By Katie Lange, Department of Defense
Being a farmhand requires taking care of lots of animals, keeping their stalls clean and generally doing maintenance to keep things running smoothly. It’s a lot of work, but it’s something Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Daniel O’Neil does willingly, and for free.
When O’Neil isn’t doing his job as a hospital corpsman at Naval Operations Support Center Norfolk, Virginia, he volunteers at a nearby farm that raises cows, horses, chickens and turkeys.
Video by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Guire
“When you’re out here getting your hands dirty, you’re working hard and you’re not out there in a bar, goofing off, doing something wrong. You’re just helping,” O’Neil explained.
He’s been volunteering since he was a teen – and not always by choice.
“Before I joined the Navy, I got into a little bit of trouble in high school, and they sent me over to the youth association,” O’Neil remembered. “They said, ‘This is a really good place for you to get to know the community and help out.’”
He ended up loving it.
“I met some of the most amazing people there,” O’Neil said. “I did hundreds of hours of volunteer work while I was home, and I just loved helping other people. I figured that was my calling.”
He decided to continue volunteering when he joined the military, which had been his plan since he was a kid.
“In third grade, the Army actually came to my school in Humvees, and they were showing them off to us. Those guys really inspired me to want to join the military,” O’Neil said.
He picked the Navy, and when he got to Norfolk, he picked the farm for volunteering. Why?
“I met some guys who I was learning how to dance from. They were teaching me how to country dance,” O’Neil said. So naturally, they invited him to their farm for a lesson.
“I came out here and I never learned how to dance. They just taught me how to do farm work, and I loved it. It was awesome. I got to hang out with animals all day,” he said, admitting it’s been a good way to get away from his official Navy duties. “This is nature. This is what I really want to be doing in my off-time.”
And let’s be honest – there are some days where he doesn’t feel like doing much. We’ve all been there, right?
“Some days when I get off work … all I want to do is just go home and curl up into a ball. But there’s work that needs to be done, and if I’m not helping out, it’s going to put more pressure on other people to do the work that I should have been doing in in the first place,” O’Neil explained.
His motivation is pretty simple.
“The farm calms me down. If I’m having a stressful day at work, I can come out here and have a good time,” O’Neil said. “At the end of the day, I’m very proud of what I’ve done. I can rest easy knowing that all of the work has been done both at my job and through my volunteering work.”
So what are his favorite animals? The farm cats, and, of course, the horses, including Toby.
“He doesn’t like to run, so if I’m riding him, he’s going to go slow,” O’Neil said. “He loves it when I come up to him and give him his food every day. He loves being around people, but he doesn’t want to move quickly while doing it.”
Keep up the good work, sailor!
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