May 29, 2013 - When Ashleigh Bryant left the U.S. Marine Corps in 2011 she wanted a job that would allow her "to sleep at night."
Ashleigh Bryant, a 2001 OHS graduate, during her deployment to Afghanistan back in 2009. Photos provided. (click for larger version)
"I wanted to do something that was really going to make a difference, something that was going to impact other people's lives," said the 2001 graduate of Oxford High School.
"I wanted to take the skills and abilities that I've honed over the years – the things that I've been schooled in, the things that I've tried my hand at in the Marine Corps – and translate that into a job that was going to benefit other people."
Bryant, 29, found the perfect place to do exactly that when she started working for Disabled American Veterans (DAV) in October 2011.
Based in Washington D.C., DAV is a service-provider and advocate for disabled veterans. Each year, the organization assists with more than 300,000 claims from veterans seeking needed benefits from the U.S. government. DAV also provides information seminars, counseling and community outreach activities.
Prior to working there, Bryant, who now lives in Alexandria, Virginia with her dog Moxie, admitted she "really had no idea what DAV was."
"I think that's the case with a lot of active duty military (personnel)," she said.
"But once I started to find out more about it and talked to the people who were involved with it, I kept hearing over and over again, 'DAV changed my life. DAV did this for my family. DAV did that for me. They gave me a job. They turned my life around.'"
She met with people who worked at DAV for 30 to 40 years "and just loved every minute of it."
After hearing all that, Bryant said, "I kind knew that was going to be the place for me."
When she was hired, her boss told her, "You're never going to get rich working for DAV, but you're definitely going to change lives."
"That sealed it for me and I haven't been disappointed with that decision," she said.
As the assistant national director of communication, Bryant primarily does a lot of video production, but she also writes for the DAV magazine and creates web content.
"It's a smorgasbord of communications," she said.
Working for the DAV is a way for Bryant to not only give something back and help others, it's a way for her to demonstrate her appreciation for her fellow veterans and the sacrifices they've made in service to their country.
"I have a tremendous respect for my fellow veterans and their families," she said. "I think, as a nation, we owe so much to veterans."
Bryant enjoys being able "to reach out to veterans" in a way that allows her to help them "on a very personal level" and "see the results."
She also likes being able to share their inspirational stories with the American public. Stories like the double-amputee who plays ice hockey by skating on two prosthetic legs.
"We kind of need that as a nation, so that we don't forget about what veterans have done," Bryant said. "There's kind of an ebb and flow to how we treat our veterans and how we remember them.
"When the wars are really engaged and we have a lot of people overseas, it's easier to remember. But these wars are going to end and we're still going to have thousands of men and women who are injured."
Bryant said it's nice that the nation thanks veterans a couple times of year on holidays such as Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
"But it's the everyday work that really matters to these people," she said. "I just feel like if nothing else we owe them our thanks, we owe what we've promised to them."
And that's what DAV does – it works to get veterans not only what they're entitled to by law, but what they were promised for their service, their sacrifices and their losses.
Prior to joining DAV, Bryant learned her print and broadcast journalism skills, along with media relations, during her seven years in the Marines.
Her media skills took her all over the world, from Tokyo, Japan to war-torn Afghanistan, where for six months she did a lot of field reporting for the Pentagon Channel and established the American Forces Network Bureau in Kandahar.
"I actually got my combat action ribbon while I was there," she said. "At that time, it was a little unusual for a female in my career field to do that."
Bryant noted media people like herself are "like the orphans of the military."
"We don't have a unit that we belong to," she explained. "They just send you out there by yourself and it's your job to embed with whatever unit you can find. It's a little challenging – as a woman, it's very challenging – but we made it work."
For a while, she even worked as an anchor for the Pentagon Channel doing a newscast called "Around the Services."
"We did live news every day," she said.
One of the aspects of her DAV job that Bryant really enjoys is doing outreach with various nonprofit groups.
For instance, before she started with DAV, she was doing volunteer public relations work for the Washington D.C.-based USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program.
"I love hockey and I love veterans," Bryant said.
The USA Warriors program is designed to give veterans injured in military action the chance to play hockey in an environment suited to their needs. It trains and supplies injured servicemen and women with the skills and equipment they need to use hockey as a rehabilitation tool to overcome physical and mental injuries.
"We've got people that come in from all over the country (to play)," Bryant said.
After she started working for DAV, Bryant was able to create a partnership between the two organizations and now, DAV helps fund the USA Warriors.
But a person doesn't have to get a job with a group like DAV to show their appreciation for America's veterans.
Bryant encouraged folks to visit the DAV website www.dav.org or the organization's Facebook page to learn more about the "countless ways to help veterans."
"We have programs where you can go visit veterans at the hospital," she said. "We have programs where you can volunteer as a driver to get injured and elderly veterans to and from their medical appointments."
When looking at volunteer opportunities, Bryant said folks should try to find something that appeals to their interests.
Even if a person just takes one day out of the year to visit a veterans hospital or veterans retirement home, that short amount of time can have a significant impact.
"They're not going to forget that," Bryant said. "Just talk to them. Thank them for their service. It's not a hard thing to do."
If a person doesn't have the time or means to do volunteer work, they can still take a few moments to thank a veteran for their service whenever they encounter one.
"They appreciate it so much more than
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.