In honor of Veterans Day, Huffington Post Impact and Causecast present Salute To Service, a week-long series honoring the remarkable men and women of America's armed forces. Each day, a war veteran will share a personal essay about victories and struggles during war and in its aftermath, as well as nonprofit projects to support at home.
I originally hailed from North Dakota, where pubic service is truly part of the local culture. As a child, I helped my father on our family farm. My mother took me to retirement homes to play my violin for the elderly. We helped plant trees around our high school track to save the prairie winds from blowing away the top soil (and our track team). We did our part to clean up the parks and streets.
My passion for leadership and public service led me to the U.S. Military Academy. It was there that I reinforced the lessons my parents had inculcated - that of belonging to something greater than oneself and serving the greater good. The military academy environment, although all-consuming, also provided opportunities for service, and indeed, its mission ("To educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation") further reinforced a commitment to service.
Upon graduation and commissioning, I served as an active duty officer in Korea, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. I transferred to the reserves but was soon mobilized after 9/11 for additional service as an Army reservist for three tours. I served with Special Operations Command and twice on an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. Although it was difficult to leave my husband, I eagerly rejoined our forces.
My military service left little time for other public service projects, but once I left the military for the private sector and then academia, I felt a "public service void." I responded to this feeling by adhering to Mahatma Gandhi's instruction to "be the change you wish to see in the world."
I have continued to serve the country through the military reserves, whose old motto is a call to be "Twice the Citizen." Although my family lives in Charlotte, N.C., I have found ways to stay involved in various community organizations as well as nationally and globally oriented service executive boards to continue to give back.
The following are the organizations where I have contributed my time since I left active duty military. Although these organizations have different visions and missions, each of them is about empowering others through training, education, or linking resources with community need. Each of them provides an opportunity to serve something larger than oneself.
Women in International Security (WIIS). This global organization, with representation in 47 countries and chapters across the U.S. seeks to promote women's opportunities and advancement in the broad field of international security. In this capacity, I have addressed NATO, Congressional groups, and foreign and domestic women's rights organizations about UN Resolution 1325, women's opportunities in the field, and general women's leadership development. I write op-eds based on these experiences to try to influence social change. I have volunteered to hold mentoring groups and conducted "virtual" e-mail mentoring with young women across the globe. I never had a female mentor in my own professional journey and realized that it was time for me to be the change I wished to see.
Carolinas Freedom Foundation (CFF). I also serve on the board of The Carolinas Freedom Foundation, a two-state initiative with a threefold purpose: honoring those who serve, supporting the troops and promoting patriotism. In addition to Veterans Day and Memorial Day activities, we work actively with the schools in the area, sponsoring character development training endeavors, "flags in the classroom" programs, and even a patriotic art competition. I feel a strong commitment to promoting the same patriotism that inspired me to join the military. It is a privilege to honor those who have sacrificed so much for others to enjoy the freedoms we have. My contributions to the CFF are small, but provide a wonderful venue to inspire the next generation and thank those who have already served.
ServiceNation.com - Mission Serve. As a graduate student, I was privileged to help the founders of this initiative, Alan Khazai and Rob Gordon, explore the methods, mechanics, and manpower to connect civilian and military communities through a broad array of service and volunteer partnerships designed to address the challenges of our nation and our military communities. Critically, Mission Serve has highlighted how veterans can continue to serve as civic assets through other venues of public service. I have continued to play a very small advisory role with Mission Serve and helped to bring various organizations and individuals into the fold, to include members of the Chief of Staff of the Army's staff, the Deputy Commander of the Army Reserve's staff, and several smaller wounded warrior and military veteran groups. In this process, I have met and been inspired by some of our nation's most selfless servants. Mission Serve and ServiceNation.com have helped to galvanize a new era of public service, as evidence by the energy the team infused by helping to draft and promote the president's April '09 Serve America Act. Mission Serve also helped promote 9/11 as a day of public service.
Each of these organizations has played a role in shaping my thinking, my networks and my own professional development, if not future career path. I have also found that joining public service organizations when we have moved has helped our family create strong social ties within our new community and facilitated our understanding of the community's core needs. I don't have extra time for most of these activities, as a working mother of two toddlers, but I do it in part because civic duty is highly rewarding on many levels.
In 1938, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first "Veterans Day Proclamation" which stated: "In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose. That common purpose is to mark a celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
For this common good, I would ask readers to do one thing this Veterans Day.
Find a public service or veterans organization where you can contribute your time, expertise, ideas, and/or financial support (or even your love of jogging/running).
The veteran's organization that I highly recommend is Team Red White & Blue, led by Army Captain Mike Erwin. Team RW&B's vision is to transform the way wounded veterans are reintegrated into society when they return from combat and exit their positions in the Active Duty force or National Guard. You can support by becoming a Team RWB athlete and running to build awareness and fundraise. You can volunteer to become an advocate or you can donate at www.TeamRWB.org. Since their inception this fall, Team RWB has participated in three marathons, an ultramarathon and will be represented in the JFK 50 Mile and the Dallas and Austin Marathons. They have raised $70,000 and are in the process of initiating their advocate programs with 15 wounded veterans. Learn more about the team at www.TeamRWB.org.
As I have always felt and as Team RWB's website says, "It's about the journey, not the finish line." Take time on your journey, and especially on Veteran's Day, to say thanks to those who've served and sacrificed and consider ways to give just a little back in return.
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