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Face of Defense: Special Forces Soldier Mentors At-Risk Youth

By Army Spc. Jonathan Rivera Collazo, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne)

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A Green Beret assigned to 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) here volunteers at Tacoma Community Boat Builders as a mentor for at-risk youth from the local community.

Soldier pours salt into a bucket while mentoring at a boat-builders youth program
Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel White, a Green Beret and equal opportunity adviser at Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) pours salt into a bucket at the Tacoma Community Boat Builders youth program in Tacoma, Wash., March 3, 2018. Volunteering allows White to share some of the leadership skills, discipline and values he’s developed over his 24 years as a soldier and Green Beret. Army photo by Spc. Jonathan Rivera-Collazo
Soldier pours salt into a bucket while mentoring at a boat-builders youth program 180227-A-VY994-143
Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel White, a Green Beret and equal opportunity adviser at Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) pours salt into a bucket at the Tacoma Community Boat Builders youth program in Tacoma, Wash., March 3, 2018. Volunteering allows White to share some of the leadership skills, discipline and values he’s developed over his 24 years as a soldier and Green Beret. Army photo by Spc. Jonathan Rivera-Collazo

Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel White, a native of Orange County, California, is no stranger to volunteering. He volunteered to serve his country as an airborne paratrooper and as a Special Forces Green Beret not just once but three times over the course of his 24-year career.

Now, White has volunteered to give back to his community by mentoring at-risk youth a few hours a week. He hopes to share some of the skills, lessons and values he’s developed in his time in the Army and in the Special Forces.

Giving Back to the Community

“What motivated me to volunteer was to continue to do something positive by giving back to the community,” said White. “Being a good life role model, and helping those [youth] out, provides a good meaning of self-worth.”

As a weapons sergeant, White has deployed in support of operations in Bosnia, the Philippines, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Currently, he is the equal opportunity adviser at Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st SFG. During his free time White volunteers at Tacoma Community Boat Builders alongside fellow veterans, retirees and others willing to give up time to serve as a life coach, youth mentor and friend.

TCCB is a community-based program that mentors at-risk youth in acquiring life skills through boat building and carpentry. Using hands-on learning and productive environments they hope to deter youth from risky behaviors and provide them with positive opportunities and familial support systems.

According to Shannon A. Shea, TCBB executive director, “Many of our young men are ‘child soldiers.’ We are looking to short circuit the fast track towards jail by restoration and prevention.”

Making a Difference

White has had first-hand experience with the transformative power and influence this program has on young minds.

Soldier carves a wooden spoon as part of a mentoring program.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel White, equal opportunity advisor at Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., carves a spoon in the woodshop at Tacoma Community Boat Builders in Tacoma, Wash., March 6, 2018. Army photo by Spc. Jonathan Rivera-Collazo
Soldier carves a wooden spoon as part of a mentoring program. 180306-A-VY994-333
Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel White, equal opportunity advisor at Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., carves a spoon in the woodshop at Tacoma Community Boat Builders in Tacoma, Wash., March 6, 2018. Army photo by Spc. Jonathan Rivera-Collazo

“Watching the kids graduate the program and then come back on their own is one of the most rewarding feelings,” White said. “Knowing that we made a difference and that they understand there is more to life than mischief is great.”

One of the most difficult challenges White, other staff and co-workers encounter is connecting with a group of young men from a different generation, White said.

Relating to these young men is not the only obstacle. According to White, motivation or lack thereof is another barrier for these youths.

“A lot of these kids are here because they have to be here, so their motivation isn’t quite the same,” said White. “That sometimes can be a little trying because their focus is elsewhere. But when they see the things they are able to do and accomplish they get a greater appreciation for what we do.”

‘The Kids Like Him’

Despite these challenges, Karlie Johnson, who works as an administrative assistant at TCBB, says White, who is younger than most of the staff working in the center, has an easier time relating to the youth in the program.

“He is a lot of fun and the kids like him because he is funny,” said Johnson. “I like having his energy around because it bridges the gap between our regular volunteers and our youth.”

Johnson believes White’s understanding of where these kids are coming from and where they are has improved since his volunteering at the program. White’s military presence and empathy towards the children in the program make him a relatable role model. At the same time, White’s ability to share stories and experiences helps eliminate barriers and builds strength, according to Johnson.

“The benefits and rewards of volunteering and giving back to the community go beyond the feeling of self-worth and accomplishing personal goals. Programs like this give young people an opportunity to  explore opportunities and careers that not many people have access to,” said White.
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