Victoria Escudero, an Olive Garden server and active member of the U.S. Army Reserve, is devoted to helping veterans and their families. “I love serving them, both in the foodservice industry and in the military.”
A mortuary affairs specialist, she said she feels privileged to treat fallen heroes with dignity and reverence and to comfort their families during their hardest times. “It’s an honor and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” said Victoria, 25. “I am making a difference.”
Her military service includes four days of training a month, with another two weeks once a year. Beyond that are missions that take her away for weeks at a time, sometimes to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the remains of service members who die overseas are returned home.
Victoria said Olive Garden, where she has worked for three years in the Palmdale, CA, location, has been accommodating and supportive with her schedule demands. "They make it easy for me to take a leave of absence. They wish me luck and then they welcome me back,” she said. Victoria has served in the military five years, the last two of them in the Reserve.
“Just like with family, you hate to see one leave,” said General Manager David Akers, “but there is such a sense of pride when you see them making a difference and living out their dreams. And just like at home, the door always remains open."
Victoria described her military service as personal. “I almost always meet the families," she said. "I handle all the final preparations and funeral arrangements and we keep in touch.” She also sends sympathy cards and attends the funerals if the family asks her to.
She said she never cries in front of the families. “You have to be that rock. The family needs me to be strong, not cry with them. That’s not to say I haven’t needed a moment now and then behind closed doors.”
Last year, she served for several months in Germany exhuming the remains of World War II soldiers in unmarked graves so they could be identified using DNA and modern technology. The families really want that closure, she said. “For those of us in the military, it’s very personal and important that we leave no one behind.”
Military service has changed her life, Victoria said. “It reminds me that every day isn’t promised. Anything can happen at any moment. That realization prompted me to become closer to my family and friends.”
She looks forward to showing her appreciation to veterans who visit Olive Garden on Veterans Day. “When World War II veterans tell me their stories, I tell them about my Germany experience. It means so much to them and to me.”