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Zac Brown’s Southern Ground: Where Passion and Cause Collide

by Janet Farley, Contributing Editor

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You’re getting out of the military and want your post-uniform job to be a meaningful one. It’s understandable. After all, you are an extraordinary individual who has worked in a service-oriented career field for quite some time. It only makes sense to seek out a like-minded and equally extraordinary employer in your civilian life, don’t you think?

If this describes you then your search may be over.

Let me introduce you to the toe-tapping, taste-bud pleasing, highly creative and truly caring world of Zac Brown’s Southern Ground.

The Big and Even Bigger Picture

Zac Brown, as you may already know, is a three-time Grammy-winning singer, songwriter and bandleader who also happens to deeply respect military service members and their families, making it his mission to recognize their sacrifices at each of his concerts.

In 2010, Zac launched Zac Brown’s Southern Ground (SG) (, a unique family of brands brimming with incredibly passionate artists brought under one roof to work together and create.

Southern Grind is a metal shop that produces unique knife lines and metal works.

ZB Customs designs and builds one-of-a-kind pieces for the home or business.

Southern Hide designs and handcrafts quality leather goods.

Shelly Brown designs and creates custom jewelry.

SG, with a little help from chef Rusty Hamlin, also cooks up some mean southern food with a south
of the border flair at its Southern Ground Music and Food Festival and by way of its gourmet 18 wheeler, kitchen on wheels, Cookie.

And last, but far from least, is the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that all the Southern Ground businesses ardently support called Camp SouthernnGround (CSG).

Talk to anyone from the Southern Ground family and you get the clear impression that it is this particular effort they feel most proud of.

Camp Southern Ground supports children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), such as Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, ADD/ADHD, including Dyslexia and combines these children with mainstream children. Within these groups, there is also a focus on serving children from urban areas that might be deprived of the outdoors, and children with family members serving in the military.

Camp Southern Ground is an inclusive camp and the team there works to provide scholarships for kids who are economically disadvantaged and the children of active military and Gold Star Families.
“At Camp Southern Ground, we help each child find their strength and help them to magnify them,” says Michael Dobbs, President and Chief Executive Officer of CSG.

“Zac [Brown] is a firm believer in the mission of Camp Southern Ground. He was a camper himself at a young age, and at 14 he made up his mind that he wanted to build his own camp one day - but not just any camp. He wanted to build a world-class camp. We’re in build-out mode for it now,” Dobbs says. “That’s why we get up and work every day. Everything we do is to advance and support Camp Southern Ground.”

According to Dobbs, CSG offers a fall camping session now, but has plans to expand its offerings to nine weeks of camp sessions in the summer as soon as the facilities are fully built.

When CSG isn’t in session for children, it will be used as a host facility for other organizations, including military veterans seeking support with severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“We’ve worked with architects to specially design our facilities so that the sounds, shapes, form and colors used in it are as calming as possible for those experiencing severe PTSD,” Dobbs says. “In the right kind of environment, veterans can focus on getting the help they need from clinicians.”

Others will also benefit from using the CSG facilities. “We aren’t all things to all people, but we can partner with other organizations and they can in turn use our state-of-the-art facility as a host. It’s a win-win,” Dobbs says.

CSG has already partnered with the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation ( to serve as a host facility for its revitalization (marriage) retreats, and with the Boot Campaign (, which has helped to raise scholarship money to send children to
the camp.

“I think that we are building a legacy that will endure for generations to come,” Dobbs says.
To learn more about Camp Southern Ground or to make a donation, visit

A Tale of Two Veterans

Southern Ground doesn’t just selflessly support veterans and their families through CSG or pay homage to them at each and every one of their concerts, either.

They hire them, too.

That’s what they did with Jeff Beatty, General Manager of Southern Grind and Johnny Joey Jones, a company spokesperson for Southern Ground.

“I knew from the time I enlisted that I wasn’t going to be a Sergeant Major in the Army,” Beatty says. Beatty, who served in the U.S. Army from 1999-2002 at Fort Benning, GA, joined the Southern Grind family in March 2016.

“When I joined the military, my primary goal was to attend college. I knew I wouldn’t be a lifer, but I also knew I didn’t want to be average and I wanted to serve my country,” he says. “Being a Ranger ensured that on all accounts,” he adds.

And how did his transition from the Army work out for him?

“My transition to civilian life was fairly seamless. I went back to work at my old high school retail job. I used the paycheck from that, along my GI Bill and the HOPE scholarship, to earn my degree at Kennesaw State University,” Beatty says.

Southern Ground also hired another veteran recently. Johnny “Joey” Jones, a former Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, was hired in September 2016 and works as an SG spokesperson.
Previously, Jones worked as the Chief Operating Officer for the Boot Campaign. His military to civilian career transition, however, had its share of significant challenges.

Jones spent eight years in the Marines where he worked in a number of different jobs. “I fixed radios. I coached others on a rifle range. I worked in ship’s galley and I worked with mounted machine guns. In 2007, I deployed to Iraq and eventually figured out that I wanted to be an EOD technician,” he says. “Those guys were the cool guys in the Marine Corps. They got to wear their own uniforms.”

Once his tour in Iraq was over, Jones began his personal search for that cool uniform and successfully completed training to be an EOD technician. He eventually returned to harm’s way working in his new trade.

Bad days on the job of an EOD tech are not just bad days, however. They are life-changing events. “On August 6, 2010, I lost both of my legs and broke my arm. I was like Humpty Dumpty and had to be put back together again,” Jones says.

Jones went on a tour of his own to different hospitals. First, he was sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and then on to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. He ultimately found himself at the Walter Reed National Medical Center where he underwent numerous surgeries and was eventually fitted with prosthetic legs.

“I knew early on that I wouldn’t be taking anymore bombs apart and that I had to find something to do with my life,” he says. “While I was at Walter Reed, I met a lot of service members who were recovering. It occurred to me that they weren’t taking advantage of the right kind of support and I saw a need to do something about it.”

Jones did do something about it, too. He enrolled at Georgetown University and earned his degree in Liberal Arts. He then became a spokesperson on behalf of veterans, working tirelessly with a variety of entities on behalf of veterans including NASCAR, Congress and nonprofit organizations.

Through his tenure at the Boot Campaign, Jones connected with Zac Brown, which eventually led to his new job with Southern Ground.

Both veterans are clearly committed to their post-uniform careers and believe their employer is a good fit for fellow veterans.

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