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Columbia Goodwill Assistant Store Manager and Navy Veteran Reflects on Veterans Day

As we approach Veterans Day, Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee wants to shine a light on some of our employees who have served our Nation. This week, if you see a Goodwill employee wearing an American flag pin, please take a moment to thank them for their service!

When you walk into the Columbia Goodwill, you’ll see assistant store manager and Navy veteran Willie Wilkes hustling around the store, checking on employees at the register, monitoring donations, and chatting with customers.

Long before Wilkes found a career with Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, he discovered his passion for helping others. Wilkes enlisted in the Navy in 1977 when he was still in high school. He finished school and began his time serving in 1978. After completing his basic training, Wilkes served on the U.S.S. America out of Norfolk, Virginia. 

“I loved everything about it, and if I had to do it again I would,” Wilkes said. “It's an adventure, you get to learn a lot and visit different countries and get to know the different cultures around the world.”

Wilkes did a world cruise with the U.S.S. America in 1980 for a year traveling to different ports around the world, including Singapore, Spain, Italy, Africa and Iran. He said he’s considered a “shellback” because he’s crossed the equator six times.

“It changes your life, it makes you understand life and what life is about,” Wilkes said.

When reflecting on Veterans Day, Wilkes said it’s important to have a day to recognize veterans’ sacrifice and show appreciation and support.

“We’ve got to have the support of the community because some of us are hurting in the background and nobody even realizes it because some veterans may shield it,” Wilkes said. 

Wilkes said he’s found incredible fulfillment in his career with Goodwill because of the organization’s mission of changing lives through education, training and employment.

“Everything that Goodwill does, it helps somebody,” Wilkes said. “There’s nothing Goodwill does that’s not tied to helping people. Goodwill is showing them hey look, we are here for you and we can help you.”
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