Good evening Sierra Club Nation!
I had intended to spend last week with the Western State College Outdoor Program, back country skiing in western Colorado. Western State is interested in pursuing more formal programming and education focused on getting the military community and veterans outdoors. It’s a great program all around, but I missed out on the skiing because so far Colorado has missed out on enough snow to get in the backcountry.
One of the senior lecturers in their program is an Australian Army Vet I met in the Boston Airport. I’m convinced that there’s a magnet inside all veterans that draws us together, regardless of when and where we served, and so it was that we began to scheme how we could change the world with our combined programming. What makes the Western State program different isn’t as much that they think they can help veterans, but that they think veterans can help Western State and beyond that, veterans can help the outside, more specifically in Western State’s eyes: the outdoor world.
It’s a shift in thinking from a public institution that is part of a larger trend I’m starting to see in the veteran space as we begin to move away from the idea that all veterans and military families need a service, to the realization that our veterans and military families have a lot of skills and experiences that society needs. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating for a cut in services to veterans and military families, in fact, many of them, specifically around mental and physical health, need to be bolstered up as we withdraw our troops from Iraq and begin the downsizing of our military. I’m advocating a strategy where we focus on the positives of military service and don’t pity our returning warriors.
Oddly enough though, in the non-profit space it seems that pity provides an easy fundraiser. Its not going to be an easy shift to make.
We have a choice to make in how we approach the coming draw down of 1 million troops separating form the US Military in the next five years. If its with fear and trepidation about what one million recently separated veterans will do to society and each other, I can guarantee you we’ll find a place for that fear and trepidation to root. If we instead, chose to view the introduction of one million highly trained, globally experienced, multi-dimensional thinkers who know how to operate in multi-cultural and high stress environments as a positive thing, you’ll see the veterans and military families of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as not the next greatest generation, but the greatest generation our Nation has ever seen.
How to make the shift in perspective? A few thoughts to start us off, but by no means, not an exhaustive answer:
First to the non-veterans:
Educate yourselves on the military. Learn the difference between an E4, an O4, and an M4 and the differences between AWOL, PTSD, TBI, OIF, and OEF. Learn about the wars, learn about the incredible, awe inspiring acts of every day bravery and courage our men and women in uniform perform daily. Don’t pity them for it. Honor them.
Second, to us, the veterans:
Meet non-veterans halfway. I’m here to tell you that most Americans, regardless if they're liberal tree hugging hippies, or right wing Tea Partiers, they support you, the troop and your family. Most often, they simply do not know how to get involved or welcome you home. Be the common ground. It ain’t easy, but seriously, when did we ever bow down to a challenge? We’re up to the task.
Third, to we, the veteran support groups:
Let’s work together. We’ve done a lot of damage infighting as to who has the best solution to a very complex set of issues over the last ten years. If we all work together, we can create a real spectrum of care to ensure our brothers and sisters in arms can be the leaders in society, not just the leaders in veteran society.
Fourth, everyone all together now!
Let’s find ways to work together. People want to support the cause, so let's let them and give them opportunities to connect to the mission beyond just a dollar donated. Make it fun, make it interactive, and make it meaningful. You don’t have to know how to work with veterans to work with veterans. You just need to be willing to invite veterans and military families to your next gathering or your next event. We’re people, just like you. We'll let you know how to help...once you ask us.
And of course, since you’re reading this blog, you know what’s coming next: GET OUTSIDE!
~Stacy Bare, OIF Veteran
Military Families and Veteran Representative to the Sierra Club
"Helping America's Military and Veteran Community experience the freedom of the land they defend"