As the Fourth of July weekend approaches, Americans everywhere will gather to celebrate the birth of our nation with a traditional fireworks display, a nice barbecue, or by spending time with family and friends. The Fourth of July is also a time to honor the patriotism and dedication of our military and their families.
There is no greater debt than the one owed to our service members, as well as the families of those who have sacrificed so much for the freedoms we enjoy. I often reflect on those who have given us so much throughout history, as well as the thousands of service members who are still in harm’s way today. We should never forget that the freedoms we sometimes may take for granted in our nation were paid for in lives.
I recently met a veteran who embodies this spirit and more. Saif Khan honors veterans the best way he knows how — through action. Saif invests in our nation by leading a non-profit organization dedicated to helping veterans and their families with employment opportunities. He believes that the best way to show appreciation for our veterans is to "pay it forward" for our next generation, and provide support for those returning home to their communities.
Saif emigrated to the U.S. from India as a child and joined the Virginia Army National Guard after high school. He served as a Combat Engineer in Mosul, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004 to 2005. Since returning from Iraq, Saif has been a strong advocate for veterans, and has worked with senior military leaders and legislators to identify problems returning veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan face. Saif has also been active in helping military families with employment opportunities; in May, he organized a career resource fair to match veterans and military families with recruiters from local law enforcement and emergency response agencies.
Saif and the many thousands of Americans who have dedicated their efforts to supporting our returning veterans fill me with pride, hope, and a sense of optimism for our nation. It’s important that we ensure no veteran has to fight for a job at home after they fight for our nation overseas. As more and more AAPIs answer the call to serve, we must follow Saif’s example and ensure returning veterans have the opportunity to prosper in their hometown communities. It’s imperative that they have access to employment resources, educational opportunities, and health and wellness services when they return home. President Obama has made it a national priority to ensure that military members and their families are cared for, and many organizations are engaging in the type of work Saif does every day.
Getting Involved with Joining Forces
Three years ago, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden started Joining Forces to show their appreciation for the incredible families across America who do so much for our country — not just with words, but with real, concrete action. Joining Forces is a national initiative to engage all sectors of society to support our service members. The initiative brings attention to the unique needs and strengths of America’s military families and showcases the incredible skills and experience of veterans and military spouses. Joining Forces encourages concrete actions and for all Americans to "step up" and show their gratitude to our service members and their families through action.
In April, the First Lady and Dr. Biden launched the Veterans Employment Center (VEC) website. The VEC is the result of extensive interagency collaboration between the Department of Defense, Department of Labor, Department of Veterans Affairs, and other federal partners. It is designed to provide veterans and transitioning service members a “one-stop shop” website to post resumes, translate their military skills, and search for jobs. Additionally, the VEC enables employers to post jobs and search veteran resumes for potential hires — it’s a huge leap ahead, both for veteran job seekers and for employers looking to hire veterans.
This Fourth of July, we should remember that the fiber of the American mosaic is woven by diverse communities represented in our Armed Forces. In the coming years, we must focus on supporting the hundreds of thousands of veterans seeking opportunities after returning to their local communities. Saif is the perfect example of an AAPI leader who is doing this. He is "paying it forward" for America every day, and our nation will be all the better for it.
To learn more about how you can support military members and their families, visit the Joining Forces website at http://www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces.
Lt. Col. Ravi Chaudhary is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.