Looking Back and Moving Forward: Onward On Memorial Day


Below are some messages recently prepared by various members of the Onward to Opportunity staff in which they share their personal views on what Memorial Day means to them.


Download the ‘What Memorial Day Means to the O2O Team’ PDF


Memorial Day –The Preparations of an IVMF Employee and US Army Reservist

By A.J. Florkowski, National Program Manager, Onward to Opportunity (O2O)

I was asked to speak at a Memorial Day ceremony at a local senior living center this year and I enthusiastically accepted the offer, seeing it as a great chance to speak to surviving members of our nation’s “greatest” generation and show my respects to those who served and passed.  Assuming that they would want me to focus my comments on my time in service or on how the world’s military conflicts have evolved over time, tying current national heroes to those of yesteryear, I was very surprised when I was asked to speak about the work I do for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).  I felt myself smile as I absolutely love to talk about what I do here at the IVMF.  The fact that someone outside of the Veteran community knew of the IVMF was a pleasant surprise.

I thought I would begin with my 11.5 years of time as an active duty Engineer Officer in the Army following my graduation from West Point in 1999.  Transitioning from the Active Duty Army to the US Army Reserves in 2010, I thought that my experiences serving as a drilling reservist while simultaneously working my first full-time civilian job would set the stage well for explaining my reasons for joining the IVMF in 2015.  For my first year at the IVMF, I ran a program called Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) as well as its sister program Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans’ Families (EBV-F).  The EBV & EBV-F programs are hosted for qualifying Veterans with a service connected disability as well as family members of Veterans with a service connected disability.  Being in a position that allowed me to help my fellow service members and their families achieve their dreams of business ownership was phenomenal.  The passion and drive that I witnessed in those aspiring entrepreneurs was all-inspiring and hard to describe in words.  The return on the investment of my time and energy – seeing these EBV & EBV-F grads go on to bring their ventures to life – was immeasurable.  Quite simply: I loved my job.

At the onset of the new year, amidst some internal IVMF restructuring, I was presented with a new opportunity as the National Program Manager for the young Onward to Opportunity (O2O) program.  Not fully knowing what I was getting myself into, I still viewed my transition from EBV to O2O with optimism.  Although I was sad to leave the storied EBV program behind, I recognized that the O2O program was a unique opportunity, different than anything we have done previously here at the IVMF.  Having remote installation teams located around the country poses a unique set of both challenges and advantages.  The challenges primarily surround the support aspects of the team, as less than 1% of all SU employees work off-campus.

Supporting external employees is not an everyday occurrence here and as the IVMF is a tightly-knit group, how do we make folks feel like they are a part of the IVMF team when they are more than a thousand miles away?  Additionally, the teams function in distinctly different operating environments from the military communities to the local communities to the employment opportunities within their regions.  Despite the numerous differences that exist from one installation team to the next, there is one common bound that brings the O2O team together: our mission to support our nation’s soon-to-be Veterans and their families.  Having transitioned from the Active Duty Army previously, I know the challenges that surround finding meaningful post-service employment.  The work that our O2O installation teams are doing is important work that is impacting the lives of dozens – eventually hundreds and maybe even thousands – of our nation’s heroes and their families.

I think I will close my remarks on Monday by reflecting on how we are evolving as a nation.  It is my observation that we are at a point in time where we recognize the value of the Veteran in the community and we are now working to set the conditions for our Veterans to impact their communities after their time in service.  The work that we are doing here at the IVMF is a reflection of this nationwide support of our Veterans and based on my experience in uniform and out, I know first-hand the value of the impact that we are making.  And I still love my job.

My Civilian Duty

By Allison Fisher, Accenture, Pro Bono lead for O2O

2008 was the year my relationship with the military changed. My brother Mark enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.

My family, like many other middle-class suburban households, had not been particularly connected to the military before my brother joined up. We had a grandfather that briefly served in the Army towards the end of WWII and my father was drafted to Vietnam, but medically disqualified from service. The rest of my extended family were too young to have been drafted and never pursued military service on their own, though always spoke highly of friends from the community that were drafted, had perished, or chose to serve in some other capacity. Voluntarily joining the military was a hazy concept to my family and one that was outside of the periphery of understanding for most of my siblings and cousins. As controversial as it is to say out loud, our pre-2008 military connectedness could best be described as deeply respectful to those who served and secretly thankful it wasn’t us. Sadly enough, I think this feeling likely describes the majority of American families today.

My personal experience proves that the civilian-military divide is indeed not a fallacy, and some would even say the so-called “gap” is widening in proportion to the length of our current war. In the case of our family, we were jolted into awareness and connectivity with the simple phrase “I’m enlisting”.  Mark’s service totally reversed my and my family’s disconnect with the armed forces and in turn, transformed us into change agents for reversing this mentality in others. My mother bought maps of Afghanistan so she could track where my brother and other deployed friends of his were stationed, as well as pinpoint the locations of attacks, bombings and other US military activities reported on the news. She took it upon herself to make sure our family, friends and anyone else in the community willing to listen were kept updated on exactly why they should care about Helmand Province, where it was, and what was going on there. My father bought every single piece of USMC-branded paraphernalia, many of which continue to hold prized status in his wardrobe. Since my brother graduated from Parris Island that rainy day in 2008, the USMC flag still flies underneath the America Flag in our front yard. Some may judge this as materialistic peacocking, but for us it was a way to show our community how proud we were to have a Marine in our family and that we wanted others to share in that pride.

Surprising to me was the impact Mark’s service had on the way I viewed, engaged with and processed information related to the military and its members. I myself am not a veteran, I’m not a military spouse, I don’t work for the Department of Defense, and I’m not a military parent but what I want convey is that you don’t have to be any of these things in order to be mindful of the challenges, experiences and sacrifices of those that fight to maintain our country’s safety and way of life. I feel compelled as a non-veteran citizen to be actively aware of our national defense system and find ways both big and small to contribute to the long-term wellbeing of the countless servicemembers, veterans, military spouses and family members that do serve.

I call it my “civilian duty”.

As you enjoy time with family and friends this Memorial Day weekend, I encourage you to integrate a moment of silence and reflection into your festivities, visit a memorial site or military cemetery, or attend a local Memorial Day ceremony and get to know the veterans that live in your community. It’s our civilian duty.

Onward to Opportunity: Helping Veterans Succeed

By Elisabeth Rocha, Program Manager, Joint Base Lewis McChord

This Memorial Day as we take some time to reflect on the freedom afforded to us through the sacrifice of others, it’s important to also reflect on the impact of that sacrifice on their brothers and sisters in arms. For many servicemembers the true weight of these losses does not fully impact them until they are transitioning out of the service, during a time of uncertainty and indecision. It’s important to consider the emotional journey as well as the professional journey as we work to support our nation’s protectors through their transition from military service and on to reach their next goal.

Helping servicemembers prepare for their transition from military service into civilian employment can be extremely rewarding. These men and women who are highly capable of accomplishing any number of tasks, mission, or duty have a very difficult time narrowing down what they really want to do when they are done with their military service. I am humbled by this perspective; they are not afraid to try any job or opportunity. This attitude comes from knowing that they have accomplished many things and learned many lessons that they might not have expected, but they were still successful. However, this same “can do” attitude can sometimes be viewed as a weakness instead of a strength by employers when they try to present their skill set through resumes, etc. during their post-military employment search.

Through Onward to Opportunity at Joint Base Lewis-McCord, servicemembers are introduced to a local network of employers and encouraged to reach out to begin to build their professional network. The course participants are given an assignment to conduct an informational interview with an organization that they might want to apply, they present to the class what they learned about the organization. It’s amazing to see the sharing of information as the class participants help each other to understand what it’s like to work for different organizations. The course participants are also encouraged to attend many networking events and meet-up groups in the area, even if they plan on moving to a different location.  Networking is a vital piece of the employment seeking journey; many of the discussions during the course center around the value of networking correctly.

Through the course of the Onward to Opportunity program the participants are not only working toward an industry certification, they are also participating in the Onward to Your Career workshops that are accented by local employer engagement opportunities.  Onward to Opportunity helps servicemembers grow their professional confidence and helps them present themselves to be equally qualified as their civilian counterparts in the job market.

My Grandfather’s Impact

By Abdiel Maldonado, Program Manager, Camp Pendleton

This year will be the first Memorial Day where my grandfather is no longer with us. May he rest in peace! As I do every year, I will take some time to reflect on those whose sacrifices made it possible for us to enjoy the freedoms they earned for us. However, unlike years past, this year I will reflect on my grandfather’s service. Aside from myself, he was the only member of my family who honorably served in the military.

His time in the service was remarkably different than mine. He entered the US Army before segregation ended. The military wasn’t an all-volunteer force for almost three decades and people figured out their transition on their own. The first version of the Transition Assistance Program didn’t come to fruition for nearly four decades after he left the military. Yet, in other ways, our times in the service were very similar. We both served in a time of war. We both saw the military swell and shrink in size. We were also very fortunate to survive our time in the military and return to our families.

Looking back, it’s the details that stand out. I remember growing up and wondering things I wasn’t brave enough to ask. Some of my concerns were serious. I wondered where his mind wandered when he sat alone on the balcony. Was he thinking about his time in the service? Was he thinking of his battle buddies? Yet, other concerns were much less serious. Did granddad have an inside voice? How could his shoes possibly be so shiny? Why is he so serious…ALL the time?

After I enlisted in the Marine Corps, my grandfather shared a lot of his stories of his time in the Army. The many mysterious things that made my grandfather who he was began to make sense. When I began my transition from the military, again he shared his stories of his times in the service and the challenges he faced when he transitioned to civilian life. He was pleased to hear things had improved since he left. He was even happier to hear they were getting even better. As a member of the O2O team, it’s nice to know I am part of that positive change.

For those of us in the business of helping service members and their families transition from the military, Memorial Day is also a time to reflect on what it means to support a meaningful future for those who are still with us. I love the fact that I can assist someone as they begin a new chapter in their life. After all, today’s service members could potentially be the grandparents someone else reveres and admires.

This Memorial Day: Reflection, Remembrance, and Continued Duty

By Aixa Escobar, Program Coordinator, Camp Pendleton

As this year’s Memorial Day weekend approaches, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on my brothers and sisters who have paid the ultimate price for our beloved country, our freedom, and the opportunities we enjoy on a daily basis. For those of us in the business of helping veterans and transitioning servicemembers, it’s also a time to reflect on what it means to support a meaningful future for those who survived.

I’ve been a veteran since July 2011, but it seems just like yesterday we were all still in the fight, forward deployed in Fallujah, Iraq. Some of us made it back home to our friends and families, some of us made it back home in a box, and some of us made it home physically, but definitely not entirely. My transition from the service really began during my Physical Evaluation Board which put me at 18 months past my original end of active service date and I was finally medically retired. There were so many moving parts in this animal called “transition”. A part of me felt “ready” to move forward, but in reality it the was the beginning of the scariest time of my life. I didn’t know if I wanted to follow in the career path I was in or learn something different, and I couldn’t let go of what I planned for my military career as one day “SgtMaj Escobar”. I was bombarded with so much information from TAP, DTAP (Disability TAP), and my PEB Liaison Officer that it felt impossible to grasp anything at all. I thought I had it all planned out, until reality struck and I found myself struggling to hold on to “something”. Psychologically, I was all over the place; injured, unaware of how to really identify myself as a veteran, and of course, reluctant to ask for help. Transitioning after serving over 10 years in the United States Marine Corps, was everything but easy to adjust to my new chapter in life, but with time, patience, and a little help from some dear friends called veterans, here I am today. During my struggles is when I realized what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

As the Program Coordinator for the Onward to Opportunity Program, Camp Pendleton, it is an honor to be of assistance to our nation’s transitioning servicemembers and their families. Successful reintegration can be a difficult time for any of us in many different facets of our lives, whether you served 4, 8, or 20 years. I know what it’s like to transition, to struggle, to feel overwhelmed, and unfortunately, how it feels to not have the best support while still on active duty. We strive to provide the opportunities to help empower fellow servicemembers with assistance in training, networking opportunities, and employment so that each participant is ready to embrace the values and skills that they bring forth through dedication to military service and now, their future in the private sector.

Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families: A Dedication to Service, Sacrifice and Opportunity

By Anthony Cosby, Program Manager, Joint Base San Antonio

“Home of the free and land of the brave” is a quote synonymous with Americans expressing pride in the United States of America. The bountiful freedom that is afforded to each American citizen has been provided throughout history by the service of military men and women sometimes paying the price of freedom with the ultimate sacrifice of their very own lives.

In the critically acclaimed movie, Saving Private Ryan, Captain John Miller (played by Tom Hanks) takes his men behind enemy lines to find Private James Ryan. During the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, Private Ryan’s three brothers were killed in action. Their mother, Mrs. Ryan, is to receive all three grave telegrams on the same day. The United States Army Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall, is given an opportunity to alleviate some of her grief when he learns of the fourth brother, Private Ryan, and decides to send out 8 men (Captain Miller and select members from the 2nd Rangers) to find him and bring him back home to his mother. Surrounded by the brutal realties of war, while searching for Private Ryan, each man embarks upon a personal journey and discovers their own strength to triumph over an uncertain future with honor, decency and courage.

On May 30, 2016, each American has the opportunity to observe Memorial Day and reflect on those brave warriors that have defended their country and gave their life in her service. We are all able to continue personal journeys knowing that our freedom is provided by the military men and women standing the watch for all Americans. As a Navy veteran, my personal journey continues with the exceptional opportunity to help transitioning service members, veterans and military spouses embark upon a brighter future for their career after military service.

The elite team that I have the privilege of serving with is called Onward to Opportunity (O2O). Our mission is to empower highly qualified transitioning service members and military spouses with the specific skills, certifications and training required to start successful civilian careers in growing industries. O2O connects hiring employers to veteran talent that is prepared to meet current, real time labor market needs. O2O was born out of the partnership with Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families and the Schultz Family Foundation. Both organizations understand the enormous talent associated with America’s service members, veterans and military families and have committed to advancing their post-service lives.

This year we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the USO. The USO has been serving military service members and their families throughout their time in uniform. From the moment they join, through their assignments and deployments, and as they transition back to their communities, the USO is always by their side. As I reflected on the amazing services provided by the USO, I began to vision O2O’s 75th anniversary. I envisioned thousands of transitioning service members and military spouses receiving and accepting job offers for amazing careers with thousands of Fortune 500 O2O Employer Partners. That vision ignites my passion each and every day to give my all to those service members, veterans and military families that have given so much in service of the greatest country in world, the United States of America.

At the end of the movie, Saving Private Ryan, Private Ryan is with Captain Miller as he dies and hears his last words, “James…Earn this.” Private Ryan knew that he had been given new life because of Captain Miller and his men sacrifice. Thinking about the sacrifices that so many service members have made for our country makes me want to live a life worthy of a “calling” to service. O2O has provided my team at Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) a chance to answer that calling. Angenetta Lambert, O2O Program Coordinator JBSA, and I have the unique opportunity to seek out transitioning service members, veterans and military spouses and afford them the opportunity to a new career and life. The O2O JBSA team realize that the career transition services we are providing is a symbol of living a live worthy of the sacrifice of our fallen service members. Our commitment to living a life of service, is living a life that is worthy of our calling.

Onward to My Opportunity

By Angenetta Lambert, Program Coordinator, Joint Base San Antonio

Though my father is a Navy veteran, I never quite understood the significance of Memorial Day. I didn’t grow up near any military installations and none of the veterans in my family, to include my dad shared their experiences. I eventually married into the U.S. Army.  Over the past 23 years, my husband has lost two soldiers and two of my colleagues lost their husbands to war.  I now understand that this is a day to recognize those who gave their lives for the freedoms that this country enjoys.  I think of my husband, whose childhood aspiration was to be a soldier, and he is living that dream.  There are countless others who, like my husband, longed to serve their country and do so without complaint or reservation.  My interactions and exchanges with these individuals have left an indelible impression that will remain for years to come.

There is a current running through the military community that touches my heart.  Any time I’m on a military installation and “Taps” is played, I’m affected.  Observing everyone come to a halt, saluting, and standing in silence I am overcome with emotion.  The same is true whenever I sing or hear “The Star Spangled Banner”.  I think of the sacrifice.  I think of the stress, the strain, and the struggle.  I think of how those who remain deserve more than a simple “Thank you for your service”.  Though it is nice to hear, they deserve so much more.  I wondered what I could do to help and I sought to do more.  I began working with and in military and family programs and services.

My goal was to assist, educate and empower.  I volunteered, researched and informed as best I could with whatever resources were present.  I reached out to every active duty personnel member and spouse I could find informing them about any and every program I was aware of. My career path then led me to assisting transitioning service members and veterans.  Still seeking to assist, educate and empower, I found out about the IVMF’s Veterans Career Transition Program (VCTP).  It sounded like a great program, but too good to be true.  I didn’t think it was possible for an organization or entity to have such a strong program, free of charge, for service members and spouses.  It was inviting so I applied and was accepted into the PMP program.  Shortly thereafter, a friend told me about the Onward to Opportunity Program, another extension of the IVMF, and I applied for and accepted a position that was a perfect fit for me. As the Program Coordinator for JBSA, I get to assist, educate, and empower transitioning service members and spouses every day.

Fulfilling My Obligation

By Patty Piazza, Program Manager, Jacksonville, Florida

As I sit and reflect on what Memorial Day means to me, my thoughts wander back to the many years I myself spent Memorial Day weekend in some far away country standing watch and doing my part in ensuring our great nation’s freedoms were protected. Today is a beautiful sunny day and I am blessed with the opportunity to spend time with my wonderful family. Both of my children have served or are serving on active duty. Their dedication to freedom and the pursuit of happiness makes me an extremely proud parent. There are many however, who won’t be home this weekend and many, many more who never will again.

It’s to those that I feel the most passion. They will not be able to take advantage of the many benefits they and their families have sacrificed for, that this country bestows upon it’s veterans. They will not be using their GI Bill or Post 9-11 benefits to further their education. They have no need for their VA medical benefits or their VA home mortgage opportunities which they fought so valiantly for.  They will never again hear “Thank you for your service.”

It is because of those that will never come home and for those that have been fortunate enough to return, that I make it my life’s work to educate the transitioning service members, veterans and military families on what resources they have available to them. I have led many by the hand to VA clinics to sign up for benefits, including a Purple Heart recipient still suffering from extreme PTSD who had no idea of the assistance that was available to him. I have made countless appointments with Veteran Services Officers (VSOs) on behalf of veterans who thought they couldn’t put in a disability claim because too much time had lapsed. I have counseled and coached hundreds of spouses on portable careers and educational opportunities available to them. I have walked transitioning service members through the process of planning for their new civilian life.

I ensure they remember that people: sons, daughters, mothers and fathers, have died to provide them the freedom to take advantage of these benefits. I advise them that it is their obligation to those that have given the ultimate sacrifice to take advantage of what they have given up; to not let their sacrifices be in vain. It is everyone’s responsibility to continue to strive to be the best citizens of this great nation. To strive to achieve our dreams and aspirations. To continue to provide for our veterans and military families who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms and opportunities with the quality of life they deserve. Our military families have chosen the lifestyle they lead out of dedication to duty and a love of country. They are the ones making the American dream a reality!

Being the Tri-Base Onward to Opportunity Program Manager allows me to fulfill this self-imposed obligation. If I can change one person’s life for the better, turn on one light bulb for someone in the dark…show a new path previously not seen, enlighten someone to all the possibilities…then I feel I am serving and honoring those who will never return home for a Memorial Day weekend again.

Giving Back

By Anthony Bush, Program Coordinator, Jacksonville, Florida

This Memorial Day, we come together to reflect on those who didn’t make it home, but we also get to enjoy the pleasures of the freedom they purchased for us.  One of the freedoms purchased is our Democracy, and with this freedom we have the right to educate others. Onward to Opportunity (O2O) program plays it forward by ensuring that transitioning service members, guardsmen, reservists, and military spouses are finally noticed in the job search. For those of us in the business of helping veterans and transitioning service members, it’s also a time to reflect on what it means to support a meaningful future for those who survived.

As a Veteran, I served 23 years in the US Navy, and I know the struggles of making the transition from the military environment to civilian culture.  With all the experience gained while in the military, many veterans have no idea of how to translate those talents to civilian terminology. In fact, writing a resume can be one of the most difficult tasks because many may require additional credentials to obtain an ideal employment opportunity.

Military spouses sacrifice their careers in effort to support their families.  This sacrifice means they transfer with their spouses from duty station to duty station. They accept whatever employment is offered in order to support family needs. There are even times when they cannot work because of the financial restraints caused by childcare.

My attraction and love for the O2O program is that it provides the transitioning service members and military spouses the opportunity to be taken seriously during their job search.  O2O offers them realistic and achievable certification in relevant fields. A career coach is assigned, ensuring that resumes are professional, assists with interview preparation, and guarantees employer interviews. Throughout the O2O experience, the Coordinators work alongside the applicants to ensure their journey is free of obstacles so they may stay on track with training and obtain their certification.

Even though I have only been with the organization for a very short while, they have welcomed me with open arms. The O2O program has provided me the pleasure of assisting service members and spouses with the potential of them obtaining a career they would love. It has afforded me the opportunity to give back to those who have dedicated so much for the freedoms of our country and their families.  I get excited when I’m briefing O2O to service members and spouses and my joy is reciprocated by them.  I see the potential effects of O2O having on the future employment numbers of veterans as they leave the service and I get excited. The feeling of giving back to those who served and the spouses who sacrifice daily is exhilarating. Today, we celebrate Memorial Day for those who gave all to keep our freedoms and rights safe and free by continuing to serve those who survive.


Download the ‘What Memorial Day Means to the O2O Team’ PDF

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