Since the 1940s, the Tampa Bay business community, led by the Tampa Bay Chamber, has enjoyed a close working relationship with MacDill Air Force Base — a vital part of our nation’s defense and an important training location for those who safeguard America. We understand the importance of promoting and supporting our brave men and women who serve our country. Military families, whether stationed here for a season or who have decided to call Tampa Bay home, are woven into the fabric of our community’s identity.
We’ve advocated for legislation that supports military family quality of life and worked with local employers to support hiring military affiliated talent. In the last three years alone, the Tampa Bay Chamber’s Operation Partnership program has assisted more than 750 veterans and military spouses with connecting to the local business community. Our local impact has been highlighted as a best practice in how communities can support military families and received national recognition as a 2018 Great American Defense Community by the Association of Defense Communities as well as received the 2021 Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Impact Award for Community of the Year.
But our work as a community supporting military families doesn’t end here. Watching the events unfold in Afghanistan over the last week, it’s important to realize that our military community needs us now more than ever. We have a responsibility to check in, reassure, refer, and follow up with those in our network who have a military affiliation.
The last two years have underscored the importance of community, connection, and mental health awareness. We’ve checked in on our teams as we were confined to our homes. We’ve checked in on our teams as we processed the implications of social injustice. And now we must check in on our veterans and their families as their military service weighs heavily on their minds and hearts.
Earlier this month the Department of Veterans Affairs stated that as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the impact of current events there has been a significant uptick in veterans seeking help. It’s important that as community leaders we’re investing in workplace well-being, and it’s important that we’re all aware of the resources available in Tampa Bay to refer to those who are seeking access to mental health services. Trusted community partners like the Crisis Center of Tampa, Steven A. Cohen Veterans Network, and Camaraderie Foundation are all ready and willing to assist.
Being a Great American Defense Community doesn’t mean our support of military service ends when the uniform comes off. We acknowledge their service. We acknowledge their sacrifice. And we acknowledge our responsibility to support veterans and their families as they continue to serve in our communities.
Katie Lopez is director of Military and Workforce Development for the Tampa Bay Chamber. Yvette Segura is the 2021 chairperson of the Tampa Bay Chamber and is regional vice president at USAA.