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America is bitterly divided. Here’s how our nation’s veterans can bring us together

America needs your service now more than ever.

Editor’s Note: This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.

America is divided. We all feel it. We all see it. The election and its aftermath confirm it. 

As a nation that so proudly shapes its identity from the ideals of representative government, it is a tragedy so few feel their values are represented. Worse, many feel there is nothing they can do to change it. Tragically, some have resorted to violence. 

But, as Abraham Lincoln observed decades before he confronted violent rebellion, “there is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.” More plainly, violence cannot become an acceptable solution to these challenges.

Our country is not only confronting deep political fissures at home, but we are also faced with an increasingly complex and dangerous global landscape. To overcome both, our nation desperately requires leaders with a renewed sense of openness to bridge the divides. No candidate or party has delivered on their promise to bring America together, but there are citizens among us well equipped for this challenge: veterans.

If you proudly wore a uniform as we have, America needs your service now more than ever. As our nation anxiously begins a new year ripe with uncertainty, we call on our fellow veterans to step up and be the example of hope and leadership our society is hungry for. 

Faith in many American institutions is crumbling to new lows — especially the institution of government — yet trust in America’s military remains strong. This is no surprise. Americans are humbled to observe personal sacrifice for service to a higher cause.

Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last, offers a small but profound illustration of why perception of the military evokes such strong feelings of respect and admiration. Across our military, commissioned and noncommissioned officers follow an unspoken rule by insisting their troops eat before they do, literally putting the interests of others before themselves. 

This behavior is a manifestation of that leader’s responsibility and priorities, and it is symbolic acts such as these that allows trust to form within the ranks. Sinek explains, “Great leaders truly care about those they are privileged to lead and understand that the true cost of the leadership privilege comes at the expense of self-interest.”

Veterans took an oath to defend the constitution of the United States regardless of party, creed, or faith, and our fellow citizens respect us because of this. With that trust comes both opportunity and responsibility.

Consistent with our first oath of service, our renewed contribution to society starts with a desire to preserve the ideals that have made America a shining symbol of freedom. Remove the barriers that hold people back, bring people together instead of sowing seeds of division, and reject those who do the opposite.

And when the time is right, we must be the leaders our nation needs us to be. That means leadership in business, in education, in communities, and in government — including elected office. The values instilled in our service are building blocks that can rebuild the trust in our key institutions that so many Americans have lost.

In uniform, we learned to put aside differences for the sake of a mission. Failure was not an option, and this moment is no different. With that determination, America’s division will no longer be the irreconcilable barrier many perceive it to be.

If principled veterans lead, others will follow. When we stand together, we can overcome any challenge.