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Melissa Boatwright (front, left) with her 2019 Class of the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Scholars in Seattle, Washington, where they focused on veteran economic opportunity and strategic partnerships.

Veterans are More Than the Stories You are Hearing

October 10, 2019 5 minute Read by Melissa Boatwright
A narrow view of veteran storytelling is creating false stereotypes. Stand-To Veteran leadership Scholar Melissa Boatwright shares what her organization is doing to change society's view of veterans.

In 2015, during the first Battle Tested Veterans event, we did a cursory analysis of all movies related to veterans and the military. Of the 100 plus movies from the past 50 years, we found less than 10 had a lead character that was not a 24 to 45 year-old white male with anger issues. This narrow view of veteran story telling is not reserved just for the movies, a Google search revealed a similar theme: veterans as heroes or victims.

A screenshot from a recent Google search
A screenshot from a recent Google search
A screenshot from a recent Google search

Each movie and search played into one of three common veteran stereotypes:

  • Veterans are heroes, but not good hires
  • Veterans are broken, fragile, or dangerous
  • Corporations value officer veteran experience more than enlisted veteran experience 

In a 2009 Ted Talk viewed 20 million times, Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, it’s that they are incomplete.” 

Stories about the military community have power, but most Americans, particularly those who hold the keys to opportunity, are only hearing one version. That version prevents veterans from reaching their full potential in their post service lives. A recent study at Duke revealed that for certain roles, especially roles with strong interpersonal requirements, if all things are equal, hiring managers will choose a non-veteran. 

We have talked a lot about the misconceptions of veterans as part of the Stand-to Veteran Leadership Program, a collection of military community advocates learning how to make more of an impact in the veteran space. There have been so many times over the past five months where we’ve collectively nodded our heads and sighed with exacerbation when hearing others discuss the stereotypes facing our community. 

That’s why I was so happy to see Brandon Mixon, one of the founders of the Veteran Community Project and a veteran medically discharged for traumatic brain injury, on a recent Netflix “Queer Eye” episode. Brandon is a 24 to 45 year old white male, but the show shares all the many truths within him. He is a/an:

  • Dad
  • Husband
  • Nonprofit founder
  • Veteran advocate
  • Human wanting to live more in his values
  • Open-minded person
  • Vulnerable and nervous individual
  • Person struggling with insecurities and worthiness
  • Person who admits the weight and pressure that men also feel to be perfect for their families

In the episode, one of the hosts, Karamo Brown, says, “Communication is where the healing starts.” This is not a concept unique to veterans, it is a core part of our human experience, and stories are where connections start.  The science of storytelling tells us that stories change us. When we hear a story, our bodies flood with dopamine and oxcytocin to help us make memories and elevate our ability to be empathic. This allows the listener to mirror the emotional experience of the storyteller.   

In this episode of “Queer Eye,” Brandon shares his story so authentically and vulnerably, he gives the viewer a gift. He describes his discharge, the heartbreak, and self-loathing he endured when his military career unexpectedly and abruptly ended, and he imprints a piece of himself on the viewer. 

We need to share and hear more stories like Brandon’s – multilayered, human, full of love, and triumph. More stories like those of my Veteran Leadership Program classmates, professionals learning and growing together, exploring ways to continue to serve our country and our fellow veterans. 

At Battle Tested Veterans, we share stories of the military community’s corporate success to challenge common stereotypes about our community and help hiring managers at large companies appropriately hire more veterans. Our goal is that through story, veterans and their civilian employers will see their military service as a corporate strength and a competitive advantage. 

Melissa Boatwright is a 2019 scholar in the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program and the founder of Battle Tested Veterans (BTV), a nonprofit that uses storytelling as a device to challenge common veteran stereotypes, particularly among corporate hiring professionals.

If you’re interested in hosting a BTV event or to learn more about the program, email melissa@battletestedveterans.org. “Let’s smash some stereotypes together.” - Melissa


Melissa  Boatwright
Melissa Boatwright

Melissa Boatwright is the founder of Battle Tested Veterans (BTV), a nonprofit that uses storytelling as a device to challenge common veteran stereotypes, particularly among corporate hiring professionals. She also leads a business analytics team at LinkedIn that focuses on delivering value to LinkedIn's most strategic clients.

With her participation in Stand-To, Melissa is working to scale the impact of BTV into corporations around the country through more in-house storytelling events and customized veteran diversity program creation. Through her work at LinkedIn, she is also looking to drive research that will build a greater understanding of veteran underemployment more broadly.

Full Bio