Few accolades speak to valor and outstanding service like the Bronze Star Medal, a distinction awarded to those serving in the United States military who have achieved a heroic or meritorious achievement or service. It’s this very honor that Mike Blomker, a U.S. Army veteran, returned home with after serving in Afghanistan. His journey, from the rigorous landscapes of the Middle East to spearheading a bustling franchise in Albuquerque, is an extraordinary tale of dedication, resilience, and leadership.
“Everyone on my team earned a Bronze Star Medal when we were in Afghanistan. We were constantly doing various security operations, partnering with NATO units,” Mike recalls. As leader of an Embedded Training Team (ETT) assigned to work with the Afghan Army, Mike held a pivotal role in overseeing a 10-man team. Their mission was to train and run operations with the Afghans, building a bond amidst demanding circumstances, like building checkpoints around Kabul or conducting security operations in remote areas where there was suspicious activity.
Mike was deployed in 2005, just four years after the devastating September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. The American government was deeply invested in its mission to counteract the Taliban’s regime. The strategy not only focused on a military defeat of the Taliban but also aimed to reconstruct the fundamental institutions of Afghanistan with the help of the U.S. military, like Mike’s unit.
The Military Journey
Mike’s path to military service was paved early on. Through an ROTC scholarship, he delved into Sociology at St. John’s University in Minnesota. Post-graduation, his commitment to the Army took him to Fort Carson, Colorado. Here, as a second lieutenant, he was commissioned in the medical service corps, leading a medical platoon in an armored battalion, which essentially ran logistics in field medical units. Subsequent roles saw him stationed at Fort Gordon, Georgia, and finally, Afghanistan, where he led and also mentored an Afghan battalion commander.
“Over the years, thanks to the Army, I really honed my leadership skills,” Mike reflects. “When I first became a platoon leader at Fort Carson, I was just 21 years old — but I recall that my second in command, the platoon sergeant, was my father’s age, and I was essentially his boss. I had to lead 30 people, and I had never been in charge of anything in my life! I gave orders, they had to follow them, but I had to earn their respect. Even though there’s a rank structure that has to be followed, you still have to earn respect to be an effective leader.”
From the Field to Franchising
Mike’s military journey was interspersed with his foray into the world of business. After his initial active duty, he moved to Albuquerque, joining his father’s Merry Maids franchises. By 1989, he had purchased his dad’s locations in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, but in 2005, as he was nearing his reserve retirement, duty called again. This time, that 12-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Mike’s transition from the battlefield to business wasn’t without its challenges. Yet, it was during these testing times that his wife of 23 years, Paige, stood as a pillar of strength. She took the reins of their franchises during his deployment. “I can’t imagine how I would have managed without Paige. She kept the business running, ensuring everything was in place when I returned.”
Both Mike and Paige have a profound appreciation for the franchise model. “It’s structured, systematic,” Mike observes. “It’s similar to the Army. You follow a proven model, and you see results. That’s what we love about franchising, and it’s been successful for us.”
Mike believes it was his early leadership experiences in the military that paved the way for his success in franchise ownership. “There’s a huge correlation between the military and being a franchise owner. The leadership skills, teamwork, the drive — all these elements that were ingrained in me during my time in the Army, I find myself applying them every day in the business,” Mike says. He recalls, “It’s like being the quarterback on a football team. Whether leading troops or running a business, you’re constantly in the huddle, making decisions. People look to you, and you have to deliver.”
For Mike, morale stands as a significant takeaway from his military experience. He believes that the spirit of a team, whether in a combat zone or an office, is largely dependent on leadership. “It’s essential, be it in the field or a franchise. Your team’s morale, their drive, hinge on how you lead them. At work, you have a team that shows up every morning, they need leadership, guidance, direction, they need to be motivated. The big difference is in the military, in the Army, people were required by the Uniform Code of Military Justice to show up for work every day — whereas civilians can make the decision about going to work every day. It requires a bit different approach, but not as different as you might think.”
Advice to Veterans
To veterans contemplating a venture into franchising, Mike’s advice is straightforward, “Engage with current franchise owners. Understand their journey. Remember, while franchising offers the freedom of entrepreneurship, you’re also working within an established framework. Just like the Army, you’re expected to do things a certain way. Following a proven model can produce great outcomes — there’s a parallel there.”
Even with his notable accomplishments and accolades, Mike maintains a demeanor that is both modest and understated. His pride in his military service is palpable, yet he doesn’t seek the limelight or recognition. He recounted a poignant memory that deeply moved him: “I was in uniform, en route to Afghanistan, and enjoying what I knew would be my last comforting meal for a while, at BWI airport in Baltimore,” he reminisces. “The waitress came over and informed me that an anonymous individual had paid for my meal, expressing thanks for my service. Numerous others also stepped forward to convey their gratitude during that time. It held immense meaning for me.”
Mike sums up his military journey with heartfelt gratitude, “I am very proud to be a veteran. It was my profound honor to serve my country — and my great honor to wear the uniform of the U.S. Army and lead troops in combat. That’s something not many people have had a chance to do.”
Merry Maids is a proud supporter of U.S. military veterans. Their veteran-focused program offers a 20% discount on franchise fees for those who served, recognizing the invaluable skills they bring. Merry Maids is also a member of the VetFran program, designed to educate franchisors and veterans about the distinct entrepreneurial skill set veterans offer.