In a relatively short period of time, Anthony Allman ’08 has done a lot to make us proud to be an American and a Bruin. After serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom, he attended UCLA and became a strong advocate for veterans’ causes. He helped established the Military Veterans Organization at UCLA, led an effort to give veterans priority enrollment, increased access to additional student services such as the Academic Advancement Program and spearheaded the creation of a Veterans Resource Office on campus. He also facilitated the introduction of the annual Entrepreneurship Boot Camp or Veterans with Disabilities at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. In this interview, Allman shares with us the history, inspiration and future of his advocacy efforts.
What motivated you to join the military?
Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I was just obsessed with airplanes and flying. Around the same time that everyone was preparing for the SATs and applying to college, I wanted to do something more adventurous. I enlisted in April 2001, before graduating high school. I knew I wanted to go to school, but I wanted to see if the military was the right choice for me.
I joined as a Patriot Air Missile Defense crew member, which is a bit ironic since I wanted to be a fighter pilot as a kid and I end up getting a job shooting down airplanes. I left for training in June 2001. One of the unique things about my experience is that I joined during peacetime and watched it turn into a wartime military.
You were 18 when you joined the military. How do you feel about the mental strength of 18 year olds who have to handle such intense stress?
A lot of people talk about mental health and resiliency training. But honestly, that’s looking back in hindsight. When the invasion took off in 2003, the idea of a soldier’s mental health was not in the public debate. These things were not discussed at all. We trained for a mission and that was it.
The resiliency and mental training didn’t enter until 2006 or 2007 right around the surge of repeat deployments, which was also something very unique to this conflict. We didn’t have a draft, and we relied on an all-volunteer force. We kept sending these units back over and over again. Some people were deployed 13, 15 times.
When did your work for veterans’ advocacy begin?
In August 2003, the government pulled us out because they thought the war was over. The out processing experience for military service members leaves a lot to be desired. I came back and didn’t even know I was a veteran. I thought to be a veteran you had to have served in WWII or Vietnam. The reintegration program, Transition Assistance Program (TAP), is a 2 week program designed to prepare you to leave the military. The problem is the information provided isn’t localized. This is important because each community is very unique in what they have to support veterans. Fortunately for me, L.A. happens to be very dense in VA assets. It’s not Anchorage, it’s not Des Moines.
I was at the Wilshire Federal Building trying to get my passport photo, and I wore my Army physical training shirt. A Veterans of Foreign Wars officer came to me and said, “Welcome home, are you a member of VFW?” I said, “No, I’m not a veteran, why would I join?” He pulled me aside and explained that I am absolutely a veteran. At that point, I knew that there was a huge problem. In fact, when I went to the VA hospital, they didn’t believe that I was a veteran. That just goes to show you that in August 2003, the VA was not prepared for what was to come. This is what inspired me to work for veterans’ advocacy.
I worked for VFW for four years, helping recently discharged veterans learn about their benefits. One thing veterans knew for sure was they had the GI Bill, but they didn’t know about other benefits. So I started reaching out to the local community colleges, where many veterans start their education experience to disseminate information.
I went to a conference in January 2008 where we founded Student Veterans of America. Originally, it was an association of 13 student groups across the nation. We rallied together to promote greater resources among college campuses for veterans and to advocate for the GI Bill, which at the time did not meet the cost of education. It was an incredible experience since we got to see it pass into law.
How did your military or UCLA experience shape you to be the person you are today?
I learned how to be persistent. It’s one of the great attributes you learn from the military. One of the underlying ethos of military training is you realize that you can do so much more than you think you can, especially as a team. You see that in the physical training. A lot of the times, you are just plain exhausted, but you can overcome a lot of mental barriers, which is crucial for me now as an entrepreneur. I was always intellectually curious, but I think UCLA amplified that.
Tell us about POS REP.
POS-REP is a mobile proximity-based network app designed exclusively for military veterans. It was inspired by the suicide of a colleague and friend, Clay Hunt, a two-tour combat marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. After getting injured in Iraq, Clay came home to recover from his injuries and then went through intense Marine Scout Sniper training and was again deployed to Afghanistan. Upon coming home, Clay became a very vocal veterans’ advocate. He came on MTV, and he spoke at Department of Defense events about his challenges with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the difficulties in overcoming it. He was doing PSAs and was a very visible champion for the post 911 veterans’ community.
Sadly, one day, we learned that Clay took his own life. It was at Clay’s funeral that my partners, Jake and William, discovered there were actually three marines who served with Clay that lived within 15 miles from him at the time. The question that we keep going back to is, “If he had known that they lived that close to him, would it have changed the outcome of things?” We will never know, but if there is a slight chance that we could prevent any future suicides, then it will be worth it. We had to try.
POS-REP uses proximity based network technology, which is in everyone’s pocket nowadays, to create a heightened sense of community. Our first goal was to address the shortfalls in the veterans’ reintegration process, but this can do so much more. As we talk to clinicians, this has the potential to improve the health of this community. We have a lot of interest from other countries who want to help their veteran population too. It’s the least we can do for these countries and for NATO who came to our aid when we engaged in the war.