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Pat Tillman Veterans Center hosts former Navy SEAL, ‘Shark Tank’ alum

US Rep. Eli Crane praised center leaders for work with veterans

Man seated at a table speaking to a room of unseen veterans.

U.S. Representative for Arizona's Second Congressional District Eli Crane speaks during a meeting with Pat Tillman Veterans Center leadership and students on Monday, March 25, on the Tempe campus. Also pictured is Gaither Martin, district director. Photo by Emma Fitzgerald/ASU

March 28, 2024

A U.S. representative from Arizona who served in five wartime deployments as part of Navy SEAL Team 3 and earned a deal on the TV show "Shark Tank" visited the Pat Tillman Veterans Center Monday in Tempe to learn more about student veterans at Arizona State University.

Eli Crane, a Republican who represents Arizona’s Second Congressional District, received a comprehensive briefing from Pat Tillman Veterans Center Executive Director Shawn Banzhaf; Christian Rauschenbach, center director of innovation and compliance; and Michelle Loposky, center director of development and strategic partnerships. He also met with five student veterans.

“When I became executive director, I said, ‘There are three promises I want to make to every veteran that comes to ASU,’” Banzhaf said. “I promised them customer service excellence. … The second thing is our commitment to community … and finally, career readiness.”

Service excellence means making sure benefits are processed on time to ensure students are not placed in a financial bind, Banzhaf said. Commitment to community is about helping veterans find the camaraderie void and sense of purpose they miss after leaving the service. Career readiness is about what’s next.

“A diploma is an important piece of paper but if you don’t meet the career path that you need, shame on us,” Banzhaf said. “It’s putting them in front of employers; it’s putting them on the path to success after ASU.”

Praising the Tillman Center’s efforts in supporting student veterans, Crane commended the dedication and commitment shown by the staff in facilitating a smooth transition and providing necessary resources to veterans pursuing their education at ASU.

Crane also shared his experience starting a small family business and hiring many veterans to give them that sense of purpose the military once provided and that veterans tend to seek. To that end, the Cranes worked with multiple nonprofits to help vets find their next mission.

“All of this is very important and I’m glad it’s happening in academia,” Crane said. “This is just a really cool experience, but the coolest thing about it is that I can tell you guys really care.”

Elected in the 2022 election, Crane serves on the state’s business administration, veterans affairs and small business committees. Within the committee roles, he offered his assistance to help the veterans center and the students they support.

“I don’t know what my committee assignments will be next time, but please consider me an ally,” Crane said.

Accompanied by the center's leadership team, Crane also spent time getting to know student veterans Dani Bermudez, Clay Robinson, Amber Sheardown, Garry Stone and Ronaldo Moreno. He listened to their experiences at ASU, sought to understand the challenges they face and inquired about their future goals.

State Representative Eli Crane takes a photo with ASU student veterans.
Eli Crane poses for a photo with Arizona State University student veterans at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center on the Tempe campus on Monday, March 25. Pictured (from left) are Marine Corps veteran Ronaldo Moreno, Arizona Army National Guard members Clay Robinson and Dani Bermudez, Arizona Rep. Eli Crane and Marine Corps veterans Garry Stone and Amber Sheardown. Photo by Emma Fitzgerald/ASU

The veterans hailed the Tillman Center as an invaluable support system in the pursuit of their educational goals. From navigating the transition from military to academic life to fostering a sense of camaraderie among fellow veterans, the center has been a lifeline for those who have served.

“It’s been a truly amazing experience,” said Marine Corps veteran Garry Stone, who is pursuing an undergraduate degree in business law from the W. P. Carey School of Business. “I have been to other universities prior to ASU — I won’t name them, but they definitely did not have what ASU has here for the veteran community.”

Stone also praised the center for offering valuable professional development, a sentiment expressed by others.

“We are always getting opportunities to show our resumes to employers, get feedback, attend workshops, have a direct line with career services,” said Dani Bermudez, Arizona Army National Guard member pursuing a bachelor’s degree in psychology with the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. “We do get one-on-one time with our leadership staff. So we get feedback on our strengths and areas of improvement. That’s a very unique approach the Tillman Center offers.”

In 2012, prior to leaving the Navy, Crane and his wife, Jen, launched a home business manufacturing bottle openers from 50-caliber heavy machine gun shells. Their entrepreneurial journey led them to an appearance on the TV show "Shark Tank," where they pitched their unique product. Investors Kevin O’Leary and Mark Cuban partnered to offer them a deal, which the Cranes accepted.

“It’s actually really simple; most guys like drinking beer, most guys think that large caliber bullets are very cool,” said Crane, during the 2014 episode. “At ‘Bottle Breacher,’ we’ve combined the two to make the ultimate manly gift.”

Bottle Breacher flourished and became very profitable, according to the company website and other reports.

Crane was a Navy SEAL for eight of his 13 years in the service, enlisting in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. SEALs (Sea, Air, and Land teams) are the Navy’s elite maritime unconventional warfare force trained to operate and fight in all environments and respond to crises worldwide. Crane left the Navy in 2014.

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