Leader Spotlight: Jess Bell
As part of United Religions Initiative North America’s #TangibleHope campaign, Veterans for American Ideals is recognizing veteran leaders who are continuing their service by building unity and standing up for American values. Through a series of interviews, we’re asking VFAI leaders to share how their service shaped them and what responsibility they feel veterans have to speak up on issues that relate to our national ideals.
Today’s interview is with Jessica Bell, a U.S. Marine veteran who served as an Electronic Countermeasures Officer in Iraq. She is a founding member of Impact100 Oakland County and resides in Michigan.
Tell me about your military service.
After graduating from college in 2003, I received my commission in the Marine Corps. I currently have 14 years of service, including 8 on active duty. My deployments included two tours in Iraq and one in Japan. Although there was patriotism behind my desire to serve, my primary motivation to join ROTC in 1999 (pre-9/11) was more pragmatic – paying for college.
How did your service shape the person you are today?
I learned the lessons of personal accountability, moving on from failure, and remaining calm under stress. Perhaps most importantly I developed a deep-seated confidence in myself, which in turn has enabled me to tackle even loftier goals. During my time in the Marine Corps my growing confidence enabled me to earn my wings as a Naval Aviator and to complete the Ironman World Championship triathlon three times. More recently, I became a founding member of a nonprofit, Impact100 Oakland County, which is making a difference in my community.
As a veteran, what sort of responsibility do you feel to speak up on issues that relate to American ideals?
I feel a sense of responsibility to speak up on issues relating to American ideals more from a perspective of shared humanity than anything else. Perhaps as a veteran, I feel entitled to speak about freedom and liberty. Not because my opinion matters more, but because of that confidence I spoke about earlier. Through VFAI, I have had a platform to share my thoughts on the refugee crisis. And I’ve contacted my elected leaders on issues ranging from water quality to refugees.
Tell me about one issue related to those ideals that is of particular importance or concern to you right now. What are you doing about it?
I’m particularly concerned about the major humanitarian crisis we are facing right now. About six months ago, I began volunteering for a local nonprofit that places refugees in my community. I was introduced to a family of seven from Sudan who was placed in Detroit after spending a decade in a refugee camp in Chad. Their struggles, coupled with their determination to succeed, has both inspired and challenged me to do more.
What would you say to other veterans about the role that they can play in these issues as citizens?
The problems we face in the world today seem overwhelming. Start local and start small. Find what interests you: a politician to support, a non-profit to volunteer for, and spend a few hours a month learning and networking.