I recently returned from my first trip to Vietnam in almost 50 years. I explored Saigon with the help of a local guide and found an exciting modern city with fascinating places to visit and delicious food.
Last time I was there, my trip wasn’t so leisurely. I didn’t even get near Saigon. Like many men of my generation, I first saw Vietnam as a rural, agriculture-driven country, torn apart by war. I had just graduated from high school and enlisted in the U.S. Army, where I was assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade as a paratrooper. During a year in combat, you learn how important your identification (or ‘dog tags’) can be.
My Army experiences made me a better businessman, father, friend and overall person. Through military service, I learned what is possible when people work together toward a larger mission. For the last eight years, volunteering for IDignity — first at events, then as a board member and treasurer — has given me the same sense of pride in working toward the greater good.
Supporting IDignity means that you are helping people solve a problem that they cannot easily solve alone. Having an ID unlocks doors to many essentials: a job, an apartment, a plane ticket, a bank account and more. Even more than that, it helps people restore a sense of their identity.
When I came home from my service in Vietnam, I switched my focus from fighting to training. I became a drill sergeant, responsible for teaching the basic Army skills that are needed to be an effective soldier. We also taught a set of values which I believe are among the same strengths that drive IDignity today.
IDignity’s events are an incredible display of teamwork between the volunteers who serve, the government agencies who provide on-the-spot service and the donors who support the logistical costs of identification for over 200 people each month. When clients walk through the doors, there’s no single person who can help them get their ID — it takes the whole team.
Through discipline, IDignity has created an effective, compassionate, and mission-driven environment, which makes volunteers want to return. And as volunteers return with more experience, we can better help clients.
The teamwork and discipline pay off in the sense of pride we witness when clients pick up their identification, knowing that they can then look for a job, take care of their families, rent a home and find stability. It’s an amazing thing to witness the joy that clients experience — a newfound sense of freedom that many of them haven’t known for months or even years.
This Fourth of July, as we come together to celebrate our freedom, I hope you also take a moment to appreciate the opportunities this country has given you. Then think about all those who are unable to access these opportunities because they cannot prove their identity. This Independence Day, you can help those individuals regain the freedom that comes with being able to prove who you are. Please consider joining me in supporting this mission with a gift to IDignity.
IDignity Volunteer and Board Member