twas la stacks before christmas
Paul Rieckhoff, Kathy Griffin, Rob Riggle
”˜Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the city The Stacks were all stirring, they ask for no pity Beardo was traveling all around with care In hopes of sharing The Stacks story with flair”¦
Yup, you read that right, The Stacks: Los Angeles has been busy over the past few days spending a little time during the holidays talking to all ages of the Los Angeles community.
On Monday, December 14th, I went to go speak with a class of 9th graders at the East Los Angeles Performing Arts Magnet High School. These 14 and 15 year olds were in a class about career development and advising, and they hadn’t had any special guests come in all semester. Once I heard about this from a professor of mine, I immediately stepped in to make sure the kids had a day to remember.
I started with speaking about my life at their age and how they could make the most of their high school experiences, especially the need to support each other as they go through some difficult experiences. From there, I spoke about some challenges I had in trying to pay for college and having to drop out after my Freshman year at La Salle University. It was one of many obstacles I had while trying to figure out my career path but explained how I would use it as motivation to accomplish more.
We then went into how I started to have interest in serving my country. I had an initial desire to enlist in the Army, but on the advice of one of my undergraduate professors at Boston College, I ended up looking into and receiving a scholarship in ROTC. The kids had many questions concerning how they also could earn a scholarship, but I could tell they really wanted to hear about the exciting stuff. They wanted to listen to what I was really there for, military life.
This was some of the best times I had speaking to the class. They wanted to know if what I learned as an officer would be useful in other areas of my life (which was a resounding YES!), if the experience was worth all the stress and injuries and sacrifices I had to make (double YES!!), and then one quiet girl in the back finally stood up and asked, “What would be the best job in the military for a woman to get?”
She didn’t think she could get any job she wanted which floored me a bit, so I was eager to answer her. I was able to tell her how my very first commanding officer was a female, and also had a number of other superior officers over my career who were females. I mentioned some of the best NCO’s were female, and that women were now graduating from the hardest schools in all of the Army. Finally, I added by the time she would be able to sign up for the military and if she worked hard enough to meet all the standards, she could get any job she wanted.
Being able to see her reaction, as well as that of the other girls in the class, made that whole day worth it. Some were smiling ear to ear while others were high fiving. I closed my time with the class discussing being a true leader and not just a person with authority. I also explained how even if they didn’t want to join the military, they could still serve their communities by volunteering with charities like Stack-Up. After explaining about our mission, I think we’ll have a few more families joining our ranks in the near future.
On Tuesday, The Stacks: Los Angeles went to West Hollywood to visit the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America conference on the state of veterans’ issues and the future of veteran care in Los Angeles. During an initial meet and greet period, we were able to make some great connections with IAVA and other organizations such as the Goodwill of Orange County.
After that, we had the privilege of hearing from Paul Reickoff, the founder of IAVA, as well as IAVA’s Senior Strategy Fellow and Army veteran, Wayne Robinson and Participant Media Manager of Social Action Campaigns and Programming and Navy veteran, Seth Smith. They discussed the current events of Los Angeles’ VA campus and the soon-to-be restructuring in hopes of providing better care for the veteran community.
Paul Rieckhoff, Wayne Robinson, and Seth Smith
Followed by Wayne and Seth, comedian Kathy Griffin and actor Rob Riggle joined Paul for a discussion about veterans and Hollywood. I had known Rob was a Marine, but didn’t know that he continued to serve in the Reserves until 2013, when he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. They touched on how important it was for post-9/11 veterans to speak out and tell their real life stories to Hollywood, so the standard “crazed veteran in a bell tower” story wasn’t being the only portrayal of the modern military veteran. Kathy spent a few minutes taking the Republican candidates for President to task, especially targeting Donald Trump.
Paul Rieckhoff, Kathy Griffin, Rob Riggle
Finally, IAVA’s Senior Veteran Transition Manager in charge of the California operations with their Rapid Response Referral Program, Claire Lawless, spoke about RRRP and the successes they had in taking care of veterans. The RRRP program is a resource IAVA offers to veterans of all eras and discharge status who need help with their disability claims, financial issues, finding mental health support groups, and other problems that might affect their ability to live a comfortable life all within 24 hours of initial contact by the veteran. In the past year, six Veteran Transition Managers have assisted on over 5,000 cases with each case taking an average of six hours.
Afterwards, we were able to continue spreading the word about Stack-Up to other IAVA members and reaffirm our commitment to the Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative. It was a great start to the week and really energized the team to have a huge impact in 2016.