Leader Spotlight: Will Woldenberg

Veterans for American Ideals is recognizing veteran leaders who are continuing their service by building unity and standing up for American values. Through a series of interviews, we’re asking VFAI leaders to share more about how their service shaped them and what responsibility they feel veterans have to speak up on issues that relate to our national ideals.

Today’s interview is with Will Woldenberg, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn who still serves with the U.S. Army Reserve and recently graduated as the Distinguished Honor Graduate from the Signal Captains Career Course at Ft. Gordon, GA. Will is the founder and president of Entegrit, a management consulting veteran-owned small business (VOSB) and benefit corporation (B-Corp) in Philadelphia that empowers people, organizations, and communities of integrity to create a more balanced and stable society.

Tell me about your military service. 

My grandfather graduated from West Point and flew missions in the Berlin Airlift. I didn't think that I was going to follow in his footsteps to become an officer in the Army, but I was a junior in high school on September 11, 2001 and felt compelled to enlist. Neither of my parents had graduated from college so they urged me to look into ROTC scholarships first. I was fortunate enough to receive a four-year Army ROTC scholarship at Tulane and was commissioned in 2007. In 2010 I deployed to Baghdad as part of Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn and I continue to serve in the Army Reserve.

How did your service shape the person you are today?

My service in the Army continues to teach me every day about who I am, who I want to be, and who I want to avoid becoming.  Early in my Army career, I was challenged because I have unreasonably high ethical and moral standards for my leadership. To paraphrase Tony Kushner's screenplay for Lincoln, I tended to pay too much attention to true north, not realizing that in doing so I could get bogged down in a swamp or run face first into a tree. So, in the Army, I didn’t always agree with leadership and sometimes internalized those disagreements to the point of resentment. 

But whenever the institution bogged me down, the conceptof service brought me right back into the fight. I couldn’t allow my disagreements with leadership to imperil the lives of my Soldiers or the consequences it could have on our mission. Service always had to come first. So I don't think I would be as resilient as I am today if I hadn't learned how to fail and recover from the Army.

As a veteran, what sort of responsibility do you feel to speak up on issues that relate to American ideals?

I'm Jewish. And my last name is Woldenberg. That's important to note for the story I'm about to tell. 

In the 19th century, most of my family came from a small town in eastern Germany. Before WW2, there were around 150 Jewish families living there. Once the war started, the Germans set up a concentration camp in the town, which at one point, held around five thousand people. To give you an idea of the scale, I think the town today is only around three thousand people. 

There's no record of what happened to the Jewish families after the USSR liberated the camp, but it's suspected that every Jew living in that small German town, once named Woldenberg, was murdered. Now a part of Poland, the town goes by the name Dobiegniew.

One of the last lines of the Soldier's Creed is: "I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life."  We raised our right hands not only to defend the constitution, but to protect the concepts of individual liberty, social equality, the pursuit of happiness, and the protection of lives by our government. Those values, shared by Vets for American Ideals, should be the lighthouse to all oppressed people of the world, a signal that America should—and will—be open to offer them the protections we have fought for.

Tell me about one issue related to those ideals that is of particular importance or concern to you right now. What are you doing about it?

Without delving into political topics—since I continue to serve as an officer in the Army Reserve—I think it's critical for the public to remember that every Soldier, Marine, Sailor, and Airman/Airwoman swears an oath to defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic. That's our job and we'll continue to do that without hesitation, ensuring the protection of the ideas our country was founded upon.

What would you say to other veterans about the role that they can play in these issues as citizens? 

Three things: First, gather information from multiple media sources before you form an opinion. That's critical to independent thought, which allows you to focus on the values that are important to you. Next, social media is only as good as its ability to motivate you off the couch or out of the recliner. Issues that are important to you will wither unless you put in the hard work. Finally, remember what I said about Lincoln and getting bogged down in a swamp? Well, you can always fight your way out of a swamp or traverse a desert, but lose true north and you've lost the core of yourself.