Originally written 28 Feb 2016, at the start of day 4 of a 4 day 161 run down the coast of Southern California in honor of fallen female servicemembers. Day 4 is dedicated to the vets, particularly the ones continuing to fight their personal battles every day. This run has been about honoring and remembering the fallen, but we must not forget the women and men that returned. The ones we see every day. The ones we can still support. Fox News asked me what I thought was the best way to support veterans, and I wasn't happy with my answer. So here's my redo.
Get involved. Pick a veteran's organization that you feel passionate about - I'd suggest Team RWB. If you're a civilian this is a great way to connect and understand veterans a little better; if you're a vet yourself, it's a great way to get that sense of community and camaraderie back. Maybe you can build ramps, maybe you can teach job skills, maybe you can run and guide hand cyclists, maybe you can donate some therapy time at the local veterans village. Maybe you can just spend some time with some amazing people.
Thank a Vietnam vet. This one is a big one to me. I can't count how many times someone has thanked me for my service this weekend--pretty much every time I mention that I'm active duty, I get a thank you. And--I'll only admit this here--it means a lot to me. I often don't know how to respond because I haven't been asked to do or sacrifice nearly as much as my sisters and brothers. I love my job and it really is an honor to be in charge of, and work with, the incredible people I have. But I like it. It feels like people support us. I always remember the Marine Corps Birthday ball in Chicago, I couldn't buy myself a drink. Now, this is Chicago, the dark blue liberal pocket of the Midwest. About 90% of those people said "I don't support this war, but I support you." Contrast that the experiences of my uncles when they returned from Vietnam. While those stories are theirs to tell, they aren't positive. I firmly believe that it is our nation's collective guilt on how we treated these servicemembers that has led to such a supporting nation today. They paid for this. And they are still around. So make sure you extend a handshake and thank them.
Offer a military perk. Hear me out on this one guys, it sounds superficial and people who know me know how I've felt about this. My feelings changed around mile 100 yesterday as I heard the stroller warriors talking about weekend trips. They were sharing locations and tips to make affordable adventures for the family. I started to think, man these women should have a military perks website or something. Then I realized that this was necessary. Military members (especially enlisted) don't get paid CEO salaries--I think that's pretty well known. To top it off, usually one spouse has to, or chooses to, give up a career to parent and run the house. It's incredibly difficult to find a high paying, fulfilling career that allows you the daily flexibility of supporting a military family, let alone one that allows you to move every three years. For these reasons, military families often rely on military discounts, free admission to parks, and other perks. Will some exploit this, come to expect it? Yes, and we as military members must do better. I still believe we are in service and therefore entitled to exactly what we signed up to do. And veterans please don't take this as my condoning the public shaming of businesses that don't offer military perks. You aren't entitled to it. But it is a nice kindness.
Get smart about veterans issues. Grassroots efforts, meeting veterans and interacting with them will be fulfilling for everyone, but policy change is what makes the big moves. Get smart on things like veterans homelessness, the VA, our mental health system. Then advocate for improvements.
Get smart about international security. The best way to support vets is to keep them alive and whole. Vonnegut once said war is bad for children and other living things. He was right. It's not the greatest of evils, nor is it inherently unjust. But war is a terrible thing and we should avoid it when possible. Get smart on how the international system works so you can understand it. This also just makes you a good citizen.
Reach out to vets. There are all sorts of articles out there that give you advice on how to talk to a vet, and while they give some good guidance they are not hard and fast rules. Everyone is different. There are no rules, except maybe one, be genuine and empathetic. You may say the wrong thing, but that's ok. I say the wrong things to people all the time.
Don't stare, include. This goes for everyone that is different. Inclusion is the name of the game folks.
Expect something out of us. Eric Grietens, in his book Resilience explains how his organization The Mission Continues, focuses on integrating servicemembers by asking them to continue to serve their communities. The rationale behind this is that we are happier and healthier when we are serving others - and I wholehearted believe it. We feel our best when we are contributing, when something is expected of us. Veterans aren't all broken souls that needed coddling. In fact I'd argue that most hate that. So expect something of us.
Pay your taxes. Because that pays our salaries.