We were on our way back home after delivering our first child. Two-day-old Dyani silently slept in the car seat that we had checked, double-checked, and triple-checked only weeks before. Pink Floyd’s lesser-known album Obscured by Clouds was the perfect soundtrack for that pivotal moment in time while snow softly drifted into our field of vision, and I was in a state of bliss despite having not slept in three days.
I was fifteen days out of the United States Navy when faced with both the immediate transition into fatherhood as well as a new mission: AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA). In a fit of irony and miraculous timing, I realized that I was scheduled to fly a few hours after we were released from the hospital for my AmeriCorps VISTA Pre-Service Orientation held in Dallas. I offered to stay behind with my wife and reschedule PSO, however she insisted that I fulfill my obligation—so out the door I ran and made the flight just minutes before take-off! You simply cannot make this up.
It was the second time in my life that I had raised my right hand and recited the Oath of Service. My first encounter with the life-changing privilege to do so was as a tired and optimistic Navy recruit, and the second time I was a tired five-year Navy veteran. I would fulfill my year of national service lending expertise to the Washington, D.C. non-profit organization Student Veterans of America (SVA), founded in 2008.
In the Navy I quickly fulfilled a de facto role of mentor to numerous servicemembers as I managed to complete one bachelor’s degree, one master’s degree, and numerous certifications all within my five-year contract. I did the seemingly impossible. Many enlisted folks who had followed my lead had also attained their academic and professional goals once thought to be out of reach, and all during their free time. That warm feeling in my heart when I helped push a colleague closer to the finish line is something that I wanted to replicate in the civilian world.
2013-2014 was the year in which I unpacked my experiences in the military and higher education and translated them into the resources needed to assist thousands of student veterans—the real numbers of which I can only speculate. I equipped the leadership of student veteran chapters with opportunities to further develop their presence and influence on campus. In addition to helping realize an ever-expanding student veteran organization network, I was also there to assist veterans one-on-one in all aspects of higher education. I communicated scholarships, chapter grant programs, internships, certifications, free laptops, and numerous professional development events. I consulted with veterans and their families after hours to alleviate their growing college debt concerns and offered solutions. I gave speeches at a number of locations in Washington D.C. to spread the word of SVA and our growing membership.
I operate within a reality which rejects “I don’t know.” As a VISTA, I always found an answer and scarcely left doors shut. This willingness to get uncomfortable from time to time often resulted in numerous high-profile conversations and meaningful gains for the organization and my own professional growth. In the Navy they used to say “The Navy is what you make of it.” The same holds true for AmeriCorps VISTA.
I helped blow out my daughter’s one-year candle, and in doing so I also acknowledged the closure of my AmeriCorps VISTA year and transition into full-time employment with SVA as Senior Regional Outreach Director. I now know that the pathway I took after the military was the best one that I could have ever made, despite the occasional bad day. I am eternally proud to be admitted within the ranks of a small class of national service alumni (Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Teach for America, etc.) who also share military experience as a common unifier! I am obligated to speak on the Veteran-to-AmeriCorps angle into the future with the hopes that we may expand our unique philanthropic demographic for the benefit of future generations. If you’re just getting out of the military, AmeriCorps could very well be the answer to continuing national service.
In my twilight years, I hope to also add Peace Corps to my lifelong service background. Funny enough, Peace Corps has been my dream since the age of eight, and yet I cannot in my right mind complain about the detour!