TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Spend five minutes with this mother-of-two, and you’ll feel like you’ve made a friend for life.
Jeni J. has boundless energy, an infectious spirit and a heart of gold. The fitness instructor, who advocates a healthy lifestyle through dance classes, has spent her life serving her country and her community. In fact, her true passion is her patriotic past.
Jeni served in the Navy for nearly a decade, stationed in Guam. She traveled the world on multiple deployments.
She now enjoys her life as a civilian raising her two girls in the Tampa Bay area.
Each year on the day we recognize those who have served, Jeni looks forward to seeing fellow servicemen and women at Tampa Bay area businesses. Many local establishments offer Veterans Day deals to those who have served in the military.
But, Jeni seems to face a battle each and every Veterans Day. She said she is questioned for one reason: She does not have an active military ID card, even though she served in the Navy from 1994 to 2001.
“I don’t feel entitled to receive anything. But, when you serve, you don’t like that service to be questioned. It’s just the principle of the matter,” Jeni told 8 On Your Side. “I wish more major corporations knew that you don’t have to be active military to be a veteran. Again, I’m not asking for anything for free. It was an honor to serve, but when we are doubted on our military service, it hurts.”
So, Jeni has taken an extra step to prove her military identity. She has uploaded her military papers onto her phone. She has a DD-214, which is a certificate of release or discharge from active duty.
While she received multiple commendations and an honorable discharge after her military service, Jeni said many businesses do not seem to accept and understand the documents she provides. “When you’re speaking to someone who obviously aren’t military and they don’t know, and they keep challenging me,” she said.
She and other veterans hope that by speaking out, they help others to understand that just because you’re not currently serving, your service should not be forgotten. “It’s such an amazing bond, to connect. You don’t even have to be in the same branch, but when you see fellow veterans on that day, there is definitely a connection there. I look forward to seeing them every Veterans Day,” Jeni said.