I never served in the military. And yet I find myself helping those who did serve, every day.
That’s not by coincidence.
I grew up in a military family where pride, honor and service were all part of our ethos. Our license plate says “Oorah”; my first stuffed animal was a bulldog. Military is very much part of who we are. My father was a Vietnam veteran, and though he didn’t speak much about those days, you could tell he thought back on that time with incredible fondness. I wanted something like that. To be part of something bigger than myself.
Whenever any one of us left the house, my mother always used to remind us, “Remember who you are.” It was a constant reminder that we were representing the values and strength that military families must have.
So serving was something I was expected to do, and it’s something I wanted for myself. Which is why when it came to going to college, I’m sure it was odd for my father — a 26-year veteran — to hear that I would be not attending a military academy or even registering to be in any branch of the military.
Instead I had an incredible opportunity to play soccer at school, which tore at my heart. Would I be letting down my family? Is this not the opposite of how I was raised?
My father calmed me down and told me something that I would never forget, and that I carry to this day. He said, “Meghan, go to school and get a great education. You’ll find your way to service. Go be the best you can be.”
And I did. I eventually found my way into finance at Lehman Brothers in 2005 and moved my way up the corporate ladder. But a few years and thousands of layoffs later, I stopped and had to ask myself what I was doing — was this really the service I was meant to do?
Service is meant to be selfless. My father talked about his time in service not with pride for himself, but with pride for his peers. But at some point in everyone’s time of service, there’s a realization that whatever help you’re giving often ends up bettering your life too. And I just wasn’t feeling that with where I was.
It was around that time when I was approached by a friend who told me about a one-armed Jesuit priest named Father Rick Curry who wanted to start a nonprofit for veterans in Washington, D.C. I just had to meet him.
I sat down with Father Curry for a whole weekend, and he sold me on this vision he had, built around men and women veterans who — unlike the people in the movies, broken and desperate — have a variety of different voices and talents, despite their physical or mental ailments acquired while serving.
And with that, he and his co-founder created Dog Tag Bakery, a space that utilizes veterans as employees, but also offers classes and the support to start an entrepreneurial venture of their own. I joined as their first employee in 2012.
I would never say I’m at the same level of my father, sister or mom. But I’ve helped establish a program that has a culture of acceptance and offers wraparound services to vets. It’s not about running a bakery — it’s about running the best bakery.
And this isn’t just about doing something good for people. This is about doing good business. We’re seeing an economic impact. Change doesn’t always happen on a national level; it happens on a small level in our communities every day. I think that there’s no greater calling than that.