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5 Ways to Thank a Veteran
Like many of my fellow post-9/11 veterans I struggled to find my path and purpose after completing my service, and had a hard time connecting with those who had not served, likewise I sometimes found that civilians also had a hard time connecting with me.
According to recent research from the George W. Bush Institute, 71 percent of Americans say they have little understanding of the issues facing post-9/11 veterans, and veterans agree: 84 percent say that the public has “little awareness” of the issues facing them and their families.
I have not only seen these numbers play out as I was searching for a job, but also with the frequently asked question, “How can I do more to thank our nation’s veterans?” So, here are a few creative ways to say “thank you.”
Volunteer your time at the VA or other service organizations
The military is built around the desire to serve. If you really want to make veterans proud or show your support, step up in your local community. Find something that you are passionate about and give your time. Whether it’s in a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, a community project, your local church, or somewhere else, your service is wanted and needed by the world around you. There’s no better way to say, “Thank you for your service” than by paying it forward and serving in your local community.
Donate money or resources
Just as much as organizations need volunteers, they need money to fund their programs. If it’s within your means to do so, donating money to an organization of your choice is a fantastic way to show your support. It doesn’t have to be a big sum, either. Every dollar counts and nobody will ever look down on you for donating, regardless of the amount. A great way to get started with this is to visit Charity Navigator or similar sites to learn about what organizations’ missions align with your ideals.
Mentor veterans in your area
Are you experienced in some field of business or otherwise have some powerfully helpful advice for transitioning veterans? If so, mentoring a service member might be a fantastic way for you to give back.
If not for the many mentors I have had in life, there’s no way that I would be where I am today. I greatly respect, value and appreciate those who helped me along the road during transition and I still use mentors today to help me clarify, set, and achieve goals.
Hire a veteran
Few things that you can do have the same long-term impact as hiring a veteran into your company. Hiring veterans is a savvy business move that will allow you to bring on purpose-driven people who will go the extra mile to exceed targets. Veterans bring an incredible array of talents and abilities into the workplace and can make a great addition to your team. Whether it’s through an internship or full-time employment, many veterans from all ranges of the career spectrum are looking for their next mission.
If you are unable to make hiring decisions, career coaching, mock interviews and employment workshops are also excellent ways to help veterans understand the value that their military skills bring to companies around the globe.
Send care packages overseas
When I was deployed, we loved receiving care packages from all across the country, and when we first went into combat we received them regularly. Nowadays, there are still many service members serving all around the world, far away from friends and loved ones throughout every holiday of the year. Sometimes, the best way to say “thank you for your service” can be simply sending letters, cards, or gifts from home to military members deployed overseas.
A simple web search will reveal everything you need to know about what, how, and where to send care packages. Some of my personal favorites included personal notes, drawings from children, drink mix, wet wipes, t-shirts, holiday decorations, and international phone cards.
Regardless of how you choose to say “thank you,” it is always appreciated. Whether you do it through time, volunteering, gifts, or other means, it can really make a significant impact on military service members and their families. Most importantly, please know that none of us sign up for a “thank you,” we do it out of a desire to serve the country we love and it is our honor to serve the American people.
Corporal David J. Smith joined the Marine Corps in 2003 and served as an Infantry Rifleman and Team Leader with Alpha Company “Raiders” of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. He was deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During his service, his unit was engaged in some of the heaviest fighting of the war to date including the battle of An Najaf in August 2004. Smith was honorably discharged in 2007, but upon his return to the States experienced severe symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress.
One event, in particular, hurt him the most. During an intense gunfight one night while trapped on the roof of a burning building, Smith caught movement and muzzle flashes out of the corner of his eye coming from a nearby alleyway below his position. He didn’t have his night-vision mounted because his team had been clearing through the building. Acting on instinct, Smith shot into that group of targets moving toward their position. It turned out to be a group of Marines and Smith wounded one of them. That warrior was sent home and had part of his foot amputated. Smith lost contact with him for many years and he didn’t know how well he was doing. It was the single most painful, regrettable moment of his life. Knowing that he had injured one of his own, “It haunted me for years.”
Afterwards, Smith says, “I had a very hard time admitting that something was wrong. Instead of taking responsibility for my transition like I should have and asking for help, I tried to ignore it all because it was painful and embarrassing and I didn’t want to appear weak. Ultimately, I found myself staring down the barrel of a shotgun. That’s when I realized I just couldn’t fix the problems on my own and I needed help.”
Smith participated in his first event with the Bush Center in 2012, riding in the W100k just a month after he had contemplated suicide. At that time, he remembers feeling like his heart was going to explode every day from all the emotions he was finally feeling again. It was really nice to be biking and laughing among other warriors. Since then, Smith works towards providing transition assistance for fellow veterans and eliminating the stigma of post-traumatic stress. In February 2015, Smith participated on a panel discussion with President Bush and three other veterans about transition in hopes it helps someone else avoid the same big mistake he almost made. “Seek the help you need and you’ll respect yourself for it.”
Today, Smith is a great example of Post-Traumatic Growth. He has re-focused himself, overcame obstacles, and is living a rich, fulfilling life. After graduating from UC Berkeley, Smith interned on the New York Stock Exchange, delivered disaster response with Team Rubicon in the Philippines, and traveled to almost 30 countries doing missionary and humanitarian projects. He finished those projects in December 2014 and moved to Norway, where he lives with his wife and works as the Chief Marketing Officer for Dogu AS, a software start-up company, while running a veteran transition resource blog on the side.
“Day-to-day life is amazing,” says Smith. “I don't struggle with depression and anxiety, I'm not afraid to fall in love or show my emotions, and I work hard to be a great man every single day. I refuse to let past failures or experiences shape the way that I view the world. I’ve never been happier, healthier, or more at peace than I am today.”
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