Young Black veterans grateful to serve their country

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Ajian Chandler, a specialist for the Indiana National Guard.

by Jessica R. Kerry

INDIANAPOLIS (NNPA)–As Americans follow the developments on the war in Afghanistan and in other areas outside of U.S. soil, they are reverently preparing to celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11 – a day to honor the men and women of the armed forces who protect the United States of America.

Capt. Kenneth Washington, a staff judge advocate at Camp Atterbury, has served in the U.S. Army National Guard since 1992 and also looks to the holiday as a way to show gratitude for his fellow veterans.

“There was a point in time when this was just another day off but now this is a day I remember everyone that has served, continues to serve and those, we hope, who will serve. It’s an emotional day because you start to think of the people that have come before you,” said Washington. “People come up to us, shake our hands, call us heroes and thank us, but we don’t do it for that reason. It’s my pleasure to serve you. I get to protect you.”

Inspired by retired four-star Gen. Colin Powell, Washington initially joined the Army to take advantage of the college benefits offered by the military. Since his childhood, he wanted to be an attorney and saw the Army as a great way to serve his country and fulfill his goals.

After high school, he joined the Army active duty then received an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois while serving in the Illinois National Guard. He then attended the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University and served in the Indiana National Guard.

Not only did he receive an education, but became a part of a close-knit team that prides itself on safeguarding American citizens.

“I could be clerking for a judge or working at a large law firm. I’m not going to get rich doing this job, but I enjoy helping people. I get to help people on a daily basis and this job lets me do that,” said Washington.

Especially in today’s world climate, soldiers have had to use their training in battle and Washington is no exception. He was deployed to southern Iraq in 2011 and provided legal counsel for the commander of a battlefield surveillance brigade and also on issues of intelligence for U.S. Forces Iraq.

While in Iraq and Baghdad, Washington endured rocket attacks and saw his fellow soldiers become injured. Also trained to “engage the enemy,” Washington had to aid in fighting back.

“I’m a soldier first and a lawyer second,” said Washington.

Washington has been overseas in military operations several times. During these times, he looked to the positive example of veteran and fellow Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity brother, four-star Gen. Lloyd Austin III who is African-American.

At 21 years old, Spc. Ajian Chandler, a specialist for the Indiana National Guard has yet to see the battlefield, but hopes to one day use his training to protect his country.

Chandler got his start in the armed forces as a student at the Hoosier Youth ChalleNGe Academy, a school for youth between the ages of 16 and 18 who have dropped out of high school or are severely deficient in credits by bringing structure and discipline to their lives. The school is located in Knightstown, Ind.

His brother looked to HYCA as a way to get his life back on track and Chandler decided to join him at the military school.

“I loved it. I enjoyed the structure and exercise. I thought if the military was anything like HYCA, then I’ll love it,” said Chandler.

After high school, he joined the Indiana National Guard. When he’s not serving in 11 Charlie and 11 Bravo (traditional infantry) as a bomb specialist, he is a student at Full Sail University.

Although early in his career, Chandler is strongly considering continuing his career as an Army soldier. Washington plans to retire from the U.S. Army.

There are myths saying the Army isn’t for African-Americans. After speaking with family members who were veterans of the Vietnam War era, Washington understands the myth, however he firmly believes the Army has changed; is highly beneficial; and is in need of additional Black soldiers serving their country.

“African-American officers, we want you. We need you. In addition to thanking us, look at joining and look at the great opportunities it can provide you,” said Washington. “The Indiana National Guard and the Army in general – this is a great organization and a great place to be. I’m not trying to be an example, but this is how my situation turned out and I love it.”

Chandler agrees.

“People that live around me don’t have very much going on for them. I tell them to try HYCA or talk to a recruiter. I know it’s not for everybody, but I encourage people to at least try it,” said Chandler. “Also, what you see on TV isn’t accurate. Drill sergeants actually care for you and solders aren’t just boots. They’re people. The job is hard but fun. I’d join all over again.”
   
Reprinted from the Indianapolis Recorder.
       
http://www.indianapolisrecorder.com/news/article_4c0af000-47d2-11e3-bdcf-001a4bcf887a.html

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