|Posted in News, Other Interesting Things on November 11th, 2011 by Randy Proto||
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This week I attended, for the second year, an event conducted by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and heard some extraordinary individuals speak about the sacrifice and struggles of our latest generation of veterans. In so many ways I found it inspiring.
The truth is, all veterans inspire me. But two individuals were particularly inspiring at the event: Marine Corporal Aaron Mankin and Paul Reickhoff.
Cpl. Mankin, a Marine journalist, was serving in Afghanistan when his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device (IED). 16 Marines were thrown from the vehicle. Six were killed instantly. Aaron’s entire body was horribly burned. He has since undergone over 50 surgeries. If anyone could get a pass for being bitter or throwing in the towel, it would be Aaron.
But Aaron isn’t bitter. Instead he is an upbeat highly articulate spokesperson for veterans’ issues; a likeable ‘regular guy’ who has dedicated himself to helping others as he raises a family of his own – and who is anything but ‘regular.’ I can only hope to become the man that Aaron is.
As of today, there are 47,017 veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. 47,017. They and all who serve deserve the best we have to offer.
Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA’s co-founder, graduated from Amherst and was working on Wall Street when he was called to active duty. On his return in 2004, I am sure he had a decision to make: what to do with his life. He chose to found IAVA with a lot of personal debt and a dream of helping his fellow veterans. In typical veteran fashion, he likely wouldn’t view that as an extraordinary decision. Today, IAVA is the largest, most prominent group dedicated to helping Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and has helped all veterans by becoming a major force for change and advocacy in Washington, DC and nationwide. Just take a minute to think about the difference this one man has made. Imagine that.
We set today aside to honor our veterans. It is the second of two such days, Memorial Day being the first, set aside to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in their service to protect and defend.
These two days are less than 1% of the days in a year – just as Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are less than 1% of the population. Said another way, 99% of us currently rely on 1% of our fellow citizens to protect the freedoms we so cherish.
And we officially honor them 1% of the time.
Reality check. That’s 99% less than we should.
These are the sons, daughters, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends who sometimes wake to gunfire or dirt or destruction while we wake to music or the sound of an alarm clock.
They are those who move forward into harm’s way while we wait for our coffee.
They miss the birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, holidays and so many other aspects of our normal routine.
They don’t begrudge any of us who have not served a single minute of the normalcy we have. In fact, having spoken to many of them, they celebrate the fact that we here have that normalcy. In some ways it is that normalcy and our freedom to have it that they fight for each day.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with our foreign policy one thing is certain, without this willing 1%, and the rest of our population who are living veterans from prior years – and the many who made the ultimate sacrifice – we would not enjoy the freedoms we so cherish. There are plenty of nations whose citizens do not.
We owe all who serve, in any capacity, in any conflict, at any time, a debt that is not easily repaid.
But ‘easy’ isn’t part of veterans’ lexicon and has no place in the dialogue about this debt.
My dad was a veteran of WWII. He came home, got a job, raised a family and built a home. I don’t know all of his struggles – he just wasn’t the type to talk about them. I do know I loved him, and he me. I know he loved his country and his fellow veterans. And I know that he would never say that his part of paying that debt to this next generation was too hard or costly.
And neither should we. Saying thank you to our veterans is nice, and they appreciate it. But the 12.1% who are unemployed would appreciate a shot at a job even more. The ones suffering from PTSD would appreciate better benefits, not lesser as some cuts being discussed in Washington might cause (haven’t they sacrificed enough?). The ones who want to complete their education would appreciate quicker, less costly paths to finishing.
These are the things that say thank you. Today, and every other day, let’s repay our debt.
Happy Veterans Day.