Leader Spotlight: Pete Farley
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 more about 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 Pete Farley, a U.S. Army veteran who has been a strong advocate for the Special Immigrant Visa program for interpreters and translators who served with the U.S. military.
Tell me about your military service. (What branch? When and where did you serve? Why did you join the military?)
When I joined the Army Reserves in 2006, I was not the typical enlistee. I was an elementary school teacher at the time. I took a leave of absence from my position to go to basic training, where I was one of the oldest recruits at the age of 26.
After attending military police school, I returned to my fourth-grade classroom and drilled with the reserves one weekend per month. I soon received orders to Baghdad, Iraq for a yearlong deployment in 2008-2009 with the 340th Military Police Company out of Queens, New York.
Being of military age, I first thought about joining on September 11. I was a full-time graduate student at the time, and visited a military recruiter shortly after our country was attacked. I talked myself out of joining then, something I would do continuously over the years, citing career goals. I wanted to obtain my degree and enter the classroom, but the urge to join never ceased when I began my teaching career.
I felt guilty that I was an able-bodied individual enjoying my life in America while men and women of my age were in combat overseas. This is something I would think about constantly. It consumed me.
I finally joined because I felt a sense of obligation to do so. I simply wanted to serve in Iraq or Afghanistan.
How did your service shape the person you are today?
I believe my service made me a better person. It certainly made me more open-minded.
In Iraq, I was fortunate to serve under direct leadership that ensured members of my squad always remained combat-ready, but at the same time treated the citizens of Baghdad we encountered with respect.
We did not kick down doors. Instead, we had many positive interactions with Iraqis as we patrolled neighborhoods with the Iraqi Police. We often broke down cultural barriers with the people of Iraq by sharing meals together.
These experiences made me realize how similar we all really are at the core despite our differences. It is amazing how much we can learn when we actually sit down and talk and listen to each other. This is a lesson I carry with me to this day.
Despite the violence by extremists that continued during my time over there, I found that everyday Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians were good-intentioned people who worked alongside each other, wanted peace, and yearned for the best for their families and country. They wanted the same things that we do.
Because all I ever knew was what I saw on television, this was not what I went into my deployment expecting. Never did I think I would end up making lifelong friendships with Iraqis who served as my interpreters and remain some of the most important people in my life to this day.
As a veteran, what sort of responsibility do you feel to speak up on issues that relate to American ideals?
By signing the dotted line, veterans risked their lives to defend American ideals during their military service. I feel it is just as important that they stand up for these same ideals out of uniform. We should never lose sight of the fact that many of our brothers and sisters paid the ultimate sacrifice for what America is supposed to stand for.
America should be considered a “work in progress.” Our work should not be done when we obtain our DD-214. It should be just beginning.
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?
One issue I am passionate about is fighting for visas for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters and translators who served alongside U.S. military forces.
We have left behind most of these individuals, who I would argue risked more in serving the U.S. mission than I did. I was able to come home when my tour was done. These individuals were left to face the dangerous consequences of their service by remaining the prime target for terrorist organizations in their homeland.
Our failure in keeping our promise to protect these individuals is in direct contradiction of the American ideals we fought for.
Right now, I volunteer for the International Refugee Assistance Project. I am on a team of volunteers fighting for refugee resettlement of an Iraqi family who collectively risked their lives in support of our military. We have gathered the signatures of almost 50,000 American citizens on a Change.org petition in support of this family and have been in direct contact with the offices of over 50 members of Congress regarding their immigration case. We will continue to fight for this family until America has lived up to its promise and they are here in safety.
What would you say to other veterans about the role that they can play in these issues as citizens?
American society’s perception of veterans has thankfully shifted since Vietnam. Veterans are now welcomed home and are respected members of the community. Our voices are valued and we should capitalize on this.
I would simply tell veterans to become involved and speak up on the issues we fought for. This can be at the local level or all the way to D.C.
Too many have given up too much to remain silent. Continue to fight for American ideals and what is right.