Chris Diaz, Ryan Peters and a handful of veteran friends were at Fogo de Chao enjoying a 50 percent discount last Veterans Day when the casual lunch inevitably turned serious.
As Peters said, they’re all “alpha personalities” and were sharing details of their accomplishments at work and in graduate school. At some point, Peters recalled, the idea clicked: “Why don’t we do that together?”
Months later, they’ve formed a coalition they’re calling the Action Tank. The goal is to contribute to social causes in Philadelphia both small (cleanup efforts in neighborhoods) and large (the heroin epidemic) and to attempt to shatter the stereotype of veterans as being helpless and lost after returning from war.
“There is this idea of the veteran being broken,” Diaz said, “when in reality we’ve demonstrated again and again being civic assets.”
Diaz, 35 and the leader of Action Tank, is about midway through his doctorate at Drexel. Other members of the Action Tank include Wharton graduates, finance employees, a federal prosecutor and founders of nonprofits. An estimated 80,000 veterans live in Philadelphia.
For now, the group features 20 members: 17 men and three women. That ratio about fits the breakdown of women to men in the military, but Diaz said the group is looking to be more diverse in terms of gender. Most members of Action Tank are like Diaz, having served in Afghanistan or Iraq. He did a deployment with the Navy in Afghanistan and two deployments aboard a ship in the Mediterranean.
Peters, an attorney at Pepper Hamilton and a Navy SEAL, said the Action Tank members share an interest in wanting to perform public service, like they did when they were in the military.
“You serve in the military and there’s that brotherhood and sisterhood,” he said. “You get to the point where you’re willing to die for somebody. Then life events take place. You go back out into the world and it’s just not there.”
Over food at Fogo de Chao, they looked around the table and saw a way to team up and use their connections for supplementing different projects in Philadelphia. They’ve since been having monthly meetings and have started organizing community volunteer efforts like neighborhood cleanups.
Action Tank’s first major undertaking deals with the opioid crisis. Member Matt Miclette, an Army vet who is pursuing a Master’s in social policy at Penn, had been working with fellow students on a plan allowing for the disposal of unused prescription painkillers at drop boxes at pharmacies. Right now, drop boxes are available only at police district offices.
Through connections with the Action Tank, Miclette was able to meet and discuss the project with Councilman David Oh. Oh then attended an Action Tank meeting, and Miclette said he has plans to meet with the Councilman again this month.
“We need City Council to make legislation to ensure there’s sustainability (for the project) going forward,” Miclette said.
This month, Action Tank has scheduled a meeting with members of Prevention Point, a nonprofit focusing on substance abuse reduction, in hopes of striking up a partnership.
For now, Action Tank is still loosely structured. Diaz said the group will likely organize in a more official manner as a nonprofit or B-Corp. They’ll continue working on the opioid crisis while looking for other ways to benefit Philadelphia in the future, possibly by next attacking prison recidivism issues.
“Within our group of 20,” Diaz said, “there are very few people in the city we can’t get to right away.”