Connecting and Empowering Veterans, Their Families and Allies

For Veteran’s Day 2020, stay true to yourself and grow from the inside out

Elein Zemede
Keith Belisle

Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) is a strategic priority for Equinix, and that means together we create a workplace where all employees feel “I’m safe, I belong, I matter.” One way we do this is through Equinix Employee Connection Networks (EECNs). EECNs embody Equinix business objectives and values, and are formed around common employee interests, cultures and backgrounds. EECNs create belonging, career development, community connections and drive change. This month we are proud to launch the VetConnect EECN for service members, veterans and their families.

Veterans @ Equinix

As a global tech leader, we hire veterans in all areas of our business and data center operations. We believe that veterans bring dedication and team spirit to Equinix, and we’re committed to providing a smooth transition for veterans joining our company.

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VetConnect founding member Elein Zemede: Stay true to yourself

Joining the military was a childhood dream for me. I grew up watching “Rambo” with my grandmother and thought he was the coolest guy. When a recruiter came to my high school, it seemed like the perfect opportunity, so I joined the army when I was 17 years old. Unfortunately, my family was completely against it. We are from Eritrea, a country in East Africa that spent 30 years fighting for their independence. Coming from a place like that, my family could not understand why I would choose to go to war when they came to the U.S. to escape it. As the first generation American in my family, they saw education as the only pathway to success in America and urged me to pursue a Master’s degree or higher – they really aspired to seeing me in a career as a doctor or lawyer. Not having my family’s support made my military career tough, but I knew it was what I wanted to do so I didn’t let that stop me. I ended up staying for eight years and found lifelong friends that became like family to me.

Being a minority woman was also a challenge. While the military has come a long way in terms of embracing diversity, it is still not easy. You have to work really hard to prove that you are as smart and capable as your male colleagues, but that’s not unlike what women experience in the corporate world. In some ways, it might be harder for women in a civilian career because people don’t really know what you can do at first. If you are a veteran, however, people tend to have a certain level of respect for your capabilities. I feel like my military experience has made me more aware of how mentally strong and resilient I am, and that is something I can tap into in my everyday life now.

When I first left the military, I felt very uneasy with the lack of structure in civilian life, so it took a while to get acclimated to that. I went to school and had a retail job for a few years before joining the Opportunity Development team at Equinix. At the time, I didn’t know about all the resources and support for veterans, but I still felt like Equinix has always been very supportive. Everything about the Magic of Equinix culture has been true for me – I’ve always felt like I can reach out to anyone at any level for help and they will find time for me and make sure I’m taken care of.

It’s one reason I’m really excited to be part of the founding team for VetConnect. We want to create a stronger community for veterans, their families and allies, as well as an encouraging environment for their transition to a civilian career. We also want to raise awareness about the veteran programs that Equinix supports including partnerships with various organizations such as The Mission Continues, American Corporate Partners, Headstrong Project and Boulder Crest.

For a young person seeking a military or technology career today, my advice is simple: Stay true to yourself and be mentally tapped in. The resources are there for you to learn, so if your mind is in the right place and you are doing everything with integrity, you will be successful and you will make it through.


VetConnect founding member Keith Belisle: Growing stronger from the inside out

Despite being on track to attend college, as a senior in high school, I had no desire to attend. I wanted to find other means to grow as an individual and challenge myself. I started investigating the possibility of a military career and decided to join the Marine Corps. It seemed like a good fit that felt like a higher calling for me. Once during my boot camp field training, we were woken up in the middle of the night and told, “from this point forward, your training takes on a whole new role because the United States is officially at war.” Our combat phase in the Gulf War only lasted 96 hours but that is not something I’ll ever forget.

Keith Belisle wins Service Member of the Year during his time at Joint Command.  

After an eight-year stint, I decided to leave the military, and I joined a tech firm where I was a customer of Equinix. I was really impressed by what Equinix was doing, so after a few times applying, a technician opportunity came up with the Chicago data center. In terms of transitioning to a civilian career, many of the skills I learned during my time in the military helped such as how to be part of a team, lead others and conduct yourself professionally, working to the best of your ability and with integrity. At the same time, the culture is very different. You are going from a structured regimen where the expectations are very clear to something that is much less cut and dry, so you have to be able to figure things out on your own. But if you have the self-discipline to apply what you learned to your new role you can be successful.

One of the reasons I wanted to be involved in the launch of VetConnect is that I’ve always had a passion for helping the veteran community. A few years ago, I participated in an event that Equinix sponsored for Operation Surf. Operation Surf helps combat veterans who have sustained physical or non-visible wounds by connecting them to other combat veterans through compassionate mentorship, conversation and an uplifting surfing experience.

Keith Belisle with other veterans at the Operation Surf event sponsored by Equinix.

The other reason VetConnect is really important to me is because of my sons. When one of my sons decided to leave the Marine Corps to go to college, I was able to provide him with guidance and insight for his future based on the lessons learned during my own transition. And I felt that if he could join a company like Equinix that has these resources and community for veterans, that would really help him. As for my other son who is still on active duty, I know how difficult it was for me as a parent to see him deployed to the Middle East with all the uncertainty around that. That’s why we wanted to make sure that VetConnect wasn’t just for veterans but also there to support family members and allies.

Keith Belisle with his sons Jeremy (left) and Joshua (right) at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego

The fact that Equinix is fully supporting EECNs like VetConnect is a testament to how our company puts its words into action. Equinix truly cares about employees and by allowing internal communities to grow stronger through EECNs, I feel as though we are strengthening Equinix from the inside out. Equinix is the greatest company I’ve ever had the privilege of working for, and I am humbled and honored to be a part of VetConnect.

Keith Belisle in the Honor Guard (fourth from right)

Celebrating the diversity of Equinix’s workforce through EECNs

VetConnect aims to develop a sense of belonging for veterans, their families and allies within Equinix by creating an environment for continued empowerment and improvement. It’s the sixth EECN, joining five others which include:

  • Equinix Women Leaders Network (EWLN): promoting gender diversity and women’s leadership
  • BlackConnect: increasing, empowering and elevating black employees and allies
  • PrideConnect: becoming a leading global employer for the LGBTQ+ community through creating a positive space for dialogue, learning and allyship
  • GenteConnect: promoting Hispanic/Latino languages, culture and heritage while developing Hispanic/Latino talent
  • interASIANconnect: uniting the experiences, perspectives and voices of Asian and Pacific-Islander employees and allies to inspire community outreach, personal growth and career development

VetConnect will further expand Equinix’s focus on being a military-friendly employer globally through three pillars including:

Belonging: Develop a sense of belonging through community impact and outreach, dialogues, inspirational speakers and allyship.

Uniting: Nurture, educate, grow and support veterans in their career through talent programs, sub-chapters, members and social events.

Empowering: Create an environment of continuous improvements through training, mentorship, peer networks, skill-building resources and wellbeing programs.

Learn more about Equinix Veterans Careers and Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging.

You may also be interested in reading other blogs about Equinix and Veterans.

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