, a member of the 101st Airborne and part of the first wave into Iraq, to suicide. “It really started messing with my head,” Austin recalls. “What if I would have reached out more, what if I would have participated more in my younger cousin’s life, saying, ‘Hey, I’ve been there. You’re going to be okay.’ So I made it a mission to do everything that I could.”
This mission has led Austin to seek out opportunities to serve his fellow veterans. For example, when Austin learned that the City of Austin was discriminating against veterans with service dogs, he filed a federal lawsuit against the city to stop it. He also started getting involved with various veteran organizations, such as Our Digital Heroes (ODH). ODH, Austin says, “helps veterans or surviving spouses get degrees or certifications in the IT world and finds them job placement once they graduate at no cost.”
Austin’s involvement with OSD began with a chance encounter at a panel for veteran entrepreneurs that was hosted by The University of Texas. It was there that Austin first met Glenn Banton, Chief Executive Officer at OSD. “He and I hit it off,” Austin says, and over the years that followed, the two stayed in touch.
In 2018, Austin tried his hand at politics when he ran for public office for the 45th district of Texas. At this time, he also started helping the veteran organization Honor Flight, a non-profit that provides veterans with free transportation to the war memorials in Washington D.C. “We fly them from Texas to go see the memorials in Washington at no cost,” Austin says. “It’s really first class treatment the whole way, including a police escort. It’s the ticker-tape parade that our Vietnam veterans and Korean veterans didn’t get.”
“The next thing you know,” Austin says, “Glenn was like, ‘Hey man, I’d love for you to be a part of OSD.’ I was like whatever I can do. I don’t care if it’s just passing out t-shirts or getting people to donate. I’d be more than happy doing anything that I can to help.” Long story short, there was an opening for Chief Development Officer (CDO) on OSD’s advisory board and Austin took the position.
As CDO, one of Austin’s primary responsibilities is to engage with partners and reach out to them for sponsorships. “I’m a face or a mouthpiece behind the scenes for relationships,” Austin laughs.
Though Austin has only been with OSD for a few months, his favorite moments so far have been when OSD has the opportunity to reach out to the veteran community. “I really love the stuff that we do when it comes to the live events,” Austin says. “We have a great relationship with COTA (Circuit of The Americas) here in Austin. They donate tickets to concerts and other events including Formula-1. I mean, some of these tickets are five hundred dollars apiece, and the fact that we are able to give those to a veteran, and he can bring his spouse or she can bring her spouse, that’s pretty neat. Five Finger Death Punch was there yesterday, and just to be able to go online and see that there were some veterans that got to enjoy those seats, whether it’s the grass seats or the VIP seats, to me I just think that’s so cool.”
Austin also loves the fact that OSD is not your average veteran service organization. He says, “Here at OSD, we’re not a veteran service organization, we’re a veteran service ecosystem. That’s because most of the time we have engaged the veteran while they were in uniform, so by the time they’ve transitioned out, we’ve helped them through that transition, to either becoming an entrepreneur or getting into the tech world because we are very tech-oriented in OSD with our gaming platforms and morale boxes that we send out overseas. And we help them get into the tech world or give them some guidance on the educational path that they should take. And then we end up seeing them at some mentor program. And then they volunteer.”
In the future, Austin would like to see OSD grow beyond its current capability for helping veterans, particularly in the area of veteran employment. “I really would like to see OSD have a wing where we’re able to hire on staff,” Austin says, such as “entry-level positions for veterans who want to enter the tech world.” Austin knows the value of an organization lending a helping hand because of the help that he himself received in the past. He recalls, “I was just a grunt knuckle dragger… and I got an internship at Total Intel Solutions. I am so grateful to those guys who gave me that internship to get into the intel world because that’s what led to the next ten years of my life. So if we could do that at OSD, and give people a leg up into the tech world, whether it be gaming design or IT security or whatever, that would be phenomenal.”
In the coming weeks, Austin will be taking a short break from his role at OSD, while he satisfies an Army mandate that requires him to go through basic training. He will return in October, at which point his duties at OSD, and his mission to help veterans, will continue.