Return to Duty: A Call to National Service
Today’s guest post comes from Chad Elbandagji, a veteran of the United States Army and an AmeriCorps VISTA VetCorps Alum. He recently was the recipient of the 2012 National Service Impact Award and recognized as an Opportunity Leader for his work supporting the Habitat for Humanity’s National Veterans Initiative. He currently resides in Southern California where he is organizing with his peers to create pathways to college and employment for the youth in his community.
Joining the military after high school was an easy choice. I loved the idea of serving my country, and having a way to pay for college with the GI Bill. In the summer of 2000, I took the oath of service and enlisted in the United States Army. This decision has changed my life, and it gave me a clear perspective on what it means to serve.
Serving in the military is a challenge; and during a time of war that challenge is magnified. It is also something that I am very proud of. Because of my time in the Army, I was humbled to be with real heroes who gave their life for their country. I met people who did not know the meaning of giving up, or of leaving a friend behind. In the military your unit had your back, and you had theirs. This is the culture of the military, a culture of camaraderie and of honor. You train together, you ate together, and during the toughest of times you literally carried each other.
Then it was time to go home. My term of service ended and I was confronted with something I was not prepared for. After separating from the military there is a real struggle to reintegrate back into civilian life. When you get out you quickly realize things have changed. The most drastic reality is that you are on your own. Nobody is watching your back. Nobody knows if you got a job or if you have the rent covered. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have the social capital to help you in these first few months, you might find yourself homeless as many of our veterans do. Finding a job is a battle, and finding the right job is almost impossible.
It wasn’t until my second year in college did I find out about AmeriCorps. I had no clue that there was a stateside version of Peace Corps called VISTA. In the summer 2011 AmeriCorps VISTA was looking for veterans to place at Habitat for Humanity to assist in creating a National Veterans Initiative. I couldn’t believe a job like this existed, a job where I could serve my country, and also help fellow veterans find pathways to success. I applied for the position immediately and when I got it I told everyone.
During my year of service, I got to do amazing things. I was on an elite team that helped veterans realize the dream of homeownership, employment and education on a nation-wide level. I met with veterans who are surviving the same struggle I went through. I met with veteran after veteran who wanted nothing more than to have a chance at the American dream that they helped defend. I met with elected officials and veteran commissions, I sat on boards and gave speeches; I did everything I could to make sure that our veterans had a voice at the table. Our men and women in the armed forces are fighting for us, AmeriCorps gave me the chance to make sure that our community was fighting for them.
Being an AmeriCorps Alum is a badge of honor. If you are an AmeriCorps member or alum tell your story of service to everyone. Let people know that AmeriCorps exists and it needs passionate individuals to carry on this nation’s long history of service. Most importantly, when you meet a veteran let them know that they have a home in the National Service movement and that we need them.