Tackling barriers by giving back
November 4, 2008
At Pius XI High School in Milwaukee, recruiters were restricted to entering the campus only twice a year to offer military career opportunities. Staff Sgt. Angel Acevedo changed that.
As a graduate and former football player, Acevedo offered to assist coaching the school's junior varsity football team. He was given the job of varsity lineman coach.
"They wanted to pay me but I didn't think it was appropriate," Acevedo said. "I just wanted to give something back to the school."
The head coach knew Acevedo was an Army recruiter and that he could potentially recruit players. But Acevedo said he wanted to first establish himself as a football coach and build rapport with the players.
His commitment to the youth was unwavering. He took leave from recruiting in August to attend a weeklong training camp sponsored by the school. Through late October, he coached for three hours each weekday and attended game review sessions on weekends.
Not all players knew that Coach Acevedo was also Staff Sgt. Acevedo until mid-season. He made a point of not interfering practice with Army talk.
"Some of the players knew he was in the Army because he came in uniform before practice," said Jon Morales, a senior at Pius XI. "Everybody liked him, especially because he didn't yell as much as the other coaches."
Morales said Acevedo would talk with the players who showed interest in the Army after practice.
"He showed me what the Army did for him and what it could for me," said Morales as he began to consider the Army Reserve.
Eventually, Acevedo introduced Army physical fitness training into the players' regimen and ran drills alongside them.
"Sometimes he (Acevedo) would run with us. He was faster than any of the lineman. He either came in first or second," Morales said.
Acevedo said his intent in volunteering was to give something back to the school. Since he became a member of the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club in July 2007, he's learned he enjoys giving time for others. Volunteering at Pius XI was a perfect match because he credits the school for his success.
"People there had an influence on me," he said. "What makes me the Soldier I am today is based on the values I found at the school."
He also felt that by freely coaching the football team and showing concern for their future, the students would respond positively to him as an Army recruiter. Acevedo waited until the last game to follow through with those who showed interest in the Army.
He met his monthly recruiting mission with the help of other recruiters and the support of his chain of command.
"Without my teammates, I wouldn't have been able to volunteer as a coach," he said.
As a recruiter, Acevedo said he feels like he's overcome a major obstacle. He is now able to freely walk into this otherwise hard-to-penetrate school in uniform. The teachers say hello to him, the principal asks him for calendars, and the guidance counseling office prominently places Army pamphlets. He's succeeded in facilitating an Army band clinic at the school and introduced the battalion commander to teachers at an event at the beginning of the school year.
As an individual, Acevedo said he enjoys "being able to give back to the school and to work with these youth who, over the season, have matured and overcome a lot."
Morales said he was surprised to learn that Acevedo had contributed so much time as a volunteer.
"I wouldn't expect that from anyone," Morales said. "(His coaching) made me a better player and put me a better career path." Morales enlisted in the Army Reserve Oct. 30 as a light-wheel mechanic. He will ship to Basic Combat Training in the summer of 2009.