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Service is an Opportunity, not an Obligation

Posted by Tony Sandoval, AmeriCorps member serving with Washington Vet Corps on November 17, 2014

On Sept. 4, 2001, I enlisted in the U.S. Army, ready for an adventure and thinking it would be fun to work with tanks. Then Sept. 11th happened and my world changed big time. Barely twenty-one, I did my best to grow up quickly and serve honorably in Iraq. I left the Army in 2004, having lost my two best friends and my marriage, and suffered injuries from a major car accident and depression. There wasn’t the type of transition help which is now available, and I struggled to keep myself together and to find my place in the civilian world. 

Back at home in Wenatchee, Washington, I resumed some of my former activities, working in landscaping, diving into sports again, and returning to school. I’ve participated in a variety of sports (and have the broken bones to prove it), including playing and/or coaching track, wrestling, and football. For the past 10 years, I’ve played and coached on a semi-pro football team, which I really needed after the military. The combination of team camaraderie and combat was essential to my self-designed transition plan. The college classes I took through Wenatchee Valley Community College, especially in psychology, communication and history, have helped me get a better understanding of myself and a bigger picture perspective on our world. 

It wasn’t until 2012 when the fog lifted and my cognitive abilities fully returned. I began a work study job in the College Veterans Office and from there was introduced to AmeriCorps and an opportunity to serve with Washington Vet Corps. Here I would work with other veterans who were attempting to navigate the college system and rebuild their lives -- just as I was doing. Hesitant at first, because I didn’t want to re-live my own nightmares through hearing the stories of others, I decided to have faith and accept the opportunity in 2013 that this new challenge presented. Through this experience of civilian service in AmeriCorps, I have been able to help veterans directly and to assist the college in making changes that better support veteran students. While doing this, I’ve continued to learn more about myself and get more closure so I can move on with my own life.

Every day brings opportunities to develop and strengthen my skills in problem solving, mediation, listening, patience, delegation, and project management. This summer, at the end of my first AmeriCorps term, I took on the leadership of the culminating project for the graduating Vet Corps class of 2013-2014. Working with partners like County Government and local businesses, we identified a need and I located a campsite for 50 Vet Corps members. They completed a landscaping project for the Chelan County Fairgrounds, thereby improving that important community resource.

I’m lucky to have had the support of my family, my sports teams, and my college as well as the opportunity to continue to be of service in a meaningful way to others through the AmeriCorps Vet Corps program. My grandfather, a 20 year military veteran who served in Vietnam and Korea, left me a legacy of service – an unexpected gift that I finally understand. Having benefited from all this experience, I plan to bicycle across the country next summer, finally meeting the parents of the two best friends I lost and saying thank you, helping to bring closure for myself and those families. I might even do a documentary on it, as a way to bring closure and healing for others.

Service truly is an opportunity, not an obligation.