Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome–A veteran’s career strategy

As we all try and sort out the senseless Ft Hood tragedy, my perspective was seriously altered this week. A few hours before the horrific news from Texas, I was in a briefing on a report on the state of veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. It was sobering and inspirational. Sobering to listen to the data and the stories of how we as a nation treat the men and women who return from war. The extent of their physical and their mental traumas. While they have endured unimaginable pain and suffering, their pride in serving their country and their ability to adapt and overcome their challenges was truly inspirational. Paul Rieckhoff, founder of IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America), used the unofficial mantra of the Marines, Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome, as a call to action for the veterans of today. These three words represent powerful advice for all of us to survive and thrive. But back to the plight of veterans.

A few facts about these wars that I think need to be emphasized: 

War

Deployed

Ethnicity

Gender

Ave. Age

Married

Deployment

Iraq or Afghanistan

1.8 million (to date)

Volunteer

71% white

16% Af.Amer

10% Hispanic,

3% Asian

89% male; 11% female

27

50%

Multiple tours

Vietnam

3.4 million

Draft

88% white,

 11% black,

 1% other

99.8% male

19

Mostly unmarried

1 year tour

  1. 600,000 troops have gone on multiple tours–some as many as 5
  2. 380,000 returning vets have traumatic brain injuries (TBI) according to Rand
  3. Veteran suicides are at record levels
  4. More than 2 million children of active military and veterans have been affected

While I personally know a few folks who were deployed through the national guard and reserves, I have thankfully never received a call or e-mail about the death of a soldier. Many of us have been protected and shielded from this brutal experience. Instead we are numbed by the violent scenes on tv and the stream of obituaries of local enlisted servicemen and women, now nearly 5200. 

Listening to the graphic stories of courage and personal injury that Ocatvio Sanchez (marines), Michelle Saunders (army) and Derek McGinnis (navy) told. Each of them suffered extraordinary pain and loss. They still struggle with their injuries. But each of them has made their experience and the cause of veterans a defining moment for advocacy. As Derek said, losing his leg was nothing compared to the inner pain and internal maladies he battles everyday. This is an amazing story about Operation Mend that does magic in the repair of soldiers' faces including Octavio's. Please watch it!

These brave souls who return to a less than hospitable homecoming, have been turning to the internet to seek support and network. Myspace and facebook have become the new American legion community halls. Community of Vets and other wonderful resources for veterans who want information and help confidentially. Did you know that a returning vet will not receive any services without applying for it? So connecting to other vets is pretty critical to compare notes and experiences. 

I will never see vets the same. I used to view them as the brave and the unlucky. I used to see them as a group of other people, like an esoteric profession that was outside of my interests and needs. I am ashamed of myself and now realize how wrong I have been and how much my respect for these soldiers has grown. But that has to be the starting point. It is a national disgrace. I think we all have to reach out and assist our vets, bring them into our networks. Make their care, education, and employment a priority. Make their homecoming commensurate with their courageous service. Not just on veteran's Day but everyday.

I learned many life lessons in a very compressed time frame. We all need to learn how to Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome in our lives and appreciate that we have the freedom to do so because of our veterans. 

Thanks for reading. John

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