South Portland man advocating for fellow veterans

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SOUTH PORTLAND — After serving in the Marine Corps for six years, Omar Andrews is now focused on advocating for veterans and has accepted a fellowship with Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree’s office to further that aim.

The two-year Wounded Warrior Fellowship will have Andrews acting as a c constituent services representative focused on meeting the needs of veterans and service members throughout Maine’s 1st District. He will be based in Pingree’s Portland office.

Andrews, 32, of South Portland, joined the Marine Corps with his bother, Max Anthony Andrews Jr., when he was 23 after leaving college because he felt uninspired by academia.

The option to join the military was always present, as his father, Max Anthony Andrews Sr., as well as several cousins and uncles all served in the military. Andrews said his father was able to earn citizenship through his service after emigrating from Jamaica.

The brothers joined boot camp together, but were eventually separated by different divisions – Omar became an infantryman, while his brother went on as an artilleryman – although the siblings were deployed in the Pacific region at the same time.

Andrews ended up serving in a Marine Expeditionary Unit in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern waters off the coast of Yemen and Syria.

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Andrews came to Maine to be near family. He said he did not want to continue pursuing a career in the military because it was physically strenuous and took a toll on his body.

“But I learned a lot of lessons in those six years,” he said.

Andrews is a senior at the University of Southern Maine, studying political science. He said his interest in politics, especially foreign policy, was developed while he was in the military, when his “eyes were opened” about how policies by decision-makers affected the individual lives of his military friends and colleagues, especially those in the Marines.

At USM, Omar is the president of USM’s student veterans organization, where he acted as an on-campus veterans services representative.

Andrews said the Marine Corps is the only branch of the military that can be deployed in conflict without the consent of Congress, just through a decision by the president.

His interest in political work was two-fold — to help veterans get benefits owed and also empower them. His first significant endeavor was addressing the student loan debt crisis as a whole and lowering interest rates for former military members through a student loan bill of rights, LD1507. The legislation was adopted by the Maine Legislature, but was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage and not overturned. Despite the setback, he will continue working on the issue, Andrews said.

Andrews said not every veteran has the same, or even similar experience, but acknowledged there is a common thread that binds them. Veterans are uniquely able to bridge gaps and find the commonality to work together and get tasks accomplished, he said.

Andrews officially started with Pingree’s office Aug. 5, including a training in the nation’s capital.  He said he will continue to work in policy and advocating for veterans, and was “ecstatic” to work in Pingree’s office and further his work and training.

“It’s natural to me,” he said of advocacy, likening it to being a squad leader and taking care of the people in your charge. “It’s similar, but I just don’t have to run 3 miles at 6 a.m. anymore.”

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaak@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JulietteLaaka.

Wounded Warriors Fellow Omar Andrews in Washington, D.C., during a training session earlier this month. Andrews is advocating for military veterans from the Portland office of Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.

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