My grandfather was a World War II veteran. Having proudly served in the US Army, he was able to petition his entire family of seven children to immigrate to the United States from the Philippines, giving our family the incredible opportunity to attain the American dream. He passed away in the spring of 2010 after a long, hard-fought battle against cancer. At his funeral, members of the Army came to play the Taps and gave my grandmother the American flag that had been draped over his coffin. I will never forget the honor in her eyes, nor the sense of peace those young men gave her during such a difficult time.
The previous summer, I remember being completely startled to see so many men and women in uniform walking the streets and riding the Metro with me. Where I grew up, the military was far removed from daily life and the men and women who served our country were only on my television screen. I understood theoretically that freedom came at the high price and sacrifice of those who wore uniform, but I did not truly understand their struggles. When a fellow intern of mine mentioned volunteering with the USO, I stared blankly at her. She explained what the organization provided to our military and their families. While I was impressed with the organization, I went back to school after my internship that summer and quickly forgot about it.
I returned to DC for my second summer as an intern soon after my grandfather’s funeral with an immense gratitude for the comfort they brought my family. Soon enough, I had the opportunity to meet several young members of our armed forces and was able to thank them personally for their service. I was also able to learn about the struggles they faced in dealing with deployments, being far from their loved ones, and for some of them, learning to live with the physical, mental, and emotional injuries from war. Following my summer internship, I paid much more attention to the challenges my classmates in ROTC faced. I was truly astonished with the bravery and courage shown by those in active duty and those training to become officers, especially since many were my age and even younger!
When I decided to move to DC after graduating from college and was looking for a way to get involved with my community, I sought out volunteer opportunities at the USO. Since then, I have been stuffing care packages, staffing a USO center at a nearby base, and volunteering at events for military families. It is a truly rewarding experience to be able to give back to those who sacrifice so much for our country.