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Stand-To Scholar Series: Welcoming Veterans Home Again to the City of Brotherly Love

This piece is part of an ongoing series to highlight Scholar Alumni of the 2019 Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program who represent the diversity of those included in the cohort, as well as the diversity of work that is represented throughout the program and within the veteran space.

Article by Maj. Amy Bernard, USMC (Ret.) February 7, 2020 //   5 minute read

Carlo Aragoncillo’s love for Philadelphia is undeniable. Usually found sporting an Eagles hat and injecting “Go Birds!” into all situations possible, it was not a tough decision for the Rocky-loving, rowhome dweller to decide to apply for the city’s Director of Veterans Affairs position when it opened in 2017. Aragoncillo is now two years into the job and has elevated the office to a new level. Through building a network of local and national support and launching his workforce development program, Veterans in Public Service (VIPs), the office has become a resource for Philadelphia’s 61,000+ Veterans and their family members.

Aragoncillo was born into a military family while stationed in Japan, but at a young age relocated to the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Following his military roots, Aragoncillo commissioned as an Officer into the United States Army Reserve in 2011.  Throughout his combat deployment in 2016, his wife, Shelley Aragoncillo, looked for support and ways to stay connected to Carlo and their community. She took on a leadership role with a local veteran service organization and got involved in local politics, building her own veteran network within the city. When Aragoncillo returned from his deployment in 2017, his wife’s success inspired him to apply for Philadelphia’s Director of Veterans Affairs position.

Aragoncillo’s service in the United States Army Reserve has given him a unique perspective in his position, a first-hand account of the challenges veterans face when reintegrating into their communities. In recognition of this struggle, Aragoncillo has worked towards establishing an environment in the city of Philadelphia that is postured to welcome transitioning service members home.

As the nation’s first capital and the birthplace of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, the city of Philadelphia has not been living up to that honored military heritage. Aragoncillo said, “The city of Philadelphia is going through its own transition similar to the transition of veterans as they leave the service.” His focus in establishing this pathway is centered on three tenets, also experienced within the military:

  • Family / tribe
  • Structure
  • Purpose

By connecting returning service members with their community through both veteran and non-veteran organizations and by strengthening relationships with and between community leaders, Aragoncillo believes we can most effectively begin to bridge the gap in the civilian-military divide.

Aragoncillo’s professional experience made him a perfect fit for the Bush Institute’s 2019 Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program. As the only scholar who held a position of leadership at the city level, he had a particularly unique perspective on veteran transition with the ability to truly affect city and potentially state-level policies. Throughout the Stand-To program, Aragoncillo was able to connect with peers and build relationships with other government leaders working to make a difference in the lives of veterans. He characterized it as “a network of supportive, like-minded, visionary leaders.” 

The Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program inspired Aragoncillo to launch his Veterans in Public Service (VIPS) program in the city of Philadelphia.  It is a one-of-a-kind platform that provides transitioning service members a pathway to employment as well as a sense of purpose, structure, and camaraderie through being part of a “tribe.” Aragoncillo saw a good fit for service members who would be interested in transitioning into gapped public service positions where their military skills can be leveraged as a nearly direct match from military to public service.  The program is designed to identify and plug in service members to the Philadelphia community up to 365 days prior to separation or retirement. It builds a platform for veterans and spouses to partner with city officials through workforce development fellowships that turn into potential employment opportunities in public service. Utilizing VIPS, Aragoncillo hopes to show elected officials and decision makers how veterans are an asset to the community and how this program can help to ease the challenges they may encounter throughout their transition.

Carlo Aragoncillo has worked tirelessly throughout his time as Philadelphia’s Director of Veterans Affairs using his experience from the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program to reinforce the magnitude of success that can be accomplished through a strong network of peers. With deliberate collaboration across sectors to support veterans and their families, Aragoncillo has made the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Veterans Affairs a central resource for all service members and continues to fight for his brothers and sisters-in-arms by restoring Philadelphia to its deep-rooted history in our nation’s military.