On Friday, September 16, American University is taking part in a special event, “America’s First Ladies: In Service to Our Nation,” at the National Archives Museum. It will feature First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush in a discussion about supporting active duty military personnel, veterans, and their families.
The program is part of AU’s Legacies of America’s First Ladies initiative and conference series. Anita McBride, an executive-in-residence at AU’s School of Public Affairs, will provide welcome remarks.
Of special note, AU students and alumni with military experience are coming to the event. Far from just an A-List gathering, Michelle Obama and Laura Bush will address a vital topic that resonates with some current and former AU students.
In advance of Friday’s forum, UCM talked with a few AU people expected to attend. They discussed their military experiences, career goals, and what led them to serve.
Familial Ties and Familiarity
After getting contacted by AU Alumni, Julia Lopez flew in from Texas for the first ladies event. Since they’ll likely discuss the life challenges facing military families, this should be right in Lopez’s wheelhouse. She’s on active duty at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, but the Army is also sending her to school for a master’s degree in social work.
“The Army and the military are basically growing their own social workers, because we have a very unique understanding of the challenges that being a military member or part of a military family can present you with,” she says of the program. “Then, in turn, we can provide behavioral health to soldiers.”
In fact, she’s grappled with the military-family dynamic on two levels. Her husband is also in the military, and he’s currently deployed to another location. “I intimately understand—not just as a soldier, but also as a spouse—how difficult it can be,” she adds.
Lopez hails from Tampa, Florida, where she still has family. Her father was in the Coast Guard, and he encouraged his children to consider military service. Her two older brothers chose different paths, but Lopez went to AU on an ROTC scholarship through the Georgetown University consortium. She graduated from AU’s School of International Service in 2010.
She later did a tour in Afghanistan, and she’s also been stationed in Germany, Italy, and Fort Jackson, South Carolina. It’s been an eventful time in her life, but she was excited to return to D.C. for this conference. “It’s an incredible opportunity. I’m so happy I got a chance to go.”
By Land or by Sea
Matt Maguire grew up in the Bay Area of California. “I did ROTC in high school and grew up near an Air Force base. I was sort of always interested in the military,” he says. He started college, but with student loan debt and uncertainty about his future, he joined the Navy in 2009. He became a sonar operator and was assigned to the USS Russell destroyer. His service took him to Japan, and that was followed by ballistic missile defense work in the Persian Gulf.
He left the Navy in 2012 and took classes in community college. With financial assistance through his military service, he earned his undergraduate degree in economics at University of Cincinnati. Maguire is now working towards a master’s degree in AU SPA’s Justice, Law, and Criminology program, with a focus on terrorism and security policy. He’s planning a career in federal law enforcement, with hopes of an eventual position with the FBI.
Maguire is now pretty well acclimated to civilian life. “We weren’t in any direct combat. So if you can deal with the stress of just walking around a 500-foot-long metal prison—in a way—it’s not that bad,” he says of being on a ship 24/7. “Sometimes it could be rough, but once I got home, I took that time to just sort of relax, hang out with friends, visit family.”
He still views his military time as a positive experience. He also believes it’s opening up some internship and job opportunities, and he’s currently working at the U.S. Department of Labor. “Even if it was extremely hard during some points, I am—looking back now—happy I went through it.”
The Daily Grind
Efosa Edogun has been an MP (military police) and an Army infantryman. His latter role, he says, included the mission to “root out the bad guys.”
Having served in Iraq from 2006 to 2008, he’s now quite candid about his daily struggles in a post-combat environment. He’s currently on injured reserve, dealing with a torn ACL and a back injury. He’s also grappling with issues of post-traumatic stress.
In addition, there’s the frustrating interactions with the VA, which he says is hampered by red tape and mismanagement. “I think it needs to be revamped,” he says. “Besides the doctors, it can get very unprofessional.” Those VA disputes led to financial hardship, and before starting AU last spring, he was homeless and living out of his car.
The son of Nigerian immigrants, Edogun was born in Little Rock, Arkansas and lived several other places. His parents initially voiced opposition to him joining the military. “They just wanted to keep it simple. Come over here and work. However, I always had a passion to public serve,” he says.
Since military life demanded mobility, taking undergraduate classes proved difficult. He went to several schools before finishing up at Philander Smith College. At AU, he’s now earning his master’s degree in public administration.
He’s still plugging away, with plans for law school after earning his MPA. Long term, he’s hoping to work in international human rights law.
In the short term, he’s taking things day by day—and preparing for this first ladies event. “Maybe it’s a possibility for me to represent my experience, as well as my fellow veterans.”