2 veterans reconnect over fateful Instagram post

Outside the Gates: A simple comment on social media led to starting a business together
A simple comment on social media led to starting a business together
Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 6:58 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - What used to be a Pizza Hut in a South Anchorage strip mall is cooking up something a little different.

On this particular Monday, they’re baking the flavor that started it all; Banana Nut Bread. The company is called Elevated Oats — a gluten-free, gourmet granola business owned by Army veterans Megan Militello and Lacey Ernandes.

“We just kind of were living our lives, never thinking that we would come back together to create anything or do anything,” Militello said. “And then here we are.”

The company is younger than Militello and Ernandes’ friendship, which started around 2007 when they met in Iraq. Militello was a late deployer to Ernandes’ first unit.

“Me and her met there, we were both controllers. I’m sure she trained me a bit,” Militello recalled. “We came back to Hawaii for two years and then we did another deployment together.”

The two became fast friends sharing similar experiences as air traffic controllers in the Army, but parted ways for a while after exiting the military. Ernandes embarked on a career in graphic design while Militello struggled to find a civilian job she truly enjoyed.

While still living in Hawaii, Militello started baking her own granola out of the abundance of bananas the islands have to offer, until a chance post on Instagram reconnected the pair in a way they never imagined.

The Instagram post that started it all.
The Instagram post that started it all.(AKNS)

“It’s just like these blank craft bags but her granola in them and I’m like ‘Hey, are you interested in some labels?’” Ernandes said.

The simple comment — which remains the only one on the post — changed the trajectory of their relationship from friends to business partners. It was a match meant to be, as Ernandes would handle the brand build while Militello would make the product.

Though they may not have realized it at the time, the partnership came when they needed each other most. Both were struggling with anxiety and feelings of isolation after leaving the structured life of active duty, especially Ernandes who transitioned to civilian life twice.

“The second time was a lot more difficult. I felt very isolated,” Ernandes recalled. “I didn’t have anybody to really turn to so it was really nice reconnecting with Megan.”

For Militello, the type of bond they share is irreplaceable.

“I mean, we went to war, right? We were at war together,” Militello stated. “I think me and her are both on this path of growth and personal development, and so with that we just, we really helped heal each other when we were in these dark places.”

Militello and Ernandes have built Elevated Oats from the ground up, baking a number of different flavors of the gourmet granola that can now be found at over 100 locations across the state. While Banana Nut Bread remains the staple from which the business was built, they also release limited-time seasonal flavors like their current Basic Batch Pumpkin Spice.

Each bag is marked with a logo designed by Ernandes that proudly holds the words “Women Veteran Owned.”

“It is kind of invisible,” Ernandes admitted. “I feel invisible as a veteran and a lot of other women veterans do as well, so we like to identify ourselves.”

Each bag of granola is branded with this 'Women Veteran Owned' logo designed by Lacey Ernandes.
Each bag of granola is branded with this 'Women Veteran Owned' logo designed by Lacey Ernandes.(AKNS)

Both Ernandes and Militello speak very highly of their time serving in the Army, but also acknowledged the hardships that come after leaving the service.

“The military has been a huge part of me learning so many things,” Militello said. “I’ve learned to really appreciate what I’ve taken from it.”

The pair also uses their platform to give back to the veteran community whenever they can. During the month of November, they are running a Thanks Giving-Away campaign raffle where 100% of proceeds will go toward Mount Sinai’s Center for Psychedelic Psychotherapy and Trauma Research, which focuses on helping people deal with PTSD through alternative therapies.