Order. Discipline. Grooming. A daily routine followed over the years quickly becomes one decade, two, and, for some, longer. As many veterans discover, the transition into civilian life requires a change of mindset. Civilians leave pathways from walking on the grass and bypass opportunities to dispose of trash. And, the most shocking truth, businesses and organizations do not work as a unit. Taking steps to acclimate occurs in small increments. Veterans engage in conversations, learning to eliminate the use of acronyms. They find classes and join groups. Through social media, word passes around describing a Saturday morning coffee in Winston-Salem, not just for “Gulf War Veterans.” All are welcome! Founder Nike Roach, an Army veteran, shares, “Military members who transition from drill and ceremony need a new mission. Veterans find safety in numbers. Being part of a group gives each one of us purpose; otherwise, it’s easy to feel lost in the weeds without finding new troops. You realize you are the commander who needs a mission in the civilian world.” The gathering also provided Nike a chance to forge a friendship with Jesse Almanza, USMC, RET, and Kevin Doss, USAF, RET.
Why enlist? Sometimes, the answer is a shrug or a defined desire to see the world and learn a trade. Other enlistees seek financial help to obtain a degree. As the middle child of eight siblings, Jesse Almanza decided, at the age of 17, the Marine Corps could take him far from San Antonio, Texas. The recruiter listened to one more compelling speech from a young man who sought to become a marine and scuba diver. Young Jesse signed papers, shook hands, and felt in control of his destiny. Ninety days of basic training culminated in the unexpected moment; the assignment to motor transport. By chance, was it a typo that “diver” included one additional letter to become “driver?”
Choosing a vocation doesn’t always mean young adults know their fate until they are “voluntold” and start living it. Orders arrived for a two-year station at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Kevin Doss asked his mother to put her finger on the globe, marking the location of North Carolina; then, to place her hand directly opposite—on the other side of the world. Kevin shares, “When you grow up in a small town, it’s difficult to explain where the Philippines is on Earth. At 18, I had to quickly learn how to navigate the military and a foreign country’s rules, while my supervisor kept saying, ‘Start thinking about your next stripe’; so, I volunteered at MEDCAPS. I saw the most horrific skin lesions and cleft palates. No one back home thought people would survive on dirt-floored grass huts. And, when the rains came, they just rebuilt [their huts].”
One Unit, a Team Effort
Movies and television shows, live news reports, and international conflicts collectively taught Americans about the US military. Households learned about naval vessels, the force of tanks, and specialized groups like the Green Berets and Navy Seals. Journalists opened Americans’ eyes, who read or watched live footage from remote geographic locations like Sarajevo and Mogadishu; yet, no one knew about the elusive men and women who were Airmen, Coast Guardsmen, Marines, National Guardsmen, Sailors, and Soldiers. Each active member and veteran possesses a feeling of pride from their branch, resulting from training, the commendations and missions, and the unmistakable bonds to a second family. “In the uniform, everyone looks the same. We talk about the “independent” idea, but it’s not about individuality. There is a strong sense that I’m going to count on someone, and their life depends on my efforts,” shares Nike Roach. “Anyone who went to combat on deployments, serving in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, or Europe, has a vast knowledge of a global society. The experience makes us better people and delves into a greater understanding of unity, loyalty, and trust. Those character traits do not end after service is over.”
Veterans seeking to join a Saturday group in Winston-Salem, please go to gulfwarveteranscoffee.com/To all veterans, the staff of Forsyth Family magazine would like to thank you for your service!