A few years ago I had the honor of speaking at a reunion of veterans from the Vietnam era. These great Americans gather together once a year to relive past moments, catch up on current ones, and respectfully remember and honor those that can no longer attend.
These veterans bonded as a group because they needed each other. Too few of them were welcomed home the way returning service members are today, and many of them had only their fellow veterans and their families show any real appreciation for their service and sacrifice.
We live in a different culture than they did. It is a wonderful thing that most Americans can separate their opinions about national policy from their gratefulness and admiration for the men and women that serve in the armed forces.
When I spoke to this group of seasoned vets about how culture had changed, they grew silent, remembering how difficult it was not just to go, but to come back. What they couldn’t know at the time was that their perseverance would change the culture and attitude of an entire country. When our aging veterans endured disdain and continued to show pride in their service, they slowly gained the respect of others. The haters, it seems, didn’t have the staying power our vets did.
These veterans continued to show their pride and patriotism, and it spread. Among those it affected were their kids, many of whom went on to serve. The military, it seems, has become a family business with nearly 80% of today’s recruits being the immediate relative of a service member or veteran.
I am one of those service members in the family business. I am third generation career military. When I retire later this month I will join my father, uncles, and grandfathers as a proud veteran. My reintegration into civilian life has already begun, and I couldn’t ask for a better show of support than what I am experiencing here in Florida. This is a veteran-friendly state! I would be remiss if I didn’t publicly thank Synapse who sponsored me as a Corporate Fellow through Hiring our Heroes, a program that helps service members transition into corporate settings, giving me a chance to settle into my new home town.
On this Veterans Day, I want to offer thanks first to those who served when it wasn’t popular. You endured and persevered. And thanks go to those who came after them, who benefited from their elders’ example, and then went on to make sacrifices of their own. Thanks go not only to the service members who volunteered to set their lives on hold to serve their nation, but also to the families who gave up the stability and peace of mind most Americans enjoy. You also serve!
I think it’s also important to thank communities like Tampa Bay that welcome service members home with open arms. It is remarkable how many people and businesses in this region are veteran friendly!
I particularly want to express my gratitude to those employers that see the value of taking on a veteran that might not have the exact skill match they are looking for, but hire them anyway. These employers are betting that the veteran has the drive, character, and values to be a great asset, and that they will learn the skills they need. Thank you for believing in the quality of our men and women in uniform, and for setting aside the short term benefit of hiring someone with a perfect job history for the long-term gain of having a veteran leader of character in your company.
I have spent the last few Veteran’s Days giving speeches in small communities, honoring those that have served, and thanking communities for their support of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coastguardsmen, past and present. This year, I get to be in the audience. I get to listen as the community honors the profession I have had the privilege to serve in for nearly three decades.
I get to see more of how our culture has changed from my father’s era to now, and how, together, we all contribute to keeping the culture of appreciation strong.
I hope to hear more about how we are moving beyond a simple “thank you” to actively reintegrating our service members into our communities. There are so many people who are hard at work doing just that, and many more who want to contribute in a real, meaningful way. There are many organizations whose purpose is to help both those actively serving and our veterans, and they need help doing so.
The fact that there are so many people who want to do more every day says more about our culture than anything else. We have a strong community, a strong state, and a strong nation, not just because we have a strong military and strong people serving in it. We have a strong nation because we have people in every community serving in their own way, and pouring out their love and support to those that serve in uniform.
And for that, this Soldier is eternally grateful.
Colonel, US Army
Corporate Fellow at Synapse