Imagine a world without bees. Soldier by day, beekeeper by night, Sgt. First Class Shawn Sullivan a US Army Medical Department Activity-Fort Stewart Soldier at Winn Army Community Hospital is doing his part to thwart the idea, and at the same time found a new passion.
As an 18-year veteran in the Army, Sullivan has had his share of military moves, but it was his last duty station at Fort Wainwright in Alaska which made the difference in his life. After buying and throwing out countless fresh fruits and vegetables after only three days of shelf life, Sullivan discovered growing systems and began to grow strawberries at home.
"We were tired of buying food and it would go bad," Sullivan said. "So we decided to grow our own. No pesticides."
But the strawberries lacked size and quantity. Sullivan said one day he was outside thinking about what to do to help the strawberries grow and an idea in the form of a bee flew by, and he thought, "What would it take for me to keep bees?"
From that point forward he was hooked. For the next three months Sullivan dug deep into the world of beekeeping.
"I got on YouTube, like I do with a lot of the things that I have gotten into and learned how to do, and started watching videos," Sullivan explained. "So it got to a point that every waking moment I was up. On the weekends, during the weekdays I was watching videos."
Becoming a beekeeper seemed to be his new passion, but it was not the same for his wife Varonique, who at first was annoyed with the process, and said he kind of forced the idea onto his wife.
"I really do not like bugs," said Varonique, a veteran and human resources assistant for the Fort Stewart Warrior Transition Battalion, "But when my husband approached me with bee keeping, I thought something was wrong with him. But when he explained to me that there was an easier way to pollinate fruits and vegetables by having bees, I guess the lucrative part about it … then I can say that I became very interested."
For almost two years now the Sullivans work to make their bee business thrive, and have benefited by harvesting honey and growing squash, gourmet lettuce, herbs, cherry tomatoes, broccoli plus much more with the help of their bees. So far they are able to use the honey to make soaps, body scrubs and shower gels.
Sullivan said although he thoroughly enjoys beekeeping, Soldiers should always put their Army mission first and readiness should stay at the forefront.
"Don't let go of your initial training as far as being a Soldier," he said. "You have to keep up and continue to grow and keep up with those skills. So hold on to that. Things work a little differently in this [MEDDAC] environment so you have to be flexible. Definitely be flexible."
According to the Sullivans, flexibility is also what is needed to be a beekeeper. From building hives to being called on by businesses to collect pesky swarms, the Sullivans are thriving as local beekeepers, but said the journey is not always easy.
"It's a job within itself," Sullivan said. "You have to constantly check the hives to make sure that they are not sick, or if they are being fed and to make sure everything is good in the hive."
Sullivan is hoping for a good harvest in the spring and once he retires from the Army, he said he plans to make beekeeping a Family affair.