In January, I moved to Washington DC to be an intern for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). I didn’t really understand what that meant and full disclosure, I knew very little about IAVA. That’s pretty tragic considering the only reason I was back in school was because of IAVA’s relentless effort in passing the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Towards the end of my quarter with IAVA, I heard the term “Storm the Hill” (STH) for the first time. The March 2018 STH was a whirlwind of policy, advocacy, meetings, elected officials, and two very fresh interns. As one of those two fresh interns, I had no idea what I was in for. We had been tasked with facilitating the logistics, moving bodies to and from the hotel to HQ, to Capitol Hill, to meetings, to meals, to events, and so on. It was the most organized chaos I’ve seen outside of the invasion of Iraq.
I also got to participate in the Storm the Hill experience, which included meetings on Capitol Hill. I was terrified, the fear was tangible. After a few meetings, where I watched others take the lead, I was able to turn that fear into action. With each meeting, my voice became steadier, the sweat poured less freely, and my heart beat was strong but not so loud that everyone on Capitol Hill could hear it. By the time it was all said and done, I looked back and thought to myself, “this was amazing, I never knew I could do something like this.”
Because of my experience in March, whenever IAVA allows me, I fly back and do it all over again. (It really is kind of addicting!) So, I came back to “Storm” again in June. The experience was so different than my first STH since I was no longer staff. I was able to participate and to bond with the other Stormers in a way that I was unable to back in March. I was more familiar with the policies and I was able to articulate why they mattered and how these policies could directly impact my fellow vets. It was passion unleashed and I was intoxicated by it all. I fell in love with every one of my fellow stormers, I relished in their successes and I cried at their unique stories and strengths. Between all of the meetings, all of the stories, and all of the connections, those five days in June were transformational for me.
The October STH was again a unique experience. With an activation on the National Mall, we placed 5,520 flags in the ground that represented the 5,520 veteran and service member suicides that had taken place to date (according to VA data). We had less meetings because of the upcoming midterm elections, which had nearly all Representatives back in their home Districts campaigning. The Senate was busy with a Supreme Court nomination process. So many things were going on all around us that will go down in history and we were right there to witness it all.
Back in March, at my first STH, I met the Chief of Staff for my local Congresswoman, Anna Eshoo. Last week, we met again after I reached out to set up another meeting. A lot had changed since our March meeting. As an advocate, I had more confidence, I knew what I was talking about, and I was able to present bills to support which had evolved since our last meeting. I received an email yesterday informing me that the Congresswoman has agreed to support all three bills!
Sure, I had seen results from other meetings, usually a member of my group being a constituent for whomever we were meeting with, but this was the first time it was MY elected official. It was crazy to see the result of my second meeting. Just a few days later we had a tangible outcome. This was a result of direct advocacy and I never could have done it without IAVA. When I received that email I finally realized that what we do as Stormers is humanize data. We help ensure that people who can make change possible are able to relate to information in a meaningful way.
To anyone who may be thinking to themselves, “I could never do that,” or “I’m not political,” or any other excuse you may come up with, I beg you, take the leap! Sign up if you believe in the work IAVA is doing on behalf of our generation of veterans take the time to attend a Storm the Hill with us. The friends you make, the impact you have, the perspective it gives you, it’s worth so much more than the cost of questioning yourself and preventing yourself from engaging on a new level. As cheesy as it may sound, Storm the Hill and IAVA have changed my life, in more ways than I can put in a blog post. I encourage anyone reading this to get involved, come to DC and advocate for change with us. I can promise you, it will be worth it.