Natasha Young is being honored as a Champion of Change for her efforts as a woman veteran.
It is with great honor that I accept this award on behalf of all my brothers and sisters who paid the ultimate sacrifice. I wish I could start by citing some enchanted fairy tale beginning with, “Once Upon a Time.” Instead, I answered my nation’s call to service for many of the same reasons as many of my brothers and sisters did. College was not an option for me upon graduating from high school. So, when I was approached by a Marine Corps recruiter, not only did it make sense, but it was the first time in my young adult life that someone thought I could be more.
As it turned out Staff Sergeant Webster was right. The Marine Corps was an excellent fit for me. I excelled as a Marine. I worked hard and loved it even on the worst of days. When my twelve year career came to an end because of medical reasons I was devastated. After twelve years in the military, two tours in Iraq, and a successful tour on recruiting duty, I had to ask myself, “Who am I going to be, if I am not an active duty Marine?”
I was medically separated in October 2011 after being diagnosed with Lyme disease, skin cancer, and having my right knee reconstructed. In July 2012, I had to have a complete hysterectomy due to uterine cancer. I was thirty-one years old and a single mother. I felt that I had lost my identity, my career, and my health, and this definitive moment was officially my rock bottom. Then, my brother Julian Jaramillo mentioned a program called, “The Mission Continues,” and urged me to look into it. Reluctantly, I did.
I was accepted as a Mission Continues Fellow in January 2012, and what I gained was healthy dose of perspective. I served my fellowship at the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center in Haverhill, MA and, while I was no longer the youthful Marine I was once was, I realized I was still a Marine and I could contribute to my fellow veterans and my local community. It was my fellowship and that realization that saved my life and renewed my purpose to wake up each and every day to pay it forward to be a better mother, daughter, friend and human being. Our service does not end when we take that uniform off. For many of the veterans I know, service to others is stitched in the fabric of our character. This is why I work to convince my fellow veterans to serve in their communities once more. I am living proof that this model works.
I leave you with this: it does not matter if you are a veteran, a teacher, a student, or a housewife. We all have something to contribute and bring of value to our communities. Words without action are just words, and it is important for us to take the time to give back and build up our communities. The next time you meet a veteran, don’t just thank them for their service, get to know them. Chances are they are someone like me that may need a little perspective and a new purpose. While some stories are not all fairytales, some can have a happy ending.
Natasha Young is a Fellowship Recruitment Associate at The Mission Continues.