It was the Fourth of July, so of course there would be fireworks. Des Cortes was dreading it. After five and a half years in the Navy that included deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Djibouti, Cortes knew the sound of explosions would trigger her. As the light display crackled across the sky that night in 2017 she stood in a Tin Hut BBQ truck on an air force base in Honolulu, struggling to count out the night’s receipts. “I couldn’t focus on what I was doing,” Cortes says. “I completely shut down.”
Fortunately her boss, Frank Diaz, was by her side–as he had been since she’d texted him about a job. PTSD had forced Cortes, at age 24, into early retirement from the military. Unable to find work, she’d been couch surfing with friends or living out of her car. Diaz, the founder of Tin Hut, hired her by text five minutes after she reached out and trained her one-on-one. Over the next two years he helped Cortes sign up for benefits and therapy through the Veteran’s Administration, found her temporary housing, and taught her to budget her money so she could move into her own apartment.