TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A Tampa Bay veteran is continuing to give back to her community after her service to the United States and is now receiving recognition in the Veteran of Foreign Wars #StillServing campaign.

Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Valerie Ellis Lavin decided to enlist in the Army after her first year of college, as her father did after her family arrived in the US.

Lavin served in the Army for 21 years and was deployed to Korea and Iraq and retired in 2014 as an Army First Sergeant after being stationed at MacDill Air force Base in Central Command.

After her service, Lavin began her first company, after going through the Transition Assistant Program (TAP).

Lavin said she was among many of her peers, regardless of rank, service, or age in the program was shocked at how many of these veterans were struggling through the concept of transitioning back to civilian life.

“They thought they had a plan until they started talking to other veterans that had transitioned out and they were looking for jobs, just the struggles of finding employments post-service. I was completely floored by that,” Lavin said.

She told her then boyfriend, now husband, that she had to do something.

“These are my comrades, my fellow service members that are struggling with the idea of transitioning,” Lavin said.

That’s how Lavin’s first company, Vets 2 Corporate was born. The company matches vets to firms that matched their skill sets.

“I grew up in the land of the free. I had the opportunity to not only serve the country just like my father did, but live the American Dream. Our country was built on the back on entrepreneurs and I get to be one of those entrepreneurs that continue to help our economy prosper, help my community become whatever it is they want to be, realize their dreams,” Lavin said.

Lavin then co-founded “Action Zone,” her non-profit that provides education regarding entrepreneurship education to veterans and their spouses.

“Action Zone” employs a “fail fast, fail forward,” mindset, teaching veterans who are used to failure not being an option in their missions.

Lavin is also the CEO for Luminary Global, which provides emergency and preparedness supplies to not just military and first responders, but civilians as well.

Luminary Global provides customizable kits of over 5,000 different items to various sources. Lavin said their biggest customer in Tampa Bay is the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. They work with the sheriff’s office to determine what size and what’s needed in a kit.

Items are placed in a kit in a step-by-step order of what an emergency would require.

The company provides basic first-aid kits, EMT bags, active shooter kits, long-term food items and MREs are also available.

Lavin said she had to use a hurricane kit herself in November for Hurricane Eta when her home was flooded. Her husband grabbed their dogs and stayed on the couch with their kit.

“Not being prepared could be detrimental to your life,” she noted.

Lavin is also in a director role with Bunker Labs, which helps military-connected entrepreneurs and small business owners succeed.

The VFW asks all veterans to submit their stories online to be highlighted in the #StillServing campaign.

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