Under the Hood Café, a nonprofit facility run in the spirit of the GI rights coffeehouses of the Vietnam War era, allows like-minded individuals to gather, find support and discuss military-related issues without fear of being ostracized.
Opened in 2009, the café offers a variety of services for soldiers, both active duty and retired, said manager Malachi Muncy.
“We connect service members with resources,” Muncy said. These resources include mental health services for soldiers, educational resources and legal services.
Much of their work is determined on a case-by-case basis, Muncy said.
“We want to help the soldiers who fall through the cracks at Fort Hood, the soldiers who are often neglected or stigmatized,” Muncy said. However, all soldiers are welcome to seek their services. They also offer peer-to-peer counseling.
The café’s goal is to create a space where different viewpoints can be shared, said Lori Hurlebaus, a board member and former director of the café. “We want service members to know they aren’t alone and help them find support.”
Under the Hood hosts writing and art workshops, designed to empower people to tell their own stories, Muncy said. He grew up on military bases and graduated from high school in Killeen. He served in the National Guard for six years, deploying twice to Iraq, and found the typical military narrative did not fit his own.
“When I was in the Army, I felt like I was a number ... a piece of paper,” he said. Muncy found that often the negative sides to war and the military do not come out, and when they do, they are only data.
Under the Hood also hosts slam poetry nights on the second and fourth Friday of each month. They typically begin with a discussion of current events. Two Desert Storm veterans emcee the events.
“They serve another goal, to generate awareness of (different) military experiences,” Muncy said. “It’s good for the individuals who talk and good for the community to hear.”
Every Thursday, the café hosts a potluck-style dinner called Ribs and Rights. These gatherings aim to promote discussion.
Looking to the future, Muncy is applying for a low power FM license for the café, which would “allow people to engage at the local level,” he said.
The board, Hurlebaus explained, is tasked with ensuring the organization is sustainable, through fundraising and shared work.
“There are only two other coffeehouses like this one (in the world),” she said. “Service members do have rights, and they don’t always understand them and often (are not) informed of their rights.”
Ultimately, the café is about self-empowerment, Muncy said. They promote free speech and support from the grassroots level, rather than a top-down system.
“There’s a narrative wall around the military,” he said.
With the café, they hope to break that wall down, ensuring all soldiers’ experiences are heard.