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Planting New Roots – Once, They Were Soldiers, Now They Call The Shots

For many, Fayetteville is not a place they chose so much as somewhere they have been sent.

But after making a home here, attitudes often change. Scores of soldiers have retired from Fort Bragg only to stay put. Some even start their own businesses.

In less than five years, RLM Communications has grown from a two-person operation to a company that employs about 115 people. President and CEO Randy L. Moore said the company has done $12 million in business this year. He estimates it will do about $20 million next year.

Founded in March 2004, RLM Communications builds state-of-the-art communications systems. Moore served in the Army from 1979 to 2000. Prior to becoming his own boss, the 48-year-old California native worked for BAE Systems, an international defense company.

“I didn’t want to work for somebody else for the rest of my life,” he said. “I wanted to start my own business. That’s how you really live the American dream.”

It may seem odd to some people that Moore, a world traveler who has lived in a number of different states, would choose downtown Fayetteville for his company’s corporate headquarters. He said it was an easy decision.

“I have a ton of contacts and a ton of friends here,” Moore said. “It’s a really good place to live, and it’s conducive to owning a business. Fayetteville just has that hometown feeling.”

On point

After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with a degree in electrical engineering, Capt. Michael Karaman came to Fayetteville and Fort Bragg in 1980.

“Coming from Pittsburgh and West Point, it was a small-town atmosphere,” Karaman said. “I took it for what it was, and I adapted.”

In 1984, Karaman resigned his commission to open his own business. At first, he was involved in auto importing, but he quickly switched to telecommunications and founded The Phone Network. A pay phone business eventually gave way to cellular. From there, things just kept evolving. “I kept meeting people, and opportunities presented themselves,” Karaman said. “One thing led to the next.”

To better reflect the diverse range of services they now offer, the name of the company was changed from The Phone Network to Karaman Communications this past summer.

Karaman Communications is located at 4424 Bragg Blvd., Suite 101. Karaman, 51, said the city is the perfect size for his business because it allows him to have a large client base without the kind of competition he would face in a market like Raleigh.

Baking up a business

During her 13 years with the Army Signal Corps, Nicole Sullivan was always cooking up business ideas. In 2005, she retired as a major to spend more time with her children, and to turn up the heat on a long-time hobby.

Sullivan grew up cooking and baking with her mother, grandmother and aunt. After leaving the military, she studied at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, mastering cake design and perfecting her recipes.

“I wanted to pursue something I had a real passion for,” Sullivan said. “It was a natural fit for me.”

Once Sullivan started baking professionally, she quickly outgrew her home kitchen. Her store, The Sweet Boutique, opened at 1400 Walter Reed Road two years ago.

“I’m happy here,” she said. “Fayetteville is growing so much, and growth is always good for business.”

In addition to cakes of all shapes, sizes and flavors, the 38-year-old baker and her staff also craft cookies, cupcakes, muffins, tarts and more. Everything is baked from scratch.

“We really love what we do. We don’t mind putting the time into preparing things,” Sullivan said.

Duke it out

Bill Dukes has never been afraid to take a risk.

The 75-year-old served in the Army Infantry from 1953 to 1976, ascending to the level of colonel. He fought in Korea and served three tours in Vietnam. Dukes earned his bachelor’s degree in math from Rutgers University and his master’s and doctorate in Soviet studies from Columbia University.

Though he has loads of entertaining stories, which he tells well, his favorite subject is not his accomplishments or adventures; it’s rugs.

Dukes started collecting rugs at a young age. His interest was initially piqued by a seventh-grade social studies unit on Middle Eastern history, culture and art.

On a school trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he was fascinated to learn how rugs are made and how much effort goes into the process.

“I was hooked,” Dukes said. “For me, they are works of art.”

He said the way to determine the quality of a rug is in the knots. “The tighter the knot, the better the quality.”

Dukes opened The Rug Merchant in 1997. He said he has been selling rugs wholesale for about 40 years.

The store, located at 1228 Fort Bragg Road, houses a wide variety of rugs from all over the world, as well as other accessories such as figurines, lamps, pillows and foot stools. Dukes also cleans, repairs and appraises rugs.

Originally from New Jersey, Dukes first came to Fayetteville in 1961 for Special Forces training. He distinctly remembers not being impressed.

“Now I love it,” Dukes said of Fayetteville. “It’s halfway between New York and Miami. It’s easy to get around. There are all kinds of restaurants, and all sorts of business opportunities here.”

Some soldiers retire and then run a business. Others do both at the same time. How do you run a business and run with the Special Operations at the same time? Ask Joseph Sasala.

Dive in

Sasala’s love of diving began in 1997 in Panama. Since then, he has logged more than 300 dives from New Jersey to Honduras.

A certified diver and instructor, Sasala started Rec Tec Scuba in 2001. A sergeant first class, the 38-year-old recently returned from a deployment overseas. While he is away, his wife, Becky, takes care of the business. Aside from managing the dive shop, Becky also coordinates the classes and trips, updates the Web site and puts on ocean/scuba demonstrations in local schools.

Becky Sasala said she has known Joseph since kindergarten. She moved to North Carolina in 2005, and they got married two years ago.

“Fayetteville was the logical choice for our business,” she said. “It’s a really good central location for all the things we personally want to do.”

Rec Tec Scuba, which is located at 3703 Bragg Blvd., provides beginner to instructor level scuba training. They also sell, rent and service diving equipment.

Classes are held in the evening to accommodate people’s work schedules. Becky said diving is a fantastic family activity that exercises both the mind and body.

“Our goal is to help people become safe divers who feel confident and comfortable in the water,” she said.