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NFL & United Way Blog

Retiring U.S. Army Soldier Joins United Way in Search of Passion for Helping Youths

John Bennett was raised in Concord, North Carolina where he never saw the Army as a potential career opportunity. “I wanted to be like everyone else and go to college,” he said. “I never wanted to go to war.”

While Bennett was studying at Voorhees College, he was injured during a school shooting. After recovering, he began working at a K-Mart near where he lived. One day, a group of Army recruiters asked him if he was interested in joining. Bennett was very much against it, but his mom insisted he should at least hear what the recruiters had to say. Bennett ultimately chose to join the Army in 2001, because of his interest in traveling the world.

Since then, Bennett has spent the last 20 years in the Army, serving as a Religious Affairs Specialist, where he was tasked with protecting the chaplain during deployments overseas. Bennett was deployed twice during his career. The first time was to Mosul, Iraq from November 2003 to December 2004. His second deployment was from August 2007 to August 2008. He was stationed in Kuwait but spent most of his time in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now, Bennett has decided that it is finally time to hang up his boots and find a new career path, one that would afford him more time with his growing family.

He ended up joining the Hiring Heroes Program, a 12-week program created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that connects transitioning veterans to over 250 companies nationwide.

“I have a passion for mentorship for youth and bringing a positive impact to my community,” he said. “Whether it be financially, pushing youth to pursue a college degree or just teaching youth to be good people.”

United Way was not on the list of companies given to Bennett. Instead, he discovered the organization on his own and reached out to the human resources department. From there, they put him in contact with Tracey Holmes, Director of NFL Partnerships for United Way. Bennett was then brought on as United Way’s first ever Corporate Military Fellow.

“When I met with Tracey it felt like a match made in heaven.” he said. “I was able to combine my passion for helping youths with my passion for the sport of football.”

Bennett is a current Washington Football Team season ticket holder. In 2018, Bennet was selected to hold the flag for the team’s annual salute to service game.

Over the past 12 weeks, Bennett has learned about a variety of software programs such as Smartsheet and Salesforce, while also working within a diverse team in the nonprofit sector.

A fellowship like this helps veterans build their networking and professional skills, he said. It also brings down the level of anxiety that veterans may have when thinking of life after the military.

After the completion of his fellowship, Bennett hopes to work for the Washington Football Team’s foundation, helping to create charitable events for veterans like himself.