My grandmother and mother imparted the importance of service to me through acts of compassion and kindness to their community in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
Throughout the war, my grandmother was a matriarch taking care of our family with the earnings from her small business, but devastation from the conflict’s aftermaths plunged our family, like millions of others, into poverty.
No matter how tough things got, my family always found a way to share something with our neighbors in need. We immigrated as political refugees to the U.S. in 1983, and I volunteered to join the armed services right out of high school.
After completing my tours of duty in the U.S. Army, deployed first in Operation Just Cause as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division and last in Thailand as a captain supporting our global security interests in that region, I reached the pinnacle of my public service career as a congressional staffer.
It was the same spirit of service that first inspired me to join the U.S. Army that led me to The Mission Continues — an organization that works to connect veterans with opportunities to make a difference in historically under-resourced communities.
Combating food insecurity has been a major focus of our efforts across Washington state — and sadly, many of the families that we help provide emergency relief to are active-duty military service members and their families.
Washington state is home to more than 160,000 service members and their dependents. It is unacceptable that those who serve our country should have to worry about where their next meal will come from. However, a recent survey of military households revealed that 1 in 5 military families reported experiencing food insecurity.
To keep their own pantries full, many military households rely on community partnerships to fill the gap. Active-duty military members in the lowest ranks usually make less than $40,000 a year — an income that makes it difficult to afford basic needs like food, especially in areas with a high cost of living.
Due to the transient nature of military life, it can also be hard for military spouses to find sustainable work. Like many households navigating the pandemic, many military families must “make it work” on just one income. The COVID-19 pandemic ripped open the social stigmas associated with hunger and food insecurity, not just among military families, but also in every community across our country.
As a regional operations manager based in Seattle, I am proud to serve side by side with many veterans and volunteers at The Mission Continues to tackle this issue upfront in our national campaign, Operation Nourish, collaborating with community-based organizations, local food banks, urban farms and major organizations like Food Lifeline to help alleviate hunger and food insecurity in the Pacific Northwest.
As the nation’s growing hunger crisis touches those who defend our nation, Congress can act now to protect service members, and their dependents, from hunger. I would urge our lawmakers to support the strongest possible language for a Military Families Basic Needs Allowance in the National Defense Authorization Act, currently under consideration in our nation’s capital. The Basic Needs Allowance would provide a monthly stipend to service members whose incomes fall below 130% of the federal poverty line.
Providing extra financial support for military families to afford basic necessities is a moral imperative first and foremost — but it’s also critical to ensuring baseline military readiness across the armed services. As a former Company Commander, I can tell you that a soldier who is worried about their loved ones missing meals at home is not going to be focused on the mission in the field, and rightfully so.
The Mission Continues and our partners will keep working hard to ensure everyone has food on the table. As a veteran who still serves in impacted communities today, I ask that Congress does its part to ensure we all have enough to eat, including those who put their lives on the line protect our homes and livelihoods.