Staff Sgt. Natasha Young joined the Marines out of high school and served two tours of duty in Iraq. But when her 12-year military career came to an end in 2011, the transition to civilian life did not come easy.
“When I took off my uniform I lost my identity for a bit,” said Young. “I didn’t know who I was.”
It was a six-month volunteer stint at the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center in Haverhill that sparked a change in Young. The 32-year-old Haverhill resident and Lawrence native now works to help other veterans get involved with community service.
Young was one of 14 women veterans to receive a Champions of Change award at the White House yesterday. The award was created as part of President Barack Obama’s Winning the Future initiative.
Young said she accepted the award on behalf of American soldiers killed in action. Attending the ceremony with her yesterday was a group of Young’s closest friends and her mother, Rene Betances.
“It’s very humbling,” Young said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. yesterday. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for me. I was the product of a single-parent home. I hope she’s proud of me. I know she is.”
Young said she met Michelle Obama before the White House ceremony.
“As the 14 women we honor remind us, they continue to answer that call as veterans every single day in our communities,” said the first lady. “And it is my hope that as Americans, the rest of us will step up to meet that example — to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and to serve all of you as well as you’ve served us.”
Young attended the Leahy and Oliver schools in Lawrence before graduating from Essex Agricultural and Technical High School in 1999. With college out of reach financially, Young went out one day to look for a job and met a military recruiter.