Once your eyes have been opened to a new reality it colors everything you see. As I continue to learn more about veterans and their families I find more and more that my newly discovered knowledge has effected the way I view all media depictions and discussion of veterans. Its like seeing everything through clear glasses for the first time.
Last night as part of my evening ritual of catching up on the news I had the pleasure of witnessing an interview with Assistant Defense Secretary of Public Affairs Douglas Wilson on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show”. The context of the interview (which can be watched here) revolved around Maddow questioning Secretary Wilson on the Pentagon’s decision not to allow New York City to throw a parade to celebrate the end of the Iraq war. Maddow held the position that it would be nice to throw a parade to celebrate and honor the veterans while the Secretary Wilson argued that we should wait to hold the parade until Afghanistan veterans are also able to come home.
Prior to learning more about military families and issues regarding veterans I think I would have agreed with Maddow in this discussion, however, knowing the things I know now I have a new appreciation for Secretary Wilson’s position. The idea of the parade originates from good intentions but they are somewhat misguided. By focusing only on the sacrifices and service of the soldiers we set up a system that sets soldiers apart and sees them as victims rather than accomplished and proud individuals. The parade celebrates their service as part of the military but the praise is not lasting and often does not translate into respect and opportunities in their civilian life. This disconnect between respect for military service and opportunities as a civilian is discussed in this article from The Washington Post.
What our veterans need is respect and normalcy. If we as a nation are really to respect those that serve in the military we need to adjust our society so that they can come back home and integrate into civilian life without difficulty. If we respect our veterans we will give them opportunities rather then just empty gifts such as parades. Our veterans need opportunities such as jobs, or scholarships to help them go to college. The perception that military jobs do not translate well into skills useful in the private sector needs to change.
The skills needed for combat can be very useful to soldier in civilian jobs if they are just given the proper training. Individuals trained in our armed forces are taught to excel at being resourceful, self-sufficient, adaptable, and to be good leaders who can collaborate well in groups. This skill set is sought for by employers and can be widely applicable to a variety of civilian jobs. The returning troops have the skills, what we need is the perception of them as “damaged” to change.
If you want to support the troops with real respect and to help facilitate opportunities for them, start a conversation about their skill sets and how they can apply to jobs and positions of leadership in the civilian sector. Encourage employers to hire veterans even if they don’t have experience with civilian jobs. Their adaptability and resourcefulness will enable them to learn new skills pretty fast. For more information check out Afghanistan My Last Tour.