All combat veterans know what I am talking about. You feel guilty for things you've done, for things you haven't done, and for not giving as much as you could. Are these feelings productive and rooted in reality? Maybe not. But they exist nonetheless. My contribution to this war on terror pales in comparison with some of my brothers who are still fighting the fight, and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Simply surviving when others didn't causes the most guilt of all.
Looking back, my transition seems to have been relatively smooth in comparison with other stories I have heard. Like many, my scars are the kind you can't see. Others weren't that lucky. So I try to do what I can to support organizations like Wounded Warrior, the Navy SEAL Foundation, and the countless other charities that have sprung up since 9/11.
When I sat down to write this article, I realized that despite being a veteran I wasn't completely clear about the history of Veterans Day. Naturally, I understand its significance, but I didn't know the details of how and when it came to be. So I did some research.
In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words:
"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations..."
Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation's history, and after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word "Armistice" and inserting in its place the word "Veterans."
Now, 13 years after 9/11, we continue to have droves of veterans reentering "civilian" life and making astonishing contributions to our communities and economy. In 2013, 21.4 million men and women, or 9 percent of the civilian noninstitutional population age 18 and over, were veterans.
But what comes of these brave men and women who give so much to provide this great nation with the freedoms we cherish? I can assure you that, though veterans eventually transition back to civilian life, they never truly come home. This is especially true for combat veterans. And since they never truly come home, by default they continue to serve. They continue to wage a very personal war. It is a war that very few truly understand. Emotionally they live in isolation because they fear that only other veterans can really understand what they are going through. But in many circles it is also somewhat taboo to give in to these emotions and discuss them openly among your peers. To avoid vulnerability, they suffer in silence.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can come in many forms and be caused by almost any kind of traumatic event in someone's life. This is not simply an affliction of the modern day soldier. All combat veterans, including myself, have it to some degree. It is an inevitable aspect to service and sacrifice. But it doesn't have to be debilitating. Veterans must have courage, a new kind of courage: the courage to ask for help.
I just finished reading Steven Pressfield's historical fiction The Afghan Campaign, which tells the story of Alexander the Great's push through Afghanistan in 330 B.C. The atrocities that these soldiers both witnessed and participated in were unimaginable. In fact, much of what is written about in the book is quite similar to the mass murder and genocide performed by contemporary terror groups like ISIS.
The book closely documents the narrator's journey to becoming a soldier and the psychological transformations he experiences during years of brutal combat. He speaks of the soldier's inability to sleep and eat at times, of the horrible visions that plague his every thought. At the end, the narrator, though being given the opportunity to return home to live what would be a very comfortable life in Macedon, decides to remain. He had invested so much of his soul in the army and the fight, he doesn't see what value he could bring to anyone other than as a soldier. Therefore, he literally doesn't return home.
This is a belief many veterans have, and it is our responsibility to help them see the true value they bring to our communities and work force. My digital marketing agency, IMI, has five combat veterans, including myself, as part of our team. Each bring a unique skill set and unmatched life experiences that instantly places them in a uniquely valuable category.
But it is often difficult for employers to translate a veteran's experiences into applicable skills needed for a specific role.
What can easily be construed from a veteran's background is a different level of maturity, life experience, leadership capability, stress management, and persistence. These are qualities are very difficult to build within a team member who doesn't already have that foundation.
In the business world we often give promotions to those who sacrifice others so that they may gain. In the military, we given medals to those who sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. Imagine if we could harness that level of loyalty and commitment within our organizations?
Good leaders sacrifice for their team members, and in return those team members sacrifice for them and do whatever they can to execute the vision of the organization. Our veterans have already sacrificed for us. Let's do what is needed set them up for success so that they too may finally come home.