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Passion to Serve Links Veterans, Service Members

By Claudette Roulo
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 2012 – Military veterans and service members discussed their drive to serve the nation and support their comrades during today’s Urge to Serve panel at the Hero Summit held here.

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Eric Greitens, right, a U.S. Navy veteran and chief executive officer of The Mission Continues, explains to the audience at the Hero Summit in Washington, D.C., Nov. 15, 2012, how he was motivated to join the military after graduating from Oxford University. DOD photo by Claudette Roulo
  

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With less than one percent of Americans actively serving in the military, Mellody Hobson, the panel’s moderator, said it’s more and more uncommon for most of the country to actually meet members of the military. This panel afforded audience members at the event the opportunity to hear what motivated the panelists to serve their nation.

The panel members are all veterans or are currently in the military. They have also all expanded on their military service by finding ways to serve the community -- locally and around the world. The members were  Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony Emanuele; Eric Greitens, a Navy veteran and chief executive officer of The Mission Continues; Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Tawanda Hanible, operations chief and founder of Operation Heroes Connect; and Ford Sypher, an Army veteran and Region VII director of field operations for Team Rubicon.

Emanuele deployed to Iraq and trained Iraqi Marines. In 2010, he was recognized by the Coast Guard for developing a more efficient boarding method for the Iraqi Marines. He’s currently assigned to recruiting duty, and he said it isn’t difficult to find people who are interested in military service. “You actually get to make a difference,” he said. “A lot of people … want to go overseas and actually help someone and save lives.”

Greitens said he joined the military late, at age 26, but his family had a history of military service -- both of his grandfathers served in World War II. As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, he visited Rhodes House and noticed the names of Rhodes Scholars who had left school to fight in WWI and WWII. He realized that if those men hadn’t gone off to war, he wouldn’t be standing where he was. “At that point in my life, I wanted to find a way to serve my country,” he said.

He chose the Navy, eventually finding his way to the SEALs. “There’s no one who can make it through Navy SEAL training on their own,” he said. “The only reason that you’re able to make it is at your own most difficult moment -- when you’re at the moment of your own greatest pain, greatest suffering, greatest difficulty in your life -- is that you say to yourself, ‘You know what? There’s somebody to my right who’s counting on me, and there’s somebody to my left who’s counting on me, and I have to find a way to be strong for them.’”

Greitens started The Mission Continues after being injured by a suicide bomber in Iraq. His injuries were minor, but some of his teammates weren’t so lucky, he said. He visited his injured comrades and some other injured service members upon his return to the U.S. and was inspired by their desire to return to military service, he said.

He asked what they would do if they couldn’t stay in the military, and, he said, “Each one of them told me that they wanted to find a way to continue to serve.”

“These men and women had a long string of visitors that were coming in -- I was just one of them -- to say ‘Thank you,’” he said. “‘Thank you for your service.’ ‘Thank you for your sacrifice.’ It was clear to me that they appreciated that. What is also clear to me [is] that in addition to hearing ‘Thank you,’ they also had to hear ‘We still need you.’”

The Mission Continues challenges returning veterans to continue to serve in their communities, he said.

Hanible, as a self-described “misunderstood” teenager, took a slightly different route to the Marine Corps. She needed a way to pay for college, she said, and a way to stay out of trouble. Her brother joined the Marines a year before she did, so she thought knew what to expect, she said.

“TV never really prepares you for what the service really is,” Hanible said. “It’s glorified. You see the commercials … but it’s not until you step on those yellow footprints in boot camp or until you’re actually going through basic training that you say, ‘Okay. This is that, and then some.’”

She said she thought about giving up, but she too was motivated by her fellow Marines and the knowledge that they depended on each other to make it through.

Hanible deployed in 2003 as a single mother. It was hard to leave her daughter, she said. But, thinking of her, she knew “I need to do this for my country and I need to do this for you.”

Her organization, Operation Heroes Connect, partners service members and veterans with at-risk youth aged 7 through 17, providing them with positive role models.

“You could say we’re helping the children, but sometimes I feel like they’re helping us, too,” she said. “We’re actually feeling like we’re … engaged again. We’re actually doing something where we can see the fruits of our labor again.”

Sypher, a veteran of three Iraq tours and two in Afghanistan, now works helping disaster victims through Team Rubicon, a veterans service organization. “When people say ‘Thank you’ to me for my service, it’s always an awkward feeling,” he said. “I always turn to them and say, ‘No, thank you.’ Because, as a nation, you’ve given me the ability to galvanize leadership skills I would have never had. … And I was able to get a pulse and a sense of community that I’ve never felt anywhere else.”

Team Rubicon was formed in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, he said. Veterans teamed up with medical professionals to reorganize the hospital in Port au Prince, “and they kind of created this new paradigm by doing that,” Sypher said. “We’ve been everywhere from Pakistan to Mozambique … and the list continues to grow,” he said.

Veterans service organizations are leading the way to recovery in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Sypher added.

This passion to serve might appear to an outsider to be an addiction to adrenaline, he said, but veterans are seeking to recreate the community they lost when they left the military. It’s often hard to disconnect from the bond that forms between service members when they work closely together, particularly in life-and-death situations, Sypher said.

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Related Sites:
The Mission Continues
Operation Heroes Connect
Team Rubicon

Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Anthony Emanuele speaks about his experiences while training Iraqi Marines during the Hero Summit in Washington, D.C., Nov. 15, 2012. DOD photo by Claudette Roulo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Tawanda Hanible, the founder and operations chief of Operation Heroes Connect, describes how her family motivates her to serve Nov. 15, 2012, at the Hero Summit in Washington, D.C. DOD photo by Claudette Roulo  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageHoward Sypher, a U.S. Army veteran and a director of field operations for Operation Rubicon, describes how veterans are driven toward lives of service, even after their time in the military ends, Nov. 15, 2012, at the Hero Summit in Washington, D.C. DOD photo by Claudette Roulo  
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