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NEWS | Jan. 6, 2022

A Soldier strives to unify the local community

By Amn Mikaela Smith Joint Base Langley-Eustis Public Affairs

In June of 2020, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Israel D. Lopez was called to a meeting by one of his former commanders. Lopez’s battalion was coming off the tail end of George Floyd’s death. His commander wanted to give him and an assembled team an opportunity to talk about the incident and its effects. At the end of the meeting, Lopez’s former commander left the team with a challenge.

“So now that you've expressed yourself, what do you want to do about it?” he asked.

The meeting concluded.

These words were what first initiated Lopez to begin his endeavors of community service and later be recognized as the Military Citizen of the Year.

Lopez is an aircraft pneudraulics repairer assigned to the 1st Battalion, 210th Aviation Regiment, stationed at Fort Eustis as a training developer. He also serves as his battalion’s equal opportunity leader and the unit’s public affairs representative.

Despite his demanding jobs, Lopez has invested over 1,000 hours of personal community service throughout 2021. He has conceived projects to build unity and has created partnerships with local organizations such as the Do-Gooders of Hampton Roads, Community Knights and the Barrett-Peake Heritage Foundation.

Lopez has a vision.

“My vision is that we can use this event as a springboard to civil service,” said Lopez. “Because we have been able to partner with so many organizations, what we've enabled is that if you have a passion, we can help you find that passion or help your unit get involved in things and people that they may not have necessarily connected to on their own.”

According to Lopez, he believes in his work and its impact, because serving the community is important, especially as a military member.

“Everyone, at the end of the day, in the military is a leader. Even if you don’t see it, there are people in your community that look up to you, based on you wearing this uniform,” Lopez said. “Once you enter the service you become just a little bit more than just the average citizen.”

Lopez has experienced this impact first-hand.

In Nov. 2020, Lopez and his unit were working on clearing a cemetery that was overgrown with grass and weeds in Hampton, Va. The cemetery had long been left uncared for.

Lopez was helping put up a tent when a woman came over from a nearby bus stop to have a conversation with him.

“Hey, you guys come out here every month, don't you?” she asked.

Lopez paused in his work. “Yes ma’am,” he said.

“Why?” the woman questioned further,

Lopez replied, “It’s just something that we do ma’am.”

The woman broke down in tears. Lopez listened in awe as the woman explained how she has family members in this very cemetery that they were working in.

“These kinds of stories make it easy to go back out there every month. You don't get them all the time, but when it happens, it's amazing,” said Lopez. “It all becomes this huge teachable moment off of the power of positive action and what you can do when you apply yourself.”

Lopez’s hard work over the year of 2021 has been recognized and he has earned the title of Military Citizen of the Year.

“I wasn’t looking for an award, that was the last thing on my mind when we came up with this idea,” said Lopez. “The idea that I would be considered the Military Citizen of the Year- I can’t thank my commander enough. You never know how far something is going to go until it happens. I just happen to have an awesome command team.”

According to Lopez, this award means that the efforts his battalion has put forth matters. While Lopez may have won the award in name, he truthfully believes it belongs to his battalion.

Lopez’s vision remains strong and continues to strive to unify the community.

“Find something that you're passionate about. At that point it's not work, but something that you do because you care,” said Lopez. “It will never become too much, because it will just be a part of who you are.”