As diversity guild co-leads in the Technology Transformation Services (TTS), one of our responsibilities is to serve as a megaphone for our colleagues across TTS who are part of our affinity groups. Our affinity groups are spaces where employees of similar identities come together in community. Affinity groups hold regular meetings for members, but also often host community programming to connect with employees across TTS. TTS affinity groups foster inclusion at work by organizing grassroots diversity campaigns that celebrate the lived experiences of our colleagues and build on TTS’ commitment to increasing inclusivity throughout the year.
To commemorate Veterans Day this year, we asked veterans currently working across TTS if they’d like to reflect on their previous and current service. Volunteers from our veterans affinity group organized a week-long Slack takeover and shared their responses to the question “Why do I continue to serve?” We’re pleased to share their responses below:
“I learned a great deal about the importance of service and what it meant to me while in the U.S. Navy. But after my military service ended, I thought that was also the end of my career in public service. I still wanted to find ways to strengthen our country, and use my technology and entrepreneurial skills to do so, but I didn’t know how exactly.
Fortunately, I learned about the Presidential Innovation Fellows and was selected for their second class in 2013. Initially a year-long fellowship, I decided to stay on to build and grow 18F, then Login.gov, and now develop strategic partnerships for our parent organization, the Technology Transformation Services (TTS) at GSA. In each of these roles, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with so many civil servants across as many agencies, each with their own stories of service. At the start, I only really knew public service through the lens of military service, but there are so many ways to serve the public. Some of the most impactful are here at TTS, especially now as we’re rethinking how the public accesses government services online to get the support they need.”
— Tom Black, TTS Strategic Partnerships
“I moved from India to New York in 1989, and our first apartment was in what is colloquially known as "the inner city." My school had metal detectors at all the entrances and all the windows were barred. Our career center gave us practical advice, such as trade school programs, but not much more. There were no white collar internships—only service and factory jobs we could get after school and over the summer. Community college was all that most of me and my peers aspired to because that is all we knew.
I joined the Army as a Chemical Operations Specialist right after my 17th birthday and right out of high school. The Army was where I began to dream - and it’s where I got the opportunity to better myself. It’s also the first time I left a big city to go to a small post in rural Alabama where the only way in and out was a Greyhound bus twice a day.
The Army (and our nation) have always been good to me and my family—I got a Green to Gold scholarship to attend college and to earn a commission. It’s also where I learned the difference between a job and a calling; working and serving; and managing and leading. The Army is where I saw the world and how fortunate we are to be Americans—and how charitable and giving Americans can be. The Army is where I saw the best of America and the pride in public service. It’s also where some of my friends gave the ultimate sacrifice for this ideal that Americans would like to leave this world a better place than how they found it.
I never thought that I would spend most of my adult life in public service but I am still here because of a single reason - the mission to make someone’s life better by building something better. It’s the idea of fixing a program so a widow can carry on, an orphan can find a home, an adult down on their luck can get back on their feet. It’s also serving to protect American sovereignty and prosperity in a sustainable way so that our children can also have an opportunity to serve others and leave the world a better place than how they found it. I love serving my country and I would not ever consider an opportunity where I could not continue to serve.”
— Anil Chaudry, Centers of Excellence
“One of the most controversial phrases in the Veteran community is, "Thank you for your service." The utterance is seen as representing both sincere gratitude and an absence of understanding. It is an imperfect distillation of a well of emotion and a casual greeting. Most Veterans will just say thanks and continue on their way, but this Veterans Day, one of the nagging questions I know a lot of the Veterans of my generation have is, "Did my service matter?"
For me, having the privilege of supporting the people that come to work every day focused on a mission is why I continue to serve and why I will always have a service mindset in everything I do. Outcomes of missions can vary, either in the military or in government service, but what remains as a constant are the people striving together in pursuit of something greater than themselves. I know my service matters because I have the opportunity to empower my teammates as they endeavor to help Veterans, caregivers, and the American public at large.”
— George Chewning, Presidential Innovation Fellow
“It’s so easy to overthink the "Why?," especially when you constantly get asked why you do what you do. Sometimes it makes you second guess your decisions, but as far as why I continue to serve not only as a government employee, but also as a part of the military, it’s easy. I do not have a fancy answer, I just like it. If you know me, you’d be surprised by this answer. I enjoy analyzing the "whys" of what I do, but the desire to serve is natural. Of course, that doesn’t mean it is easy. In fact, it’s incredibly difficult, ultimately frustrating, and increasingly draining, but it is what it is, we have to fight through it because it’s worth it.
A little over 17 years ago, I was a disillusioned college student until one day I saw a sticker that said, "Freedom isn’t free." I stopped and thought, "You know what sticker? You’re right." After traveling the world, I had felt so lucky to be born in the United States and have the life I had, and I wanted others to have the same opportunity that I did. Freedom isn’t natural, we have to fight for it, share it, extend it, and protect it – for all. So, I enlisted in the United States Air Force, learned all I could, and worked my butt off to get me to today where I am now also serving as a Presidential Innovation Fellow. Serving is my motivation. It’s tough, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!”
— Adrianna Valenti, Presidential Innovation Fellow
The veterans who contributed to this Slack takeover came to public service from very different backgrounds and for different reasons. One of our goals for this year is to create space for everyone at TTS to share, learn, promote and celebrate our diversity. We are grateful to have these and other veterans continuing their service with us.