Darienne Page is an American hero. The third-generation veteran served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and now serves the country as the Assistant Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement where she leads the Veterans, Wounded Warrior and Military Family Outreach initiative. In addition to regularly visiting wounded warriors with President Obama and attending to the needs of veterans and their families, she hosts events honoring people and organizations who dedicate their lives to the needs of America’s vets.
After the Vietnam Veterans Champions of Change event she hosted at the White House recently, Ms. Page shared her story with EBONY.
EBONY: You started your tour in Iraq at the beginning of the war in 2003. How long were you there?
DP: Ten months.
EBONY: What was that experience like for you?
DP: Interesting, That’s the best way I know how to put it. It was very much a learning experience. We didn't think we'd be there as long as we were. War — the things we went through — we weren't necessarily expecting but this is what we train for. It wasn't a surprise, but it was a very eye opening experience for me.
EBONY: So what’s it like for you to now be working for the President who ended that war?
DP: It's very emotional. There's a relief there. I served in OIF 1 [Operation Iraqi Freedom 1]. My brother Garon served in OIF 2 and my brother Gus served in OIF 3, so for [years] my mother had a child in that war. Now, my little brother is just graduating from basic training and knowing that he and so many of my friends will never have to go back to Iraq is a relief for me.
I was in Baghdad with [Vice President Biden] when the colors of United States Forces – Iraq [the flag that flew during the war] was returned. That was a very emotional moment and a really moving moment after serving there and losing so many friends there. The President brought the conflict to a responsible end in Iraq and is laying the groundwork for a responsible way out in Afghanistan and for me there is a sense of pride in that.
EBONY: Your decision to work on then-Senator Obama’s campaign for President came about after a conversation with a man in a Veterans for Obama t-shirt. What did that man say to convince you to join the campaign?
DP: He didn't convince me, I had to convince him! I was telling him what it meant to me having recently returned to Iraq and to have heard then-Senator Obama’s speech where he said that we are not a collection of blue states and red states, we are the United States of America. It really resonated with me. The guy [in the t-shirt] was a part of the group I was with that night and he and I were in Baghdad together and he said “if you’re serious about this, send me your resume.” I sent in my resume first thing Monday morning and started working Tuesday night and I started working in the mail room as a volunteer.
EBONY: Wow, so you’ve literally worked your way up from the mailroom. We always hear these kind of stories but you’re the first person I’ve met to have actually had that experience.
DP: Yeah, I was volunteering in the mailroom and working another job and in school [at the University of Illinois] full time. I started off ten hours a week and then fifteen and twenty hours. They asked me to give up my job and volunteer full-time, and I did. Then I was offered a [paid] position in the travel office. I worked in the travel office for the campaign and there were four of us in a room that was really a closet. We managed a budget of $4 million and we were responsible for moving people from one state to another and setting up hotel rooms and flights and trains and buses at any time of the night. If you were on call for the night and you got the call at three a.m., it was your responsibility to arrange travel or fix any travel issues for the people on the campaign.
Then, they said, “Hey, if we win, you’ve got to be on the first flight to D.C.” And we won, and I packed up my life and moved to D.C. You go where the boss tells you to go!
EBONY: And what kind of boss is President Obama?
DP: He's incredibly impressive and I get to interact with him when we travel to visit our wounded warriors. Just watching his interactions with them, you can just tell he genuinely cares about them as individuals and service members and family members. He’s their Commander in Chief and you can see how responsible he feels for their welfare. Knowing that he fully understands how every action that he takes has an impact on that and he just gets it he genuinely gets it – that’s so encouraging.
We visit the wounded warriors once a month and he says to them, “If you need anything from me, make sure that she knows it.” Being entrusted with that kind of responsibility, I just do everything in my power to take care of those soldiers and make sure they have what they need.
EBONY: It is obvious that you are really passionate about the work that you do and that the White House does for our troops. It seems you have the ultimate job satisfaction. So when [it is] over, what can you imagine yourself doing next?
DP: I think that in my family public service is something instilled in us. Five of the six of us enlisted and that was just something we were taught. So I know whatever I’ll do, I’ll just continue to serve. I don't know if it will be in a non profit or what, but I feel so comfortable working with other veterans and I know I will stay close to the wounded warriors in whatever way I can.
One of the things that we work to impress upon people every day here is that there is only one percent of the people serving in the armed forces, so it’s up to one hundred percent of the people to give back and support them. We owe them so much. If you see a veteran, please take the time to say “thank you for your service.”
To see how you can help support our troops and wounded warriors, visit First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden’s site, JoiningForces,gov.