There are certain things in life most would consider “once in a lifetime” occurrences. The feeling that you get when your dad releases his grip one last time – and you find yourself riding a bicycle on your own; or waking up in amazement as you discover money from the tooth fairy under your pillow after losing your first tooth.
On November 4, 2008 – people all over the world witnessed a once in a lifetime moment when Barack and Michelle Obama won the race to the White House – becoming America’s first African American President and First Lady. It was only in my wildest dreams that I would ever have the pleasure to meet them both.
My cellphone rang on April 29 – it was Cisco’s Senior Vice President of Public Sector, Patrick Finn. He told me he had someone who wanted to speak with me – and before I knew it, I was on the phone with John Chambers, Chairman and CEO of Cisco. Just a few hours prior, John Chambers spoke at the White House about a new IT Training and Certification Program, which will help veterans become employed by fast-tracking them to IT certifications that can prepare them for in-demand jobs. The concept and platform behind the program was developed with leadership from Cisco and Futures, Inc.
I was speaking with the CEO of a Fortune 100 company – as he thanked me for my service to our great country, along with my family members who have served since the Revolutionary War. And this was just the beginning…
The next morning, I entered the East Wing of the White House. Cisco, along with approximately 65 other companies, was invited to the White House for additional announcements regarding the success behind the 2011 Joining Forces employment initiative for veterans. I had the honor of representing veterans at Cisco during an announcement made by the First Lady. After personally meeting Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, I took my seat and eagerly waited for the event to begin.
Vice President Joe Biden introduced Dr. Jill Biden before the President and First Lady entered the room and made their way toward the stage. Barack Obama spoke of the incredible talent, the great quality, and high-tech skills veterans possess before introducing the First Lady.
Michelle Obama said the inspiration behind the employment initiative was due to “every time we looked at those veterans unemployment numbers, every time we heard another story about someone who had taken incoming fire on a combat patrol, but couldn’t get an HR rep to take their calls…we became even more determined to make this right.”
Since the Joining Forces initiative was announced in April 2013 by the President, America’s businesses have hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses – almost triple the original goal with 8 months to spare. The First Lady went on to proudly announce that American companies have committed to hire or train another 435,000 veterans in the next 5 years.
The First Lady recognized that companies around America are not only committing to a number – but to people, as she went on to share the stories of three veterans in the room, while asking them to stand.
The moment I was anxious for all day finally came and my name was announced by the First Lady. As I stood, Michelle Obama shared my story, including my 6-year commitment to the New Jersey Air National Guard, with a 1-year deployment to Iraq. The First Lady went on to say: “When she’s not serving on Active Duty, she’s putting her skills as an Intelligence Analyst to use at Cisco as a Network Consulting Engineer.” The crowd applauded as the First Lady went on to say “Small…but tough.”
Michelle Obama continued, “These veterans are talented, resilient, disciplined, and they are ready to do the job whatever it takes.” The First Lady asked every business leader throughout the country to remember the stories she shared. “Think about all of the skills these men and women possess, all of the people they’ve led, all the risks they’ve taken and sacrifices they’ve endured for us – and ask yourself what more can you do for these men and women,” she said. “They have stood up for us again and again, so now the question is: Will we do the same for them?”
Within only 12 short hours I experienced a series of once in a lifetime occurrences. Through all of it, Michael Veysey, Cisco’s Director of Corporate Affairs, was there to remind me that “good things happen to good people.” As a member of the National Guard and the Cisco family, I am here to remind you to keep those goals of yours close to your heart and in sight. Continue to push forward – because the hard work, drive, and dedication really does make a world of difference in the end.