Franchise companies have always recognized that you veterans make great franchisees. You come from an environment that is disciplined, stresses teamwork and relies on executing proven systems to produce a desired result. These are all hallmarks of a successful franchise system, and the parallels in background and orientation are the reason veterans are so attractive to franchisors.

As a 25-year veteran of franchising, I've seen this dynamic firsthand with many successful franchisees who came from military backgrounds. When I first became a franchisee in the video rental industry in the early '80s, I took my initial training class for new franchisees with someone who had recently left the service as an army officer. Though still in his 20s, he had a maturity far beyond his years and was quite successful as a franchisee.

I've recently had an even more personal experience, with one of my sons, who is completing his Army ROTC training and will be commissioned as a second lieutenant this spring. Attending the graduation ceremonies at the completion of Airborne School in Fort Benning and the Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) at Fort Lewis, I've had the opportunity to observe the quality and dedication of the personnel involved. I've also closely reviewed the curriculum and training focus of the military as they build leaders.

You'd think this training had been designed specifically for business, and especially for the well-rounded leader needed to be a successful franchisee. The curriculum covers subjects such as building necessary ills, increasing situational awareness, gathering timely and important information, decision making, executing plans, motivating others and improving and learning over time. The only real difference from my experience in business is the high importance the military placed on physical conditioning, though that wouldn't be a bad idea for me to focus more on myself.

So we recognize that this background and training produces great potential franchisees and that we all have a debt of gratitude for the wonderful service and sacrifice made by veterans of our armed services. The key question is, what can franchise companies do to help you as if you might want to become a franchisee?

In 1991, shortly after the Gulf War ended, franchising pioneer Don Dwyer wanted to show his appreciation to veterans by providing tangible support for them in becoming a franchisee. His efforts, in association with the International Franchise Association and many other franchise companies, led to the creation of the program known as VetFran.

VetFran, the Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative, is a voluntary program designed to aid you in joining the free enterprise system through franchise ownership. The program, which currently boasts more than 200 participating franchise companies and has directly assisted more than 600 former military personnel in acquiring a franchise, helps you in two ways:

1. Informational: Since its inception, VetFran has been committed to providing information to veterans about the opportunities that exist for you in franchising. In this effort, the program is extensively supported by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Veterans Corporation and the SBA, as well as other government agencies. It's also supported by other private enterprises, such as The Destiny Group, one of the premier print and web communication companies providing transition information to veterans, as well as the IFA, through its many publications and communiqu�s. The goal is to provide not only general information about franchising, but also specific information about financial and other assistance available from specific franchises.

2. Financial: Every franchise company participating in the VetFran program provides financial incentives for you to become a franchisee. These financial incentives are not available to anyone other than veterans, and often total tens of thousands of dollars worth of aid. The aid is often offered via reduced initial franchise fees, though it can also be in the form of scholarships, additional training and support, material credits or many other means of assistance.

The purpose of the VetFran program is simple: It allows franchisors to show their appreciation for your efforts in a very real way, while allowing them to recruit new franchisees from a pool with exceptional potential. This program is a classic win-win for everyone involved, making it one of the most popular in the history of the IFA. You can get more information on the program by visiting the IFA's website ( www.franchise.org ), or at IFA trade shows, to which veterans get free admission.