My name is Eli Williamson, and I am a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. I have started a nonprofit with my childhood friend Roy, who is also a veteran of Iraq. Our nonprofit, Leave No Veteran Behind, works to relieve the educational debt of veterans who are serving and have served in the U.S. military.
Currently, many service members who receive higher education during, before or after their service have to take out costly loans to pay for their education. While there are military educational programs that help relieve this educational debt, not all veterans are covered under these programs. Leave No Veteran Behind addresses this issue by taking private donations and applying them directly to veterans' student loan accounts. In return, we require that all veterans helped through our program give back 100 hours of community service. We will work in conjunction with other nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, governmental agencies and religious social service groups so that we may allow veterans the chance to use their skills and lack of indebtedness to improve the lives of people in their communities and country.
Roy served in Iraq with the U.S. Army Reserves, 389th Engineering Battalion.
Both Roy and myself hail from Chicago and after graduating high school attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. During college, we both joined the U.S. Army Reserves and were assigned to the 389th Engineering Battalion. During our senior year of college, our reserve unit was activated to go to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
I was able to complete my degree because I joined the active duty army and attended the Special Warfare Training Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for the psychological operations (PSYOP) course. After completing the PSYOP course, I was assigned to the 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne). I then deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Subsequently, I was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
When the 389th was called up, Roy was forced to put a halt to his education and deploy with the reserve unit. When Roy returned from Iraq, he completed his degree in business administration and became a district manager for Aldi Corporation in the Baltimore area, where he administered daily operations for several stores.
During our time in the service and in the private sector, we both struggled to pay educational loans from college because we were not covered under any military programs for educational debt repayment. Initially, we thought we were the only ones who had this problem. But after countless conversations with other frustrated veterans, we found that we were not alone.
After much thought and planning, we decided to form Leave No Veteran Behind. We hope to ensure that no veteran will ever again fight to pay for an education that has already been paid for twice—once by their own sacrifice and again by the sacrifice of their families.
We have been extremely blessed with support from friends, families and businesses. Because of this, we received over $65,000 in money and services that have allowed us to start up our organization. This help has enabled us to start enrolling veterans, and in three weeks' time, we enrolled 14 veterans and have more than 20 other veterans who are in the enrollment process. We have done all of this primarily through personal contacts and word of mouth. As we begin other forms of outreach, we know that many more veterans will need our help.
Our organization has 501c3 status, and we are looking for monetary donations. But, we also need help educating people about this important issue.