Why I Serve Program SSG McDonald

One of the more oft-repeated questions a service member might get from someone or even another service member is, why do you serve? 

Ever since the concept of an all volunteer military, Soldiers and other service members who have joined have invariably been asked the age old question, why do you serve?

Recently the Department of Defense launched its new “Why I Serve” program, designed to give returning veterans the opportunity to share their personal military experiences with the American public, while answering the call for more first-hand accounting from the front lines and give a personal account of why they serve.

Staff Sgt. Jerome McDonald, a combat medic with the 566th Area Support Medical Company, 61st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 1st Medical Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (expeditionary), is a year removed from combat in Iraq and has been chosen as one of eight participants to give their personal story. 

“We’re not there to recruit, we’re not there to promote anything and we aren’t told what to say,” said McDonald. “We are to tell personal stories and give personal reasons of why we serve.”

The program is intended to inform the American public through a first person account of what motivates service members to serve and what service members experience during a deployment, McDonald said. 

McDonald and seven others will spend a total of 90 days sharing their experiences. He and other service members, representing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, will travel the country sharing their experiences and motivations for serving with groups ranging from Chambers of Commerce to Rotary clubs to grassroots organizations to schools to media outlets, said McDonald.

MacDonald, who reenlisted after a break in service in 2000, said his main reason for reenlisting and serving in the military, is his family.

“The main reason I serve is my family,” he said. “To protect my family, do what I think needs to be done in the world, do what I think is the right thing.” “The U.S. is one of the countries that take an active role…,” he said. “It requires some sacrifice, but I am willing to do that.”

After having his name submitted by his battalion command sergeant major for consideration to the program, the Department of the Army Public Affairs personally selected McDonald for entry to the program. 

“The Chief of Public of Affairs, [Brig. Gen. Anthony A. Cucolo III] and his staff looked at my biography and said that my background and experiences offered a lot to the program,” explained McDonald.

McDonald is not new to having his military career and military knowledge examined; he is also III Corps’ Non Commissioned Officer of the year for 2006.

McDonald said his experience and the reactions he has gotten the past two months have been overwhelmingly positive and supportive.

“It’s what I expected from the American population and I know that they separate [service members] from the war,” he said. 

Although, he points out the groups he has talked to have been supportive, he states there are some groups with anti-war sentiment that can ask some pretty tough questions.

“I had a group of mom’s who don’t want there sons in the war and they asked some tough questions,” McDonald said. “Do you think we are making a difference over there, do you think we need to pull out [of the war]?” “They’ll ask the questions you see on the news and I give my personal opinion about that and they know it’s my personal opinion, I’m always clear about that,” he said. “I always reinforce that I only saw a very small part of Iraq, I really didn’t travel anywhere.”

McDonald served as a medic at a detainee camp in Iraq. He shares personal anecdotes with his audiences and to those group of mom’s who asked the tough questions he replied with, “Yes, we are making a difference.”

“I actually believe we are making a difference in Iraq,” McDonald said “I saw with my own eyes, I dealt face to face everyday for a year with detainees and we didn’t change all there minds, but a lot of detainees who I would talk with changed their attitudes about Americans. I could see the difference from when we got there and the day I left,” he said. 

“The more I got to know about the program, the more I wonder why we didn’t do this sooner. Why let news put together all facts?”

McDonald’s said he knows most Americans know that most of what they see on the news is a skewed picture of the war and thinks that most Americans are well informed.

“They don’t have many sources to go to, but they know that what they see on the news is not the whole story,” said McDonald. 

“I believe in this program and my hope is that this program can grow a bit more,” said McDonald. “With what’s going on in the news there is no better way to know what is going on than to get these service members out there talking to people.”