Much has transpired since September 11, 2001, but one of my greatest inspirations has been the call to service that so many Americans felt in the wake of our national tragedy. We honored the selfless service of firefighters, paramedics, police, and other emergency responders. Faith organizations, community-based nonprofits, and other groups of caring citizens came together to help however we could. Many of us joined the military, or continued our service into the conflicts that followed. We woke up the morning of September 12, 2001, with resolute commitment to do more than we’d done the day before.
There’s been a lot of conversation in recent years about the “defining injuries” of this generation of military veterans as being post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI)–which is indeed important to discuss. But. I also offer this: that the defining characteristic of this generation of military veterans is our commitment to serve our country and our communities even after leaving the service.
In recent years, service has become a prevailing theme of a number of national veterans organizations that consist primarily of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Because not only do veterans have a strong ethic of service, and not only do we enjoy coming together as a truly effective team to do good work–serving in our communities also helps us reconnect and truly feel like the vital members of our communities that we are. But this isn’t at all limited to veterans of the post-9/11 conflicts. Many organizations are happy to include veterans of any generation, plus civilians who want to pitch in, too. It’s a win-win-win. Here are a few organizations I’ve been part of that have chapters all around the U.S. that I highly recommend:
Team Rubicon – Volunteer teams of veterans, civilian responders, and other hard-working civilians help with disaster relief in the U.S. and abroad, plus meet regularly for training and service projects in local communities. I deployed with Team Rubicon to the Philippines immediately after Typhoon Haiyan last year, and, to summarize, it changed my life. Plus I’ve put some good time into muck-outs, demolition, and other recovery work in my own community. Volunteer and get busy.
The Mission Continues – Volunteer service platoons in local communities build relationships and do great work with nonprofits in need at the local level. This is a growing, but nevertheless impressive program, and maybe the best way I can think of to feel deeply involved in my home community. Jump in on this and be part of its success–you’ll be glad you did.
Team Red, White, & Blue – Team RWB is focused on athletic and healthy social events for veterans and civilians who support them–but chapters get out and serve the community, too. Join up and meet some of the best people you’ll ever know, and do great things from there.
Someone asked me recently whether there’s a lot of duplication between these organizations. My response: absolutely not. Or at least not in what they do. The duplication comes from the fact that a lot of us are members of all three of these organizations, and it’s impossible to decide which t-shirt to wear when we have combined events. If you’re a veteran, please join, even if you don’t have a lot of spare time. You’ll meet amazing people, do important service projects when you can, and you’ll find yourself surrounded with high quality people who get what service is about and who will get behind whatever you’re trying to do in life. If you’re a civilian, the websites may not ask you specifically to join, but please sign up. Every chapter of each organization has its highly motivated civilian supporters who really matter to us, and who we rely on. So I’m inviting you.
But, not to be exclusive–a lot of VFW and American Legion chapters do service projects, as do many other veteran organizations. Plus there’s also been a move toward national service for all young people–not through legislation, but as a social movement. Gen. Stan McChrystal, Michele Flournoy, and other respected Defense leaders are working to get the Franklin Project off the ground, with the ambitious goal of creating the expectation that young Americans will each serve one year in paid positions that help Americans in need.
As Gen. McChrystal says, it’s great to be thanked for your military service, but what would be even greater is for all Americans to be able to thank each other for their service to our nation. Thanks to all of you who are out there doing great things. And to the rest of you–please get out there. You’ll be glad you did, and I’ll thank you for it.