Civilian turned Service Member: What Military Appreciation Month Means to Emily Domenech
From a successful career on Capitol Hill to now serving in the Navy Reserves, Emily Domenech carries both the perspective of civilian and veteran with her each day. That’s why she is so passionate about showing appreciation for those who serve, especially during Military Appreciation Month and in honoring those who have fallen on Memorial Day.
We asked her a few questions to share more about how she came to where she is now and her motivation to serve, remember and honor our military always.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your career and your journey into the military.
I’ve been fortunate to have a really rewarding career so there’s a lot to cover! Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work on the personal staff of Robert Gates during his tenure as the Secretary of Defense. I traveled all over the world as a civilian working for the Pentagon, working and living with the military in a way most civilians never get to experience. While I’ve since moved on to work on Capitol Hill (I currently work as a policy advisor for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy), that job and experience stuck with me, and I’ve always been passionate about supporting those who serve.
Even though my family has a long history of military service, I never thought I’d have the privilege of serving in uniform. My grandfather retired as an Army COL, and served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. My brother and stepdaughter are both Army officers, but growing up it just wasn’t something I considered. But I never stopped missing the military community, and after helping raise my stepdaughters, I started exploring opportunities to serve myself. After a long process, I was fortunate enough to commission as an officer in the Navy Reserves last year. I’ve got a long way to go before I’ll feel like my service is valuable, but wearing a uniform is one of the greatest privileges of my life.
Why is Military Appreciation Month so important to you?
A few years ago, I started a service project to photograph graves and share the names of the fallen on social media on Memorial Day. The Honor Project (which is now in its third year!) brings largely civilian volunteers into Arlington National Cemetery to visit graves on behalf of family members across the country. Through this project, we give civilians the chance to recognize those who sacrificed by name – something most people rarely get to do.
Military Appreciation Month works to do the same thing – to give civilians the chance to appreciate and honor those who served in small ways. I genuinely believe most Americans want to honor those who serve, but they often just don’t know how. But something as small as sharing a photograph or a name on social media or committing to walk 3.1 miles a day to remember those who serve matters! Organizations like Boot Campaign are critical in helping connect grateful Americans to those who protect our way of life.
What first inspired you to do something to honor Military Appreciation Month?
We live in a world that is always busy and it’s hard to set aside time for one purpose. One of the things that I think is so valuable about Military Appreciation Month is that it provides us an opportunity to do just that for a good cause!
I also love walking and running, so the fitness challenge is a great one for me. I really like the discipline of doing 3.1 miles every day – and I try to listen to an audiobook about military history while I work towards the goal. This year, I’m hoping to convince my daughters to join me in the challenge!
How else should/can civilians show gratitude to those who serve(d) this month?
I’m a firm believer that even the small things can really matter. You never know how much a small act of service can mean to an individual.
When I started the Honor Project, I thought I’d share a few photos of graves in Arlington Cemetery. Last year, our volunteers visited 4,000 graves – and this year we’ll expand to visiting graves in cemeteries across the country on Memorial Day.
So don’t be afraid to do something small in your community. Go visit your local military cemetery or memorial and learn about the fallen service members buried there. Volunteer with a group like Boot Campaign, or even just take the time to do a daily challenge in honor of the service members you know! And don’t just do the little things for a month – start with May, and then carry that spirit of service with you for the rest of 2022. You won’t regret it!