TopVet: Terrance Holliday, Former Head of the NYC Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA)
Terrance C. Holliday, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs (MOVA), is passionate about New York City’s veterans. As a New York City native and retired Colonel of the U.S. Air Force himself, he deeply appreciates our military’s contributions and remains committed to serving his fellow veterans.
Holliday was born in Harlem after World War II. His father served in the war as a Sherman Tank gunner in the 4th Armored Division, and many of his uncles were also linked to the military. One had been a mechanic for the famed Tuskegee Airmen; another served with the 396th Infantry Regiment of the Hellfighters of Harlem, a WWII combat unit, the first African-American unit shipped overseas. A third uncle worked at the Pentagon.
As a result, Holliday recalls, “I was always running into these generals at a young age.”
In March of 1968, after graduating from New York City’s St. John’s University, Holliday entered the military as an Airman Basic with the New Jersey Air National Guard at McGuire Air Force Base. He served as a Technical Sergeant with the 170th Air Refueling Group, deploying frequently on training and operational missions critical worldwide. In February of 1977, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, a path that ultimately led him to Saudi Arabia in 1990 as part of Operation Desert Shield.
Holliday left the Guard in 1993 for the Air Force Reserve, where he worked with its National Media Outreach Office in New York. He supported public affair activities around the city, and found he enjoyed serving his hometown.
“It was a natural thing to do. And the opportunity was there to connect New York City to things military, and particularly the Air Force. I relished the opportunity to do that,” he remarked.
Holliday was also committed to education during this time as he continued to find ways to serve his local community. He taught at Aerospace History and National Security for the Air Force ROTC Detachment at the New Jersey Institute of Technology for five years. His influence within the military community enabled him to bring in top military officials to speak, a significant learning experience for his students.
In 2004, Holliday was promoted to Colonel and assigned to the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Directorate/Integrated Marketing. Amidst Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, he handled both internal and external Public Affair tasks via a series of active duty tours with the Air Force and Pentagon. As Secretary, he also worked as a strategic communications advisor to the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper and Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche. Subsequent tours led him to Central America, South America and Guantanamo Bay.
Holliday served forty years in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve before retiring. In 2007, he retired from his civilian career as well—which had moved parallel to his military career—as a special investigator at Allstate Insurance Co. “Allstate always received me graciously when I came back,” Holliday recalled.
Prior to becoming Commissioner in 2010, Holliday acted as Director of Public Affairs for the U.S. Air Force in New York, coordinating New York City’s first-ever Air Force Week, which seeks to educate civilians about the Air Force and give thanks to the communities that support it.
HELPING NEW YORK AFTER 9/11
When the Twin Towers were hit on September 11, 2001, New York State and City officials reached out to military with expertise in public affairs. Holliday heeded the call, working diligently as part of the New York City Office of Emergency Management.
City officials were under immense pressure, and each day Mayor Giuliani, Governor Pataki and Senator Clinton sought to address the city’s need. Holliday commented, “I was the guy who did everything on the overnight, preparing for the day’s communication and activities.”
These critical initial communications helped articulate the future for New York City and America in the post-9/11 era.
“The people in New York understand it well. I think 9/11 was a wide awakening,” Holliday said. “People have to understand that there are threats out there, and that our policy, military and security forces must make certain those threats are not executed.”
In 2010, Holliday was appointed Commissioner of MOVA.
“It was a challenge. It looked like something that I could do and veterans would benefit. I also felt I would be a better person and help individuals,” he said of the job.
The role of MOVA, established in 1987, is to advise Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on issues and initiatives impacting the veteran and military community. MOVA works with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the New York State Division of Veterans Affairs (NYSDVA), city agencies, veterans organizations and other stakeholders, to offer services to veterans.
MOVA also collaborates with other organization to ensure creative problem solving to the issues it faces. “Where we don’t have the information to do it, we punt and make certain that someplace out there does,” Holliday said. “That synergy is going to make us effective.”
One of the most important parts of the job to Holliday, however, is the “very small” things, which reveal his personal connection to his fellow veterans.
For instance, he says, “What I enjoy doing is walking up to a Korean War Vet and introducing myself, giving him my card and saying ‘if you need something, give me a call.”
Col. Holliday’s major military decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal; the Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters; the Air Force Commendation Medal; the Air Force Achievement Medal with 2 oak leaf clusters; the Global War on Terrorism Medal-Expeditionary and Service; Southwest Asia Service Medal with device. Additionally, he received the Air Force Award for Exemplary Civilian Employee and the Air Force Award for Meritorious Service in 2010.
Note: Elizabeth Drew Higgins, Veterans Advantage Associate Editor, edited this profile.