What Are the Best Cities to Live In After Service?

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Month of the Military Child

If you’re a veteran or about to become one, you might want to consider moving to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It’s first on Navy Federal Credit Union’s recently released list of The Best Cities After Service, a “unique look at the places best suited for servicemembers to consider living in after leaving the military.”

According to data from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, approximately 250,000 military members transition out of the service each year.

To create the list, Navy Federal Credit Union, in partnership with Sperling’s Best Places, considered 11 metrics of veteran success and wellness—including income, unemployment rates, and proximity to VA hospitals and military bases—then coupled it with a suite of such quality-of-life measures as affordability, local economy, and access to health resources, colleges and the arts, and more.

The top 10 cities are:

  1. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  2. Omaha, Nebraska
  3. Colorado Springs, Colorado
  4. Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area
  5. Grand Forks, North Dakota
  6. Austin, Texas
  7. San Antonio, Texas
  8. Charlottesville, Virginia
  9. Rapid City, South Dakota
  10. Manhattan, Kansas

“Right now, a number of factors make certain areas of the country ideal for veterans who are moving into civilian life,” said Robert Frick, corporate economist for Navy Federal. “The key factors are where the economic expansion is still going full throttle, which is creating new job and business opportunities for millions of Americans. Personal success is much easier when the economy around you is healthy, and a healthy economy is also a major factor in a better quality of life. The Best Cities After Service list helps veterans find these pockets of prosperity.”

Oklahoma City earns its top ranking with some of the strongest scores for both veteran-specific metrics and for overall quality-of-life measures,” said Bert Sperling, founder of Sperling’s BestPlaces. “Oklahoma City scored particularly well in the categories of high incomes and income growth for veterans, low unemployment among veterans, and the number of veteran-owned businesses.”

In continuing with the effort to make its members’ goals its mission, Navy Federal launched Best Cities After Service to make one of life’s biggest decisions a little simpler.

Source: Navy Federal Credit Union

Would you Buy a House without a Realtor? The Top Five Ways Military Recruiters are like Realtors

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Man in a blue suit sitting at desk with computer paperwork and glass of water

Would you purchase a house without consulting a realtor? What about transitioning out of the military and starting a civilian career without the help of a military recruiter?

Brian Henry, Senior Vice President at Orion Talent, breaks down the top five ways military recruiters are like realtors, and how you can utilize this resource to achieve the best possible outcome – a rewarding career after the military.

A trusted advisor to help steer you in the right direction.

“A realtor knows his/her market, and a good one is going to get to know his/her client and understand their wants and needs, and then offer solutions that align with their stated goals,” Brian explained. “They have years of experience in the market and can advise their client to zero in on the right locations and types of housing that will meet their need.”

Similarly, a military recruiter has experience in their niche of the job market and has worked with hundreds of different companies and types of jobs. “After getting to know a candidate’s background and preferences, they are able to provide insight on the types of roles that the candidate is qualified for and confirm the expected salary ranges and availability of those opportunities in the locations the candidate desires,” Brian stated.

While anyone can browse the internet and search for homes for sale, a realtor will use his/her established network to streamline the process and find “off-market” deals or hot leads on houses that are just coming on the market.

“In a similar manner, job seekers can engage with an experienced military recruiter who will have access to ‘off market opportunities,’ and many other positions that have an urgency to hire,” Brian explained.

Their fees are not paid by you, but by the client companies.

As a home buyer, you get the services of a professional realtor, but their commission is paid by the seller. As a job seeker, you get to tap into the services of a military recruiter and all those their team without having to pay anything for that service.

In the case of military recruiters, the company that ultimately hires you will pay the fee for the services of the military recruiter. “Contrary to some myths, that fee is NOT taken out of your salary. It is a fee negotiated between the recruiting firm and the company that is typically a percentage that is based on your first year’s base salary,” Brian explained. “The higher your salary, the higher the fee to the military recruiter. Truly a win-win scenario!”

They do the heavy lifting.

A realtor will scour the MLS, coordinate with sellers and other agents, and schedule a day of house hunting, getting you access to pre-selected homes to see first hand outside of an open house setting.

With a military recruiter, you can get similar filtered access directly to the decision makers inside a company. “At an Orion Hiring Conference, you are not just attending an ‘open house’ or job fair. You are invited to a professional event with detailed information sessions, interview preparation seminars and scheduled one-on-one interview sessions with the company representatives you have been matched with, based on your background and preferences,” Brian said.

Additionally, military recruiting firms have a staff of Account Executives that are working every day to find new companies with vetted openings. “In the case with Orion, those companies are specifically interested in and want to hire candidates with a military background,” he explained.

They help with every step of the process.

A realtor will work with their client all the way through the process from finding the right home, negotiating and writing up the offer, and finally closing the deal.

A military recruiter is there to do the same thing, from resume and interview preparation, specific company briefings, giving feedback throughout the process, and providing assistance in negotiating and accepting a position. “Another benefit of using a military recruiter is that the military recruiter is likely to have inside knowledge. They may know if you are competing with three other candidates for the same position, give you key advice that helps you win the job, or help you in a situation where you have multiple offers come in at the same time,” Brian added.

They help land your new career – and are there if you need help in the future.

A realtor builds their business based on referrals. They want to put you into a home and deliver a great experience, and their hope is that you will refer your friends. Also, when the time comes for you to sell your home, they hope you will come back to them for your next move.

Similarly, military recruiters thrive on recommendations of past candidates. “The best thing a candidate can do to ‘pay’ the military recruiter for their services is to refer others,” Brian explained.  “The relationship with the military recruiter does not end with taking that first job. We have seen many candidates promoted to Hiring Managers and come back to us looking for people to add to their team. In cases where someone needs to make another career move, they can quickly re-engage with the military recruiter to kick start the next search.”

Source: Orion Talent

Man Taught Himself to Play the Trumpet Solely So He Could Play Taps for Fallen Soldiers

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Gary Marquardt In Full Dress Uniform Playing Trumpet For Fallen Soldier

It’s never too late to pay your respects to the fallen – and for Gary ­Marquardt, that meant learning to play the trumpet at 66 years old.

Marquardt was just a youngster when he enlisted in the military and waited to be drafted for the Vietnam War. Due to a bleeding ulcer, however, he was deemed unfit to serve.

Years later, he finally found a means of atoning for his guilt over not being able to fight alongside his fellow soldiers.

In 2014, Marquardt had been attending the funeral of a military friend when he was stunned to hear a mechanical recording of a bugle playing taps. He couldn’t help but be bothered by the lack of live music to honor a fallen soldier – so he walked into a music store and started learning to play the trumpet.

Much to the dismay of his wife and neighbors, Marquardt practiced day and night.

“It was awful,” Marquardt’s wife told KARE11 with a laugh. “Seemed like every 15 minutes, it was all the time. We were all hoping he would get better. And then he did.”

Sure enough, Marquardt managed to become a bona fide trumpeter. He then started using his newfound skill to visit local cemeteries and play taps at the gravestones of recently deceased veterans and soldiers.

Continue on to the Good News Network to read the complete article.

3 times you can skip the cover letter—and the 1 time you absolutely shouldn’t

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young man typing a cover letter

Some job listings will say “cover letter required,” while others don’t include any mention about it at all. When it comes to the ladder, many applicants often wonder, Should I submit one in anyway?

It’s a competitive job market out there, and hiring managers and job recruiters today spend about six seconds reviewing each resume. According to Glassdoor, a job search and salary comparison website, approximately 250 resumes are submitted for each corporate job listing, and only five or so candidates will be called for an interview.

So when is it necessary to send a cover letter? Here’s the thing: Hiring managers love them — they get you noticed quickly, show you’ve gone the extra mile and demonstrate how much you really want the job.

A bad cover letter, however, can hinder your objectives.

Don’t submit a cover letter if…

1. You have no interest in personalizing the cover letter
Many applicants will Google “cover letter examples,” pick one in a rush and model their cover letter after it. By doing so, not only will it be evident that you submitted a cover letter designed for mass distribution, but you might have overlooked some mistakes, like addressing the letter to the wrong person, company or even listing the wrong position you’re applying for. (Trust me, this is something hiring managers see all the time, and it’s absolutely cringing. It also takes away from their valuable time that could be spent reviewing your resume.)

2. You don’t have anything new to say
Hiring managers expect to read a compelling and impressive cover letter, not an exact replicate of your resume. (Think about how you felt when writing your personal statement for all those college applications; it was a big deal and you knew the admissions office were looking for someone who they’d feel proud to have representing their school). It’s no different with cover letters. Do you have any unusual hobbies that led you to be interested in the field of work you’re applying for? Is there a backstory that explains why you admire the company? Whatever you write, just don’t elaborate on your job history and skills (that’s what the resume is for).

3. You only have ideas on how to improve the company
Save the problem-solving suggestions for the job interview (that is, if you’re luck enough to get one), when you’ll 100 percent be asked those similar questions (i.e., “what would you improve about [XYZ]?”). A cover letter can be used as an opportunity to demonstrate your job knowledge, but don’t use it as an outlet to tell your prospective employer what they are doing wrong and how to fix it. No one likes hearing negative things about their business from a stranger, even if your feedback has merit. Curiosity, humility and tact will trump a “know-it-all” every time. Focus on the positive aspects and potential solutions for the business.

When to include a cover letter

Notwithstanding the above, the only time you should submit a cover letter is when you have valuable information to share that’s not conveyed in your resume. I’ve hired many candidates based on something that stood out in their cover letter.

Here are some examples:

1. A personal connection or referral
If you were personally introduced to a hiring manager (or someone high up in the company), always acknowledge that relationship in a cover letter. Who made the introduction? How you know them? Why did they think you are a good fit for the role? A personal referral goes a long way, so don’t miss out on capturing the advantage.

2. You have a history with the company or hiring team
If you have any link to the organization, it’s essential to connect the dots. Did you intern at the company? Did you cross paths when you worked for a supplier, a competitor or even a team member in a previous company? You never want to surprise the recruiter and have them hear about the connection from someone else; getting ahead of it will make you an exciting candidate and demonstrate that you’re a transparent and a proactive communicator.

Continue on to Yahoo News to read the complete article.

Government Contracting for Your Veteran-Owned Business

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Transitioning Veteran to small business owner

By Larry Stubblefield

GWACs, IDIQs, T&M—oh my! To a new business owner, these acronyms look like alphabet soup. To government entities, they look like work. But to a veteran business owner competing for a government contract, “GWAC, IDIQ, and T&M” look like opportunity.

To start off, the terms GWAC, IDIQs, and T&M are different types of government contracts—federal, state, and/or local. Known as government contracting to some, and procurement to others, selling to the government may provide you with a channel of revenue you may not have previously considered. And, with federally mandated service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) contract spends and the increased desire for supply chain diversity, you’re well positioned to take your business’ products and services to the government marketplace.

Full of jargon and complex processes, learning how to navigate the complex landscape of government contracting can be a difficult process if you try to tackle it alone. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but why re-invent the wheel when you don’t have to? Here are a few ways to start and grow your business in the federal marketplace.

  • Sign up for a training course. The Veteran Federal Procurement Entrepreneurship Training Program (VFPETP) prepares veteran business owners with the knowledge and skills they need to tackle government contracting. The program is delivered by the National Center for Veteran Institute for Procurement (VIP) and provides three different courses depending on where you are in your contracting journey:
  • VIP START: designed for veteran-owned businesses that want to enter or expand their business growth into the federal marketplace
  • VIP GROW: designed for veteran-owned businesses to increase their ability to win government contracts by establishing best business practices
  • VIP INTERNATIONAL: designed for veteran-owned small businesses that want to enter and/or expand their federal and commercial contracting opportunities overseas

Fun fact: VIP GROW graduates report an increase in their revenue by an average of 54 percent within their first year of completing the program.

  • Explore SBA’s free online tools. The federal contracting section of the SBA website contains easy-to-digest information on contracting assistance and specialized areas of government contracting (women-owned businesses, service-disabled veteran-owned, minority-owned, etc.). There’s also a Government Contracting 101 learning course available through the SBA Learning Center.
  • Connect with a trusted adviser. Local SBA resources. such as the Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs), District Offices, and Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTACs), can either provide you with the procurement expertise you may need—or direct you to a professional who can.
  • Network with other veteran-owned businesses who are already involved in government contracting. Many organizations will host events focused on government contracting, and just government in general. Attend and meet other veteran business owners who have contracting experience—the best advice comes from those who have lived it!

To learn more about the tools available for veteran, service member, National Guard or Reserve, and military spouse entrepreneurs, visit sba.gov/veterans.

Free for Active Duty Military: National Veterans Memorial and Museum

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Veterans-Memorial-museum

National Veterans Memorial & Museum (NVMM) recently announced that it will offer free entry for any US Military Veteran, Active-Duty Military Member and Gold Star Families.

The NVMM is the first and only nationally designated museum in the United States dedicated to honoring veterans, and just opened in October 2018 in Columbus, OH.

A few key highlights visitors and locals can look forward to:

  • A Museum About Veterans and For Veterans: Exhibit designer Ralph Appelbaum Associates created an exhibition that is focused on the people – the soldier, the military personnel, the family member of a veteran – and their narrative journeys. Through personal artifacts, imagery and videos of veterans telling their story in their own words, the exhibitions draw in visitors and give them a sense of what veterans have gone through during their military service, highlighting the historical and contemporary examples of veterans’ stories. Rather than focus exclusively on combat and war, this exhibition narrative will explore the transformative experience of military service while connecting it to the broader idea of public and community service. The aim: to stimulate an ongoing dialogue to increase connections between civilians and veterans.
  • Pioneering in Education – Finally a Platform for Vets’ Stories to Be Told and Heard: The NVMM is the only place where the stories of our veterans, their families and the fallen – across all branches of service and all eras of conflict – are told together. The museum bridges historical events to current concerns and strengthens understanding and respect between veterans and civilians. This cultural institution stands as a place of inspiration for all visitors to come together as one people with a common bond and a shared pride in our veterans.
  • A New Architectural Icon: The building architect, Allied Works Architecture, has designed aNational Veterans Memorial Museum massive concrete arch structure (made up of a whopping 28 million pounds of concrete) with a glass curtainwall system and spiral processional, rising to a rooftop sanctuary – truly setting this museum apart The landscape architect, OLIN (the masterminds behind Bryant Park and Columbus Circle), designed the surrounding 2.5-acre Memorial Grove as a place for reflection. At the center of a circular path, there will be a grove of trees, designating the area as a sacred place to honor and memorialize veterans.
  • A Unique Philanthropic Effort: Most fundraising projects are fueled by a group close to a cause – this is a unique exception. While many veterans have played a critical role in the project’s bottom line, the largest private investors – Les and Abigail Wexner – committed to the project not because of particular ties to the military but because of their strong commitment to the community. They invested in the cultural credibility of the Region, and in the importance of not only supporting our veterans, but educating the public on their stories and service. The project received more than $82 million.

For more information visit; National Veterans Memorial & Museum.

The Chiefs’ star quarterback spends his free time building houses for veterans

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The biggest new star quarterback of NFL doesn’t get a lot of free time. Practicing is as important as game time, so when the time comes to relax, it’s understandable that a young football star might actually rest. But it turns out Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs’ young QB, is a star both on and off the field.

The second-year QB spent his day off helping build transitional housing for veterans in the Kansas City area with The Veterans Community Project, a non-profit that’s building a specialized community network of tiny homes and services dedicated to supporting every man and woman who served — also known as Tiny Houses for Homeless Vets.

The founder of the Veterans Community Project, Chris Stout, is a former U.S. Army corporal who was wounded in Afghanistan. His own transition into civilian life was marked by trouble with PTSD and employment issues. Though not homeless himself, he told CNN he was shocked at the inefficiencies he witnessed in the programs designed to help vets escape homelessness.

When Stout discovered homeless vets shunned shelters because they were unsafe and lacked privacy, he paid for hotel rooms out of his own pocket to keep these heroes off the street — but that too was inefficient. Eventually, he and his friends left their jobs to start the VCP, helping veterans first and asking questions later.

For the complete article, continue on to We Are The Mighty.

11 Ways to Celebrate Yours During Month of the Military Child

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Month of the Military Child

April is designated as the Month of the Military Child, underscoring the important role military children play in the armed forces community. Sponsored by the Department of Defense Military Community and Family Policy, the Month of the Military Child is a time to applaud military families and their children for the daily sacrifices they make and the challenges they overcome.

The Month of the Military Child is part of the legacy left by former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. He established the Defense Department commemoration in 1986.

DoDEA joins the Department of Defense and the military community in celebrating April as the Month of the Military Child. In DoDEA communities around the world, our most essential strategic imperatives are: establishing an educational system that progressively builds the college and career readiness of all DoDEA students; and establishing the organizational capacity to operate more effectively and efficiently as a model, unified school system. We aim to challenge each student to maximize his or her potential and to excel academically, socially, emotionally and physically for life, college and career readiness.

Throughout the month, DoDEA will encourage schools to plan special events to honor military children and have administrators and principals incorporate the themes of this month into their every day duties and responsibilities. These efforts and special events will stress the importance of providing children with quality services and support to help them succeed in the mobile military lifestyle.

Tips for you and yours:

1. Wear Purple

April 15th is Purple Up! Day, an opportunity for Americans everywhere to show support for military children. Pick your favorite shade of purple and wear it all day long to raise awareness of the sacrifices military families make, but especially kids. Let your child know you’re wearing purple especially for them.

2. Have a Special Date Night

With life’s chaos, it can be challenging to spend quality time with your children. This is especially true when you’re a military family just trying to get through a long deployment  or settling into a new duty station. Let your child pick a place to go and treat them to a date night. If you have multiple kids, do this with each of them individually.

3. “Share Your Story” Project

Your school-aged child might have the opportunity to do show and tell or another similar project. Use this as an opportunity to educate other students and teachers about Month of the Military Child. If your child goes to a DoD school, encourage them to do a fun presentation on all the places they’ve lived.

4. Create a Scavenger Hunt

This activity is especially fun if you’ve just relocated to a new duty station. You might do it on base in a safe place like the commissary or exchange. Create a list of items for your kids to find. Have players take pictures of items or collect listed objects. Set a timer and see who finishes first! Set behavior expectations as well prior to starting.

5. Be Genuine

Sometimes you just want to do the dishes, laundry, and a million other items on your to-do list. If sitting down and playing a board game sounds boring, but your kid would love it, give it a try.  Genuine encounter moments (call these GEM for short!), are when your kids get your full and undivided attention. Be in the moment and watch how your kids open up.

6. Host a Photoshoot

Let your child wear that colorful tutu or awesome superhero cape for a photoshoot. Call in a professional photographer or snap pics on your phone.  If you want to get super creative, have your kids help you create a backdrop and pick out props for their photoshoot. Bring in their closest military friends, too, for double the fun. Be sure to send the pics to your service member if they’re deployed.

7. Be a Guest Speaker

Young kids love to show off their parents. Whether you’re a military spouse or service member, offer to be a guest speaker in your child’s classroom during the Month of the Military Child. Share your experiences, and open the floor for discussion about military life.

8. Ask About Their Feelings

Whether it’s over dinner or a visit to an ice cream parlor, ask your kids how they’re doing. Let them lead the conversation, but sprinkle in questions like “How does that make your feel?” or “What do you think about ______?” Listen, verify, and validate their feelings. You’ll be surprised what they are willing to share if you ask in the right setting.

9. Connect With Other Military Families

When you spend quality time with other military families with kids, it can help your own child or children create their tribe. This is especially true for families within the same unit or platoon. As deployments come up, your kids can learn and grow together in the ways of military life.

10. Friday Fun

For the month of April, let your child decide what you do on Friday nights.  This will let them feel like they have a say in what family does, when they so often don’t. Consider all requests thoughtfully and make modifications as necessary. Movie nights, ordering take-out, and water balloon fights in the yard are a couple of ideas to get started.

11. Get Teachers Involved

Ask your child’s teacher if they’d be willing to plan some lessons around the military. This might be especially interesting for children to learn more about military life operations. If your family has a favorite book about deployments or military life, offer to let the teacher borrow it for a lesson or two.

Continue on Sandboxx to read the complete article.

America’s Warrior Partnership Hosts “Camouflage & Cocktails” Event to Celebrate Empowered Veterans

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Clint Romesha poses for camera in full military dress uniform with US Flag in the background

Medal of Honor recipient Clint Romesha, pictured left,  to speak at networking event on April 4 at 6 p.m. EST in New York City.  America’s Warrior Partnership is hosting its next “Camouflage & Cocktails” networking event to celebrate empowered military veterans.

Sponsored by First Data, OppenheimerFunds, Apollo Global Management and Natixis Investment Managers, the event will take place in New York City at Carnegie Hall on April 4 starting at 6 p.m. EST.

The event will recognize business and civic leaders who are supporting veteran-friendly workplaces and communities, while also providing attendees the opportunity to network and learn how they can contribute to the movement of empowering veterans. Medal of Honor recipient Clint Romesha will serve as the evening’s honorary host and speak to attendees about how communities can bridge the gap between veteran and civilian cultures.

“An empowered veteran claims the right to thrive within their community rather than simply survive, and Clint embodies that definition,” said Jim Lorraine, president and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership. “It is one thing to understand what makes an empowered veteran. The true challenge lies in coming together to provide veterans with the means and opportunity to achieve the quality of life they deserve. We look forward to learning from Clint’s experiences alongside attendees as we work together to create more veteran-friendly communities.”

Before commencing the “Camouflage & Cocktails” evening event, Clint will join America’s Warrior Partnership in visiting several New York-based businesses on April 4 to speak with employees and recognize their dedication to creating veteran-friendly workplace environments. Donations raised during the evening event will support ongoing programs and initiatives from America’s Warrior Partnership that are empowering communities to empower veterans.

For more information and instructions to RSVP for the event, visit the America’s Warrior Partnership website.

About America’s Warrior Partnership

America’s Warrior Partnership is committed to empowering communities to empower veterans. We fill the gaps that exist between current veteran service organizations by helping nonprofits connect with the veterans, military members and families in need: bolstering their efficacy, improving their results and empowering their initiatives. America’s Warrior Partnership is a force multiplier for warrior community integration that enhances communities where great Americans choose to live and contribute. For more information on the organization and how to get involved, visit AmericasWarriorPartnership.org.

Transitioning from Service to Startup

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business people shaking hands with one another in a company setting

You’ve reached a turning point in your military career. You’re transitioning from active duty to civilian and are considering business ownership as your next move.

Regardless of where you are in the entrepreneurial process—toying with a few business concepts or ready to execute your business plan—the SBA and its partner network are ready to support you.

Let your process begin with Boots to Business, a free entrepreneurship training course offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) through the U.S. Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP), and continue with free business counseling, mentorship, and even guidance on accessing capital for your business.

Ready for a smooth transition into business ownership? Here are a few ways you can get started.

  • Sign up for the Boots to Business course. Boots to Business is open to transitioning service members (including National Guard and Reserve) and their spouses on military installations worldwide. The course provides you with an overview of business ownership, including topics like market research, business financing, legal considerations, and additional resources to tap into throughout your entrepreneurial journey. Visit sbavets.force.com for a list of upcoming classes, then contact the transition office on your military installation to register for your desired course date.
  • Already completed your transition but still want to take the course? Boots to Business Reboot brings the course off military installations and into your community. Get in touch with your local Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) for details on upcoming course dates.
  • Connect with your local VBOC. With locations across the nation, VBOCs can provide you with business advice/recommendations and connect you with other business counselors, training programs, and referrals in the SBA network.
  • Get involved in the entrepreneurial community by attending networking events to meet other veteran entrepreneurs. Also consider online communities, which can be found on Facebook, LinkedIn, and even Reddit. These private groups allow you to connect with other veteran entrepreneurs across the globe.

To learn more about the SBA’s veterans programs, visit sba.gov/veterans.

From homeless to national champ: Army athlete rises to top of USA boxing

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As the two-time national middleweight champion, she has fought some of the world’s best boxers to earn a No. 3 international ranking.

But for a long time, Army athlete Naomi Graham had to fight her toughest opponent — herself.

Before the staff sergeant rose to the top of USA boxing, she had to overcome a mindset that began well before she ever set foot in a ring.

TOUGH LOVE

She was too nice, a coach had told her when Graham began training in 2014.

“You would never know that she’s a boxer,” said USA boxing assistant Joe Guzman, a former Army heavyweight competitor.

To become competitive in the ring, especially for the Olympics, she needed to be tougher, Guzman would say.

Graham speaks courteously and answers questions politely. In middle school, she allowed bullies to taunt her and get in her face. She never flinched, as her mother told her to avoid physical altercations, and instead tell a teacher or administrator when confronted by other children.

But one day Graham had enough. Another student threatened to fight her. Graham responded by hoisting the girl up and tossing her over a table.

“People started to leave me alone after that,” she said.

As a teen growing up in the outskirts of Fayetteville, North Carolina, Graham admittedly followed the wrong path after her graduation from Pine Forest High School in 2007. Instead of attending college courses or finding work, she enjoyed going out and spending time with friends.

Her mother, Bertha Clark, decided to show her some tough love and told her to move out of the family home. With no plan and no car, she found herself homeless in 2012, walking the suburban streets with a blanket and a few belongings.

She went to her friends’ homes asking for assistance and a place to stay.

Finally she decided to take matters into her own hands. One day while walking through a neighborhood southwest of Fayettville, she noticed an abandoned one-story house. Graham entered the backyard and found the backdoor unlocked.

She spent almost a year sneaking back into the abandoned home and sleeping in the back bedroom at night. She ate with friends when invited, but she used food stamps to get by.

One winter evening, she shuddered under her blanket in deep thought. Sitting in the darkness beneath the winter cold, she made a silent promise to herself.

“I was crying and I was basically saying, ‘this can’t be it for me,'” Graham said. “‘I know there is more to me than this.'”

She had already committed to joining the Army, but at that moment she vowed to use her Army enlistment to make a better life for herself.

For the complete article, continue on to U.S. Army.