A New Paradigm for Veterans

 

“What gives you #TangibleHope in the world today? How do your values and/or belief systems come into conversation with this #TangibleHope?”

Joe Jenkins is a U.S. Marine veteran and leader at the Washington-based advocacy group Veterans for American Ideals:

You learn a lot in the military. Sure, it starts with making your bunk, shining your boots, cleaning a rifle, and learning to march. But the real things you learn stick with you past boot camp and long after you take off the uniform.

One of the things that sticks with me happened in the fall of 2008. I was a young U.S. Marine sergeant aboard the USS Kearsarge on a humanitarian mission to Latin America. Servicemen and women representing nations from across the globe joined us aboard, and for a while the Kearsarge was a floating microcosm of the entire world. At the time, I already had deployments to Iraq under my belt and was no stranger to large-scale military operations like these.

Then, suddenly, a hurricane swept through Haiti, devastating the country. The Kearsarge was diverted to provide immediate aid, and it was there that I saw the true extent of what our military service members can do in this world.

For weeks, we spent every hour of the day filling water containers, loading food, and making deliveries to shore via helicopters and landing craft. Side by side with Haitian villagers, we cleared rubble and dispensed hundreds of thousands of pounds of life-saving supplies. It was back breaking work, but no one quit. Seeing the determination of the Haitian people, who, despite incredible suffering, never lost their dignity, moved and inspired me. Witnessing the resolve of our servicemen and women, working in cooperation with others from around the world to perform this one act of humanity, gave me hope. Looking back, moments like that show me the real meaning behind my service, and why so many continue to serve today.

I am part of a growing movement of military veterans that believe our commitment to a set of ideals, the ones that motivated us to serve in the first place, never ends.

Now, I am privileged to work with these same men and women again. At Vets for American Ideals, I am part of a growing movement of military veterans that believe our commitment to a set of ideals, the ones that motivated us to serve in the first place, never ends. As our country seems increasingly divided along lines of race, gender, religion, and politics, I see our military veterans becoming a powerful force that can bring this nation together. Our veterans are as diverse as the American populace, but are setting aside their differences in favor of the countless things that unite us.

I see military veterans speak out as a voice of moderation, civility, and reason.

On issues like ensuring America’s role as a humanitarian nation, and continuing our long-standing tradition of extending our hand to the downtrodden of this world, including the 65 million women, children, and families displaced in the global refugee crisis, I see military veterans speak out as a voice of moderation, civility, and reason. On societal woes like Islamophobia and racism, veterans are speaking up, combating rhetoric that is tearing at the very fabric of our American society and weakens our national security.

What gives me #TangibleHope is this new paradigm — one in which service members, those that are entrusted with safeguarding our cherished ideals of unity, humanity, and inclusion, are a continued voice in civil society. I consider myself lucky to see my fellow veterans working every day to better their communities, their country, and the world. It confirms a powerful truth: the spirit of service isn’t embodied by the uniforms we wore, but by the reason we put them on in the first place.

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Joe Jenkins Tangible Hope DiaryJoe Jenkins is a U.S. Marine veteran, former high school teacher, and leader at the Washington-based advocacy group Veterans for American Ideals, a project of Human Rights First. He is also a graduate fellow at the University of Texas’ LBJ Washington Center.

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