We had already heard from the dignitaries, and from the administrators of JVS and the Salvation Army Haven, the two entities which were working together in the service of a single cause. At the L.A. CARES
symposium, we had seen two videos focusing on the efforts of both JVS Veterans First and the Salvation Army to help returning United States veterans get re-acclimated to civilian life through training, counseling support groups, a safe home and – hopefully – a path to a new job.
Then Daniel Berkovitz, a purchasing agent in corporate purchasing for Activision/Blizard stepped to the microphone. Berkovitz had been one the veterans featured in the Salvation Army video.
“I know I don’t look like a typical Marine,” said Berkovitz. “I was a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps in Iraq and in 2005 Fallusia. I was responsible for the supply operations of my regiment.”
Berkovitz sported a long brown beard and wore a yarmulke. He clearly had a sense of humor as well as a sense of the occasion. And, no, perhaps he didn’t fit the profile (stereotype) of what you might see on a U.S. Marines recruiting poster any more than he fit the profile of someone who would work for a company that designs video games.
Neither did Ibrahim Brewer, a former college football player, aspiring standup comedian and Office Depot employee who followed Berkovitz to the microphone. But he was. Brewer was a Lance Corporal who had seen combat duty.
“I served in Iraq during the initial invasion. I supported air strikes and Medivacs, helping casualties on both sides of the lines,” he said. “When I got out of the military, when I ended my tour of duty, like a lot of veterans, I didn’t’ have anything to fight for anymore. It was like the end of a video game when the credits roll.”
But Brewer was still in his early 20s and leaving the service was not “game over” for Brewer any more than it was for Berkovitz. Brewer went through some difficult times and eventually found his way to JVS where case manager Jason Pondexter helped clean up his resume.
Brewer says that, with Pondexter’s help, he went on job interviews with considerably more confidence and could wait until just the right opportunity came along. That was at Office Depot, and Brewer hopes to further his career as both a stand-up comedian and as a potential counselor to other veterans.
“Because of the difficulties I went through, I want to help other people by being a counselor or a therapist,” says Brewer. “I feel like I have a gift and the reason that I have that gift is because of the help I received. In order to use it to the best of my ability, I have to give back.”
You will note the irony. Brewer is talking about giving back at a symposium focused on employers giving back to U.S. servicemen.
Opinions are subjective based on what you know of the world, or maybe based on what TV or movies you’ve seen. I don’t know what a solider looks like or is supposed to look like. Neither, I very much suspect, do the more than 20 employers who attended L.A. CARES precisely because their companies prioritize the hiring of U.S. servicemen.
As more and more companies commit to hiring veterans, it will become increasingly difficult to separate the vets from the non-vets. Someday soon - we hope it’s soon - the person processing your order, managing your Starbucks, designing your web page, the person you encounter while doing any business in life will be just as likely to be a person who served his or her country in the military as someone who didn’t.
There are worse dreams.
JVSWorks wishes you (early) a happy Veteran’s Day.