By Thomas Perry
DCMA Public Affairs
Approximately 19 million veterans live in America.
Defense Contract Management Agency’s Luis Castro and Dave Pershing are two. They recently navigated Virginia’s second-to-last leg of the Old Glory Relay, a nine-state journey undertaken annually by more than 5,000 veterans and supporters to honor veterans, raise support awareness and invigorate pride in the American flag.
“It was an awesome experience, I was proud to carry the flag along with my co-worker Dave,” said Castro, a Portfolio Management and Business Integration research analyst and retired Army officer. “Hearing cars honk as we walked by was incredible and added to the experience. Meeting other veterans and hearing their stories and those who support us was great, and I am thankful for them. I am proud to be an American. Having traveled to many countries and seeing how others live, there is no plac¬¬¬e like the U.S., and I am proud to have served.”
Castro currently serves as the co-lead of a Program Support Division working group to provide the Department of Defense major acquisition program insight. He invited his co-worker, Pershing, a retired Army officer and former DCMA Albuquerque commander, to join the relay. Pershing accepted after discovering the relay’s organizer, Team Red, White and Blue, or Team RWB, was dedicated to enriching veterans’ lives.
“It was a great experience and a great opportunity to see how others — more than just veterans — like local law enforcement support the RWB mission,” said Pershing. “I was able to catch up with a fellow runner who I knew from 30 years ago while stationed at Fort Lee.”
Thirty years ago, Fort Lee looked much different in construct and function, and during the next three decades, America’s military community would evolve as precision and lethality pursuits took hold.
Those-who-served form a multi-generational and diverse cultural subset, and while “19 million” collapses much under its suggestive-weight, that number represents less than 10% of the country’s adult population, according to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
In 1980, veterans represented 18% of adults. There are many contributing factors to troop reduction: the transition to an all-volunteer force, the Cold War’s conclusion, a technology-driven battlefield evolution, budget reductions, and many other reasons. As their numbers shrink, however, the understanding of veteran-support requirements expands.
Veterans can struggle with unemployment, homelessness, physical health and disabilities, and mental health issues to include suicide and depression. The ability to address these issues and identify vulnerable veterans demands all available support due to failure’s finality.
Government organizations like the VA and Military OneSource provide powerful assets, logistical support and commitment to care, but to function properly within the massive can humble human connectivity.
Team RWB, like many non-profit organizations dedicated to veteran support, provide veterans with opportunities to connect through physical and social activities at local chapters.
“These organizations are important to veterans, as they supplement what the government can offer and provide a better quality of life for veterans,” said Castro, whose father and brother both retired from the Army, in 1979 and 2021 respectively.
With their contribution on the horizon, Castro and Pershing watched as Cassandra Liberto, Team RWB Richmond-Chapter captain, ran toward them with the American flag prominently featured. As Liberto finished her Old Glory Relay section, passing cars honked and a select group of volunteers and supporters cheered and clapped from the driveway of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2239 in Chester, Virginia.
Handshakes, high-fives, some quick photos and Old Glory hit the road again. After an hour and a half, Castro and Pershing arrived at a local Baptist church where they passed the flag to its next bearer.
A month later, the 2021 Old Glory Relay ended in Atlanta Nov. 11. The DCMA participants were not at the final ceremony, but Castro hopes that changes in 2022.
“I would definitely participate again and recommend it to others,” he said. “After this experience, I joined the RWB team and am hoping to participate in other events. I think it would be incredible if next year we had DCMA participants along the whole route.”
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