Guest blog post by Craig Buerstatte, Acting Director, Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, U.S. Economic Development Administration
As a young high schooler in a small Wisconsin town, I was fortunate to receive mentorship from an amazing group of community-focused Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) instructors.
Their adventures of service and combat took them to places like Panama, Korea, and Hawaii, and likely could have taken them anywhere next. Instead, these veterans all shared a commitment to serve and invest in their communities with the knowledge and expertise they gained from decades of service around the globe.
This was a humbling and infectious trait to a young man who had barely left the confines of Wisconsin’s borders – why were they so dedicated to developing me?
So, as we pause to reflect on the service of our veterans this month, and the vast impacts that service has had across our communities, states, and international borders, I can’t help but reflect on a few select veterans whose community service was foundational to my own path into the military and to becoming a civil servant at the Department of Commerce.
These leaders were not just veterans, they were teachers, basketball coaches, mentors, and most importantly, citizens that were passionate about giving first and always “making their foxhole better for the next person.” And, despite their intimidating credentials and battle scars, these veteran mentors were models of empathy and integrity, showing me how to lead with grace and humility in adversity.
They inspired me to never turn away from a challenge, and, as a result, I was honored to graduate from West Point and lead some amazing teams on two long, demanding combat tours in Iraq as an Army logistics officer. I supported our Soldiers and allies by maintaining, connecting, and equipping our teams to execute challenging missions in northern Iraq. After the Army, I leveraged those same experiences in business to build new tools and technologies in various startups. But it wasn’t until I found my way back to public service to help communities grow their economies through entrepreneurship at the Economic Development Administration (EDA), that I truly felt at home again.
At EDA, I’m able to continue “making the foxhole better” for communities around the nation, and I get to do that by serving others.
To Jim, Tom, Bob, Yancy, David, and so many other veterans, thank you for pushing and inspiring me, but most importantly, thank you for showing me that service does not end when you hang up the uniform! Your dedication to building a strong community and investing in young students from all walks of life was my inspiration to join the Department of Commerce and has led me to an amazing, fulfilling career.
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce Military Veterans in honor of Veterans Day.