Saturday was already shaping up to be a banner day for husband and wife Joe and Michelle Stewart, owners of Mission 1 Fitness and Performance, near Caro.
But it got even better shortly after the business, located at 1900 W. Caro Road (M-81) in Indianfields Township, opened its doors Saturday morning.
Just as festivities were beginning for Mission 1’s five-year anniversary and open house, Joe Stewart noticed brother-in-law, and Mission 1 employee Dennis Weiss, speaking to a man whom Stewart didn’t know.
It didn’t take long for Stewart to learn the man’s name, and why he was at Mission 1 before 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning.
The mystery man was Paul DeSander, a retired U.S. Army command sergeant major. And he was at Mission 1 to present the Stewarts with the Patriot Award, which honors employers who hire National Guard members and U.S. military reservists.
“I did not expect that at all, I didn’t even know that type of thing existed,” Joe Stewart said. “So yeah, it was emotional.”
Weiss, a U.S. Air Force reservist and Michelle Stewart’s brother, began working at Mission 1 in October, shortly after completing 12 years of active duty in the Air Force.
“I met with a retired colonel who wanted to hear how I was doing as a reservist, and I told him my life story and how I got a job here with my brother-in-law and sister and how life is good,” Weiss said. “And he said, ‘you should put them up for the Patriot Award.’ And I said, ‘That’s a great idea, what’s the Patriot Award?’”
The colonel explained to Weiss that many employers and business owners are skeptical about hiring veterans or reservists for a variety of reasons. Weiss, living in Wyoming during the time of the conversation last fall, immediately thought of the Stewarts, who had just hired him.
“They knew I was going out of active duty and into the reserves and asked if I wanted a job and I said “Absolutely,’” Weiss explained. “So when I found out about the Patriot Award, I thought of broseph (Joe) and Michelle right away.”
Joe Stewart said he has always had a deep respect for active and retired military personnel, but that being a small business owner has enhanced his feelings.
“Being involved with foundations the past few years that work with veterans or families of active duty people that passed away, it’s grown something within us,” Joe Stewart said. “I don’t even look at (hiring Weiss) like it’s a big deal because it’s not. The dude defended my country for 12 years.”
Weiss, 32, is from Millington and is a 2005 graduate of Saginaw Valley Lutheran High School. During his active military career, he served overseas in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. His responsibilities are many at Mission 1, and he described himself jokingly as a “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Weiss is general manager of the gym portion of Mission 1, and accordingly, does everything from account management, to coaching, to cleaning the facility.
The Patriot Award is sponsored by Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGA), a program that promotes understanding between civilian employers and National Guard members and military reservists.
“(The ESGA) is one of those (Veterans Affairs) organizations that helps us,” Weiss said. “They honor people like Michelle and Broseph for doing what they did in hiring me and they try to educate the rest about what we’ve done for the country and why it’s important to support us.
“It came as a surprise to me how difficult it is for some veterans to get jobs.”
Weiss nominated the Stewarts by going online to the ESGA website and filling out the necessary paperwork. Shortly after, DeSander contacted Weiss to tell him that his sister and brother-in-law would be receiving the Patriot Award.
“We came up with a plan to present these awards to Michelle and Joe and I thought about today, being the five-year anniversary is the perfect time,” Weiss said. “I got everyone’s attention (Saturday morning) and I gave the (microphone) to (DeSander), let him explain why he’s here, the importance of the award and the difference between a lot of employers and what Joe and Michelle are.
“What they did for me is what they would do for any reservist.”
After the award presentation, the anniversary/open house continued, with demonstrations and a potluck lunch.
Mission 1 opened in 2013, and was called Mission 1 CrossFit. Since then, it has morphed to include multiple aspects of healthy living. Joe Stewart said there are about 80 Mission 1 members, who partake in the company’s services such as crossfit, cooperative wellness, Olympic-style weightlifting and summer boot camps.
“When we started, it was really about fitness, and it’s not that it’s not about fitness anymore, it’s just more about the community,” Joe Stewart said. “You think of everything that’s developed over the past five years, and it’s been a path of self-improvement for so many people.”
Joe Stewart acknowledged that for him and Michelle, being in touch with the community is a top perk of the business.
“Mission 1 has given us an avenue to put roots into our community,” Joe Stewart said. “I’ve lived here my whole life, and it’s not that I didn’t feel like I wasn’t part of the community, but know I feel like Michelle and I have connected with so many different people – all the different business owners and the small businesses in Caro, different sports teams and organizations, youth soccer and baseball, high school sports.
“And we’re reaching outside of Caro. We work with a lot with the smaller towns in Tuscola County and their community members.”
The Stewarts also own a spin-off business, Mission 1 Apparel, which is growing in popularity.