As the deadline draws near for the 2020 Census, I pose this question to all Philadelphia veterans: Are you “present and accounted for”?
When I arrived at boot camp in May 2000, I was greeted by a swarm of instructors with spit bubbles foaming from their mouths directing me to get my slow, lazy “behind” in formation to be marked “present and accounted for” by Recruit Training Command. This was my very first military “muster” (aka “attendance”) but far from my last. Throughout my six-year naval career, I was marked “present and accounted for” thousands of times.
When I arrived home to Philadelphia after being honorably discharged, I did not identify with any community or creed. I did not identify as a “civilian,” and I didn’t feel “present and accounted for” anywhere.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, I had spent countless hours as a submariner stationed onboard a giant war machine knowing every action taken could mean death to our enemy, death to our crew, or death to our fellow service members on the ground. We identified as “submarine warriors” and keepers of the “silent service.” The truth was, that bravado typically hid physical, mental, and emotional scars we could no longer hide once we stepped off the boat for the final time.
At home, I could not relate to coworkers and neighbors. I could not explain the glory of servitude that I felt as a service member. That sense of duty that justified me trading in my freedom for the obligation of service to the greater good. That essence that made you feel “present and accounted for.”
I also did not identify as a “veteran.” I am a second-generation submariner. My father served as a submarine electrician onboard diesel-powered submarines in the ’70s. But I cannot remember him ever identifying himself as a veteran. Like my father, when I came home, I never discussed or celebrated my military service. Once I took off the uniform, I lost that sense of pride, community, mission, and purpose.
But now I have connected locally and nationally with my fellow brothers and sisters who served in the Armed Services through organizations such as the Travis Manion Foundation, the Weekly Fight, the Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network, and several veteran centers in the Greater Philadelphia region. I have seen the combined impact veterans can have by empowering ourselves toward a new kind of service — this time in our communities through leadership in service projects, youth mentorship, and economic development.
I have discovered that the veteran community is not the broken population we have been characterized as. I am privy to the challenges faced by veteran service organizations and Veteran Affairs groups working tirelessly to serve our community. They need more funding and more resources. The census data must show this need for our region.
Our nation is currently mustering for the 2020 Census and the deadline is quickly approaching. Like fair and free elections, this is a constitutionally mandated evolution that has more at stake than you may know. Congressional representation for the next 10 years will be based on the statistical data collected from this decennial census.
Every Philadelphia veteran should be marked “present and accounted for” by completing their 2020 Census by the deadline of Sept. 30. Get counted by going to my2020census.gov or by calling 1-844-330-2020.
The 2020 Census is a short questionnaire that asks nine questions about your household and takes less than 10 minutes to complete. If you are not counted, our fellow citizens and local veterans in the Greater Philadelphia region may miss out on the readily available support they so desperately need.
Jimmy White IV is a South Philly native and an Operation Iraqi Freedom U.S. Navy submarine veteran.