An Onslow County veteran is one step away from the top prize: a 7-Eleven franchise.

Jean Cetoute of Richlands, a retired Marine Corps staff sergeant, is one of the three finalists in 7-Eleven’s OPERATION: Take Command franchise giveaway contest.

Cetoute received more than 2,456 votes during the 11-day period during which the public was invited to view the videos of the seven semi-finalists and vote up to once daily for their favorite.

During those days, Cetoute spent a lot of time introducing himself to people and asking for their vote.

It was kind of like running for office.

“I’d tell them ‘I’m not a politician, but I need your vote.’” Cetoute said.

He stopped at gas stations, offices, anywhere he thought he’d know people or find people gathered. Or just explain his contest effort to anyone he met.

“I went anywhere and everywhere to let people know,” Cetoute said.

It meant a lot of busy days but ones he enjoyed.

“It was fun getting out and meeting people,” Cetoute said.

Cetoute was notified Monday that he is a finalist. He is now competing with Army veterans Estrella “Star” Martinez and Stephen Valley, both of Virginia, for the opportunity to own a 7-Eleven store without the expense of a franchise fee.

The three finalists will travel to Dallas next month for a June 9 reception to be followed on June 10 with one-on-one interviews with 7-Eleven President and CEO Joe DePinto. The winner of the franchise will be announced on June 14.

Cetoute was first selected as a semi-finalist from nearly 1,900 applicants in the second OPERATION: Take Command contest.

“To get to this point gives you confidence that you can do it,” Cetoute said.