Circling above the airport of Port-au-Prince, Jason Wood could see the devastation through his window. A lieutenant in the U.S. Army, he was in Haiti as the personal assistant to Maj. Gen. James L. Hodge, who was there to visit troops.
"You don't see that in Richmond, but you kind of relate it back to here," says Wood, who realized how easy it was to overlook the human suffering around you. At home, he says, "It makes you ask, 'What needs light shed upon it?' and 'How can I help?'"
At 30, Wood already has helped in significant ways. He spent three years in Iraq on three separate deployments — his truck was hit by a roadside bomb on one, luckily with no injuries — and returned home decorated with two Bronze Stars, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Army Commendation Medal. At the end of his commitment last year, Wood turned in his fatigues and came to Richmond.
"After seven years of service," he says, "I wanted to try out the civilian life."
Wood works with locally based defense contractor Logistics Management Resources, and diverts his service rigor into Higher Achievement, which mentors middle-school children in low-income communities. He now sits on the nonprofit's president's council, using his military logistics experience to help grow the organization.
His latest project with Higher Achievement is Emerge RVA, which aims to engage Richmond's young professionals in a life of service.
Indeed, young adults are tiptoeing on uncertain finances, relationships and new careers. But Wood's perspective is different: "One thing I've realized is that there's more to life than my problems," he says. "I want to reach out to a young person like myself, who wanted to serve but didn't really know how."