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Elizabeth Blackney Headshot

Soldier. Designer. Star.

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Generational politics and personalities fascinate us, ignite debate and shape our media coverage and perceptions. After a recent conversation with Academy of Country Music nominee Hunter Hayes, I sat down with a 26-year-old Army Veteran, Willie Charles.

Generation Y continues to impress. Instead of wanting to shout, "Get off my lawn," or chime in with the myriad of parents who find it acceptable to complain about their children on Facebook -- then lament the sorry state of relations with those same children -- I have found that Generation Y -- "Millennials" -- are a remarkable bunch. Charles was no exception. Instead, he proved the rule.

After six years in the United States Army, the South Carolina native settled in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. With an eye towards fashion marketing, Charles enrolled at the Art Institute of Virginia Beach. There, he found kindred spirits. Surrounded by other Army and Navy veterans, Charles was inspired. Encouraged by a photographer, he found himself thrust into making a few garments.

"It was comfortable, I enjoyed it. Over the last ten months, I have found my passion."

Charles' aesthetic embodies young, millennial ideals with a classic twist. He started his own business and in November, he won the Emerging Designer Award at Virginia Fashion Week. Charles charmed the crowd with his easy smile and beautiful craftsmanship.

Millennial entrepreneurs like Willie Charles embrace social media. More than that, they deploy it to build local, national and global brands. When asked what comes next, Charles mentioned he has his "eye on manufacturing and longevity."

Manufacturing? For a startup designer? He responded, "Yes. I am here to stay." To demonstrate the innovative approach, he pointed to the opportunity WalMart is giving to designers and other entrepreneurs. Get on the Shelf "invited businesses and individuals to submit products that are not sold by Walmart, and are going to let the public vote for their favorites," according to WalMart's website.

Like most in the Generation Y sphere, Willie Charles hopped on board the train and is riding it straight towards the future. With so many political divides and with politics-saturated pop culture, Charles' service to our nation's freedom brought him home safely, and is further proof that this generation is capable of so much more than the Baby Boomers ever want to give it credit for. These "kids" have been at war, or watching war, for most of their lives. Rather than be victimized by tough times, they are like the Greatest Generation. Fighting and returning. Humble, passionate and ready to change the world.

Acknowledging the accomplishments of young men and women, the beautiful intersection of reality and dreaming big dreams, is something Charles innately conveys with every smile. Every stitch.

Courage is not only facing our enemies abroad. It is the courage to forge, build, overcome and achieve when others might not. Willie Charles is just such a man.