By Steven Donald Smith
WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2006 – Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Nelson Felix Lebron said a number of reasons, aside from serving his country, led him to join the military. "There are a lot of reasons why I serve," Lebron, a 12-year veteran, told American Forces Press Service. "My primary reason for joining was education."
Lebron is one of 13 servicemembers participating in the Defense Department's new "Why We Serve" program, which aims to connect returning military members with the general public by giving them an opportunity to talk about their experience in uniform. The pilot group of 13, which is made up of members from all the military services, is traversing the country speaking about their military experience.
The servicemembers will speak at events ranging from small community dinners to large forums. Some also will participate in Freedom Walks that are scheduled around the country to remember those who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and to honor America's past and present military veterans.
The Defense Department's America Supports You program is sponsoring the main Freedom Walk in Washington, D.C., which takes place Sept. 10. Similar independently organized events are scheduled in a growing number of communities in all 50 states.
America Supports You is a Defense Department program that helps showcase Americans' support for the men and women of the armed forces and their families.
Lebron said another reason he enlisted was to get out of his South Bronx neighborhood and see the world. "I just saw it (the Navy) as a means to get out of the environment I was in," he said, "and also as a way to show respect for my parents."
His father is a former Marine and Vietnam veteran. "He instilled a lot of strong values in us," Lebron said of his father. "I just figured I'd follow his route." Lebron's brother is also in the Navy.
The Navy has indeed fulfilled his desire to see the world, he said. He has been on two Mediterranean deployments, he's served in Afghanistan, and most recently he participated in the evacuation of American citizens from Beirut, Lebanon.
He said the Americans he encountered there were thankful for the military's help in getting them out of the war-torn nation. "For the most part, people were grateful for our help," he said. "They were a little shocked at the conditions, though. They were coming on board a naval ship. I think some of them expected a Carnival Cruise. For the most part, they were just happy to be getting out of there."
Another aspect about the military that Lebron likes is the multitude of assignments he's been given. "When I was in Afghanistan, I did everything from convoy ops to stand up at religious services because I'm a chaplain's assistant," he said.
Looking back, Lebron said, he is glad he decided to join the Navy because it has improved his life. "The Navy has helped my life," he said. "The military in general has accelerated my life. I've grown up a lot mentally and physically."