One Path To Meaning After The Military: Find A New Way To Serve

Here’s the seventh entry in our contest about how to find meaningful work after leaving the military.

Scott Cooper, director of national security outreach for Human Rights First, writes: “I spent 20 years in the Marine Corps, retiring in 2013. I failed miserably – hoping to avoid working for a defense contractor, but instead to find meaningful work.

It took me a year and a half, eventually making my way to Human Rights First, where I get to work at the intersection of national security and human rights. It’s an interesting and fulfilling place to be – and I describe my own role as being a bit of ‘connective tissue’ between two communities that share many of the same values, but which rarely interact.

Much of the work of Human Rights First is in the area of refugees. There’s a large cohort of lawyers with whom I work (we have offices in DC, NY, Houston, and Los Angeles), who provide pro bono representation to refugees and asylum seekers.

And from this work, we started Veterans for American Ideals. We’re a movement that is grass-roots, community-based group of veterans aiming to leverage military veteran voices to bridge divides and regain that shared sense of national community. We’ve grown to nearly 5,000 military veterans around the country.

I’m convinced that within this increasingly divisive political climate, veterans can be an important civilizing, unifying force. Our work is to amplify veterans’ experiences, leadership abilities, and credibility to combat the erosion of our democratic norms and to challenge the rise of xenophobic, fear-based rhetoric and policies that run counter to our ideals. We do this through nonpartisan advocacy, sharing our stories, engaging in community service and demonstrating the meaning and importance of active citizenship.

I’m truly lucky to get to work in this space. Because after all, your service shouldn’t stop when you take off the uniform.”