Articles

This veteran refuses to leave his unemployed and debt-ridden comrades behind

This post is reprinted with permission from NationSwell, new digital media company focused on American innovation and renewal.


Photo: Youtube

When Eli Williamson returned from two deployments to the Middle East, his hometown of Chicago felt at times like a foreign battleground, the memory of desert roads more familiar than Windy City central thoroughfares. As he relearned the city, Williamson noticed a strange similarity between veterans like himself and the young people growing up in tough parts of Chicago. Too many had witnessed violence, and they had little support to cope with the trauma.

Applying the timeworn principle of leaving no soldier, sailor, airman or marine behind, Williamson co-founded Leave No Veteran Behind (LNVB), a national nonprofit focused on securing education and employment for our warriors. Williamson formed the organization based on "just real stupid" and "crazy" idealism: "You know what?" he says. "I can make a difference." Since work began in 2008, with a measly operating budget of $4,674 to help pay off student loans, LNVB has eliminated around $150,000 of school debt and provided 750 transitional jobs, Williamson says.

"Coming out of the military, every individual is going to have his or her challenges," says Williamson, who served as a psychological operations specialist and an Arabic linguist in Iraq in 2004 and in Afghanistan in 2007. "We've seen veterans with substance abuse issues, homelessness issues." Additionally, at least one in five veterans suffer from PTSD, and almost 50,000 are homeless and 573,000 are unemployed.

Williamson started the group with his childhood friend Roy Sartin. They first met in high school, when they joined choir and band together. "I think we've been arguing like old women every since," Williamson says. Both joined the U.S. Army Reserves while at Iowa's Luther College and were mobilized to active duty during their senior year after the Twin Towers fell. Williamson finished his education at the Special Warfare Training Center at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, while Sartin put his learning on hold.

Upon return, both struggled with crippling interest rates on their student loans. Sartin received a call from the loan company saying that he needed to make a $20,000 payment. "Although I had the funds, it was just enough to get myself back together. So, for me, the transition wasn't as tough, but I was one of the lucky ones." Williamson got a bill for $2,200 only 22 days before the balance was due. Desperate, he took to the streets playing music to cover the costs.

After talking with other vets, the two realized that many didn't qualify for the military's debt repayment programs. That's when they started going out to financial sources for "retroactive scholarships" for our country's defenders. And they sought employment opportunities for former military members to help cover the rest.

Jobs and debt relief for our nation's warriors are the main focus of LNVB, but the group oversees several initiatives, including S.T.E.A.M. Corps, which pairs vets with science, technology, engineering, arts, and math experience with at-risk youth. More than 200 students have graduated from S.T.E.A.M., but Williamson, director of veteran affairs at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, points to a more intangible benefit of his non-profit's work: the ability for veterans "to articulate a larger vision of themselves … is our advocacy mission," he says.

"Veterans can paint a vision for where our country needs to be, and the only reason we can do that is because you realize that you are part of something larger than yourself," Williamson adds. "That's a fundamental value that veterans can share, as they leave military, with the communities that they come back to." For those who've just returned home from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, in other words, service is just beginning.

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This article originally appeared at NationSwell Copyright 2015. Follow NationSwell on Twitter.

Military Life

Female veterans pose on same ship that carried WW2 troops

Award-winning nonprofit Pin-Ups for Vets is releasing its 13th annual fundraising calendar to raise money for VA hospitals; ill, injured, and homeless veterans; deployed troops; and military families. The 2019 calendar, photographed on the iconic Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA, features 19 female veterans decked out in World War II inspired fashion.

"Fans of Art Deco will appreciate the look of the upcoming calendar that reflects the vintage glamour of this 1936 cruise liner, now permanently docked in Long Beach, CA as a floating hotel," said Pin-Ups For Vets Founder, Gina Elise, who established Pin-Ups For Vets in 2006, as a way to honor the WWII service of her grandfather.

Gina Elise, Founder

Gina has devoted her life to giving back to the military community. To date, Pin-Ups For Vets has donated over $58,000 to help hospitals purchase new therapy equipment and to provide financial assistance for Veterans' healthcare program expansion across the United States.

The 2019 calendar is officially ready for pre-order at www.PinUpsForVets.com. All 2019 Pin-Ups for Vets calendar pictures were taken by Shane Karns Photography — and let me just tell you...he really nailed it.


Kirstie Ennis, U.S. Marine Corps veteran

From a linguist, to a Human Intelligence Collector, to a combat photographer, to a combat medic, to a motor transportation operator, to a heavy equipment transporter driver leading convoys in Iraq, to a helicopter door gunner in Afghanistan, these ladies also include an above-the-knee amputee veteran (Marine Corps veteran Kirstie Ennis — who, by the way, at the time of this publishing was climbing Mount Denali in support of Service to Summit to raise money for Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit organization that builds or modifies homes and gives them to veterans in need).

Julie Noyes, Army veteran

Army veteran Julie Noyes says, "It can be so difficult as a female service member to feel empowered in her beauty without feeling like she may betray the professionalism of her uniform when we only seek to be treated like our male counterparts. I feel that Pin-Ups for Vets does a superb job at raising money and awareness for our elderly, wounded vets and our currently deployed troops while also showcasing the class and beauty of female veterans without objectifying them. What Pin-Ups Vets Founder Gina Elise has done with this publication and non-profit is nothing short of empowering and inspiring."

Naumika Kumar, Navy Veteran

"I will always be thankful to the Navy. I met my husband in the Navy who is also a veteran now and I graduated from National University with Master's Degree in 2012 as well. I am happy to see there are organization such as Pin-Ups For Vets who are doing so much to support the military and Veterans. I am happy that I got an opportunity to be part of the organization."

Patti Gomez, Army veteran

Patti is a veteran of the United States Army, where she proudly served in the New York Army National Guard as a 35M (Human Intelligence Collector) of the 42nd Infantry Division, located in Glenville, New York. She volunteered to attend JRTC in Fort Polk, Louisiana, alongside the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in July 2016. She also trained at Warfighter at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, with her unit in October 2017. Patti attended Basic Combat Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and attended Advanced Individual Training at the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

"Pin-Ups for Vets is an incredible organization with an important mission. Being a part of a nonprofit that helps veterans and empowers women at the same time is truly an honor and one that I couldn't pass up when I was asked to be a part of the 2019 calendar. As the reigning Mrs. New York America, my platform is veteran organizations — and Pin-Ups for Vets is truly among the best of them!"

Check out that cover image!

The 2019 calendar can be purchased at: www.PinUpsForVets.com or by check to: Pin-Ups For Vets, PO Box 33, Claremont, CA 91711.

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