Provider Profiles: Al Lejarde, USMC, Us4Warriors Foundation

In this series, we highlight those working in the Veteran and Military communities to help make reintegration and life a little better for everyone. We wanted to ask some of the common questions about how they got to where they are and how they inspire others to do more.

Interviewer: Stacey Ebert, Veteran Support Network

: Us4Warriors Foundation 
Title In Organization: Board Member 

Why Veterans? In my mind, there are 3 reasons I wish to involve myself in veteran friendly organizations: 
  • Veterans are people who I have grown up to love & admire 
  • The veteran community is the one to which I belong 
  • Being a veteran is forever a part of the fabric of who I am 
Transition Story: In 2009, with my DD-214 in hand, I unceremoniously checked out of my unit and drove off into the sunset thereby completing my 5 year enlistment as a US Marine. During the midst of the economic crisis, until I finally landed a job with a Defense Contractor in my hometown of San Diego, CA, I found myself unemployed for nearly a year. 

At the time, I thought my transition from military service was complete. Little did I know that it would take another 5 years from leaving military service to realize that I was still stuck in my own very personal transition away from the identity as an Active Duty Service Member. I did not anticipate how much that loss impacted the meaning and purpose in my life. In 2013, due to sequestration, I was laid off from my Defense Contractor job. That year was a personal low point for me as I found myself dealing with depression and losing sight of the proud Marine that I once was. 

My wife saw that I was missing that connection to the military community and encouraged me to connect with a nationwide Veteran non-profit which called other Veterans to serve and create positive change in their local communities. For the past 6 years I have been on a journey of personal and professional growth. I finally understand that “transition” is a continuous experience in life and that my identity as a service member and a veteran, in my own personal opinion, are two separate and distinct things. Once I allowed myself to really embrace my identity as a veteran, I gained a new community which showed me new ways to re-root myself in service and empowered me to find new meaning and purpose once again. 

What got you interested in this organization? Us4Warriors Foundation is a veteran founded, all-volunteer, 501C3 non-profit foundation dedicated to helping veterans, active duty military, and their families overcome hardships and improve their ability to contribute their unique experiences, training, and leadership skills to society. Over the course of several years, I witnessed them play a key part in the local veteran community where they helped to mobilize volunteers for events like "Stand Down" and address food insecurity among military & veteran families. After having the opportunity of working alongside the Us4Warriors Foundation at a community back-to-school event, I was hooked! Energized and inspired by their dedicated "Warrior Volunteer Force" and the active "Board of Doers”, in 2019, as a board member facilitating the development of programs and services that assist with professional transition and employment support - I joined the Team. 

What's your favorite thing about working in this field? Working for over 6+ years as a non-profit professional in the veteran space, I am inspired and motivated by my peers and colleagues, both veteran and civilian alike. Within the “Veteran Empowerment Organizations” (VEO) that have come into existence within the past 15 years, there is such a wonderful level of diversity and inclusion. It is amazing to work with individuals who are not motivated by compensation, but rather by the passion of service and improving the quality of life for others. 

How has community service involvement impacted your life? Community Service fulfills me and continues to be a major part of my life. It is a guiding factor that has led me in my professional career from serving homeless Veterans, assisting Military/Veteran families in crisis, and building and repairing homes for veterans, to helping transitioning service members obtain meaningful employment. It was centered in community service that I reconnected with the Military/Veteran community in 2014. During an orientation trip that same year, I was involved in a large scale community service project at an elementary school of one of the most underserved communities in Washington D.C.. Alongside hundreds of my peers and community members, in a single weekend, we revitalized a school and witnessed firsthand how collective impact can positively impact communities. I continue to hold this experience close and seek opportunities of service to, once again, refill my cup. 

Why should veterans and families use these services? Taken from explaining “What Makes Us Different?”: 

Our reason for “why” is simple and clear, our motto is: “Everything we do is for the Troops, Veterans, and their Families,” 
  • We help 100% of warriors and their families, and not just one select group or condition 
  • Our directors are veterans, and we are not compensated
  • We operate lean and impactful, ensuring the funds go where they are needed most 
  • We don’t just “give fish” to veterans and only “feed them for a day,” we offer or fund programs to empower veterans to “fish for themselves” and become leaders who can contribute to our society 
What, in your opinion, is the most important thing soon-to-be-Veterans and their families should consider before leaving military service? Develop courage and learn how to ask for help Connect with your community and seek out people who lift you up Know that you are not alone and the community is here to support and guide you. 

Anything else you would like us to know about you, your past experiences, or advice for veterans? If you would like to learn more about the Us4Warriors Foundation and/or to discuss what I do professionally as a Veteran Peer & Family Advocate, please feel free to connect with me. 

Why this person? Al has worked in service to veterans for years. He volunteers with countless organizations, assists new veterans in the transition to civilian life, and is a self-styled Veteran Peer & Family Advocate with a humble, gracious heart. You can always find him at local events with The Mission Continues. Often seen wearing a marine corps hat, Al shows up early, stays till the work is finished, turns new volunteers into professionals, and always finds a way to leave the space better than he found it.