“Thank you for your service.” As a U.S. Army soldier living in Richmond, I am grateful for these words, which I hear often when wearing my uniform in this community.

What many people do not understand is that I am the one who is thankful.

I am thankful for the camaraderie, the global understanding, the commitment made to me and my family, and the opportunity to dedicate every day to the people of this country.

I am thankful for the education and cost-free health care I receive, the worldwide experiences I have had, the technical skills I have learned, and the opportunity to be a leader in the most trusted organization in the nation.

I am thankful to be part of history. This week the Army celebrates 244 years of dedicated service.

Generations of soldiers have inspired professionalism, honorable service and a commitment to the common good. For this, I am proud to call myself a soldier, and proud to be part of the team inspiring the next great generation of soldiers to find their place in history.

Americans have the highest level of confidence in the U.S. military, yet 50% of today’s youth admit they only know a little about their nation’s military — the people who work daily to protect their freedom. They don’t understand the depth of the knowledge and technical skills they can learn in 150 different career paths, such as special operations, engineering, aviation, logistics, nursing, intelligence, auto mechanics and cyber security. They don’t understand the degrees they can earn or that the benefits and perks often match or surpass those offered by civilian employers.

My Army story began after graduating from James Madison University in 2000. I joined as an infantryman, completed Airborne and Ranger training, earned my master’s degree and eventually joined the Special Forces as a Green Beret. It’s been a wonderful 19 years. My experiences have taken me across the globe and even to the U.S. Capitol, where I served as a congressional liaison. Next to marrying my wife and having three children, joining the military is certainly the best decision of my life. I am a better person because of the U.S. Army and the people I have met throughout my career.

My Army story is not unique. In the Richmond area alone, we have dozens of highly accomplished soldiers, each with best-of industry training in their jobs, many layers of advanced education, and a portfolio of experiences traveling and working across the world. Here are some of the incredible soldiers who make up our team:

  • Staff Sgt. Maria Grenier: eight years as a supply specialist, human resources lead and Army recruiter; speaks six languages and holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
  • Staff Sgt. Jason Simmons: 12 years as infantry squad leader, drone operator, operations lead and Army recruiter; holds five associate degrees in business, management, human resources and marketing; has served all over the country.
  • Staff Sgt. Victor Santiago: 12 years as a military police officer, missile defense non-commissioned officer, joint-based command driver, master resiliency instructor and Army recruiter; holds an associate degree in criminal justice and is pursuing a bachelor’s in counterterrorism; has worked from the East to the West coasts, including downtown Washington, D.C.
  • Staff Sgt. Ashley Sims: seven years as a human resources specialist and Army recruiter; started a career as a high school teacher; holds a bachelor’s degree and is pursuing a master’s in sports management from Virginia State University.

I see amazing young people in our area who desire to serve their communities, and I believe we are doing them a disservice if we are not encouraging them to explore the military as a potential career path.

The Army invests in its people, often to the benefit of outside organizations. Veterans are more likely to vote, volunteer and be involved in their communities. They have the maturity and self-discipline private industries are seeking, and we need your help finding the right people to serve.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, and the Army’s 244 birthday on June 14, the Army is activating a nationwide “Call to Service.” We encourage parents, educators and leaders throughout the community to inspire our talented youth to be part of something bigger and engrave their name in our history.

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Lt. Col. Andrew Burgess is the commander of the U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion Richmond, which is responsible for hiring new soldiers in Virginia and West Virginia. Contact him through jaclyn.n.pennoyer.civ@mail.mil.

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