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‘Why I Serve’ Participants to Share Motivation for Military Service

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8, 2007 – Ask Army Staff Sgt. Jerome MacDonald why he serves in the military, and he doesn’t talk about pay raises, tuition assistance or job security.

“My biggest reason for serving is my family,” said MacDonald, a combat medic who returned in 2006 from a deployment to Iraq.

“I looked at my family, and I realized that I want them and their way of life to be protected,” he said. “And one of the only ways to do that is to go overseas and take the fight to the enemy who are perfectly willing to come here and kill themselves just to kill an American. … It requires some sacrifice, but I am willing to do that.”

MacDonald is among eight participants in the Defense Department’s “Why I Serve” program who will spend the next three months telling civilian groups around the country why they serve in the armed forces. The group members, all recently returned from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world in support of the war on terror, will also share their personal experiences and the importance of the public support they have received.

In addition to sharing his on-the-ground experiences, MacDonald said he plans to talk about the deep sense of connection he and many of his fellow servicemembers feel toward their comrades. MacDonald left the military in 2003 after six years of service, then returned less than a year later because he realized how much he missed what he had left behind.

“I found out when I got out of the military that I didn’t have that brotherhood anymore, that camaraderie,” he said. “I missed that, and I serve now also for the men and the women next to me in the foxhole and, ultimately, because I believe in the war on terror and that we are doing the right thing.”

Petty Officer 1st Class Lyndon Romeo, a Navy Seabee, said he plans to tell the audiences he speaks with about how his latest deployments to Kuwait and Bahrain reaffirmed his belief in the value of military service. “I serve because I believe that the constitution needs defending and supporting, and I believe that probably the best way to do that is to service in the United States military,” he said. “That’s what I plan to tell them.”

Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeramiah Poff said he looks forward to sharing with civilian groups ranging from Boy Scouts to Rotary Clubs “how I feel to be in uniform and how proud I am of what I do.”

Poff said he hopes to convey through the Why I Serve program that he sees his service as a way of honoring veterans of past wars, reinforcing those who serve alongside him today, and laying a foundation for the next generation of military members.

“I serve for all those who have served before me (and) all those who have fought and sacrificed in all the conflicts of the past,” he said.

“I serve so (the soldier, sailor, airmen or Marine beside me) knows he has someone watching his back and able to catch him if he falls, pick him up if he gets hurt, motivate him if it’s his bad day,” he said. “And I am also there for all my troops for the future of the military services.”

As the group members fan out across the country this week to spend the next 90 days speaking to groups ranging from the Boy Scouts to local Rotary Clubs to schools and retirement community organizations, they also will emphasize the importance of public support for the troops.

“We have all seen the support that regular Americans give,” MacDonald said. “The most important thing is that they are distinguishing between the soldier and the politics and the war and the soldier. … As long as that continues, they can always support the soldier.”

Marine Maj. Matt Morgan, director of the Why I Serve program, said he wishes every servicemember could get an opportunity to participate in the program to see firsthand how much they’re appreciated. “Most servicemembers have a sense that Americans appreciate what they do. But until you go out in the communities where you are not usually seeing servicemembers, traveling through regional and local airports, and meeting with members of communities who don’t see this military presence, you don’t understand how much they appreciate what you do,” he said.

Morgan recalled an incident in which three participants in the program walking through a small regional airport got a standing ovation from the people awaiting their flights. “It was a very emotional moment for all of them because they just didn’t get a sense of that in the regular media coverage, just how much Americans really appreciate what they do,” he said.

The concept for the Why I Serve program originated with former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who wanted a way to help reconnect troops to the American people, Morgan explained.

“So we took a number of ideas, and one of them was taking troops just returned from overseas and sending them out to the American people so they could talk to community organizations and groups and interface directly without the interference of filters,” Morgan said.

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