6 Simple Ways To Be The Veteran America Needs

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Soldiers from the 423rd Military Police Company march in formation to kick off the departure ceremony held June 12 at the unit located in Shoreham, N.Y. More than 500 family members, friends and community leaders spent several hours with the Soldiers. The 423rd will depart for Fort Bliss for training before deploying to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in support of military police operations for U.S. forces.
U.S. Army Reserve photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mark Bell

After more than a decade of intense fighting in two wars, America's servicemen and women are finally starting to come home. If history is any lesson, what’s next for the United States is a period of introspection, a focus on domestic issues, and the men and women who raised their hands to serve overseas will continue to lead at home. At Task & Purpose, we’re big believers in the idea that modern veterans will play a pivotal role in writing the next chapter of American history, but that’s a pretty daunting challenge. So here are six simple things you can do on a regular basis to help move things forward.


1. Vote

Military service is one of the best introductions to civil service; voting is another one, and it's a hell of a lot easier. You have a responsibility to future generations of servicemen and women to ensure you help elect thoughtful and responsible leaders. I don't give a damn who you vote for, but be politically active. Just, please, don't make political points in your uniform.

2. Go to a good school

The veterans who came back from World War II and went to college on their GI Bill built the great American middle class, and we need nothing less out of of this generation of veterans. In fact, a lot of great colleges can trace pivotal parts of their history back to accommodating post-World War II vets. Columbia University's School of General Studies, one of the top programs for veterans in the country today, grew from a need to accommodate post-World War II veterans. Even Sarah Lawrence College, a highly ranked liberal arts school outside of New York, first started accepting men after World War II. The current GI Bill is a remarkable piece of legislation that affords modern veterans every opportunity to succeed at great colleges. Go to the best school you can, and attack academia with the same fervor and ambition that brought you into the military in the first place. Just don't throw away your GI Bill on a shitty, for-profit online school.

3. Tell stories

True ones. Don't embellish. They don't even have to be about war. On a recent road trip, I had some friends laughing with a silly story from boot camp. For a lot of folks, military service looks like this big, intimidating, blurry entity. Shed some light on what it was like.

Related: The civilian-military gap is more of a drift than a divide.

4. Keep serving

After 12 years of intense and complex war, the burden of which was shouldered by an unprecedentedly small portion of the population, Americans need to spend some time and energy fixing things within our borders. As a veteran, you're remarkably well positioned to lead in this effort. Get in the trenches. There are plenty of organizations that could use the unique skill sets of American service members to help rebuild our great nation.

5. Dress well

I've spent enough time near military bases to know this is the hardest one, but I'm never going to stop telling you not to tuck your Affliction shirt into your jeans. There's a real correlation between substance and style; and if you want to play the part of a leader, you need to look it as well.

6. Be patient

It's not in our nature, but if you want to be the sort of veteran America needs you to be, you've got to be patient. The civilian population at large does not understand us. Some pretty infuriating and insensitive things are going to come out of the media or everyday interactions. Think, "All veterans have PTSD," or, "So, how many people have you killed?" These statements reflect the rift that exists between American veterans and the rest of the populace, and unfortunately, the onus is on you to bridge that divide, not them. So, crack open a beer, tell a couple war stories, and patiently enlighten civilians on what’s up.

Seven of the twelve Soldiers participating in the Army National Guard Military Funeral Honors Level 2 course at Fort Indiantown Gap practice folding the flag April 25. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Zane Craig)

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