Yesterday, I sat in a large conference room at the Washington DC Capital Hilton and listened to Colonel David Sutherland talk about his experience as a member of the armed forces for the past 26 years. Colonel Sutherland is the Special Assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff with principle focus on Warrior and Family Support.
He told the stories of brave men and women who he had worked with in war zones around the world. Many of the stories were gut-wrenching, as he recounted terrible injuries suffered, and battlefield bravery that sometimes cost young people their lives. He has seen more death and destruction in his own life than most people would be able to bear.
He shared how veterans returning back home were overwhelmed and confused trying to find their way back to civilian employment.
“Our Vietnam Veterans suffered in silence. But their experience made it safe for us to talk about the difficulties of returning from war. We don’t want to lock ourselves in basements and medicate our pain. Yesterday,(Wednesday, November 9), “eighteen veterans committed suicide,” he said.
“People often ask me what I think about the young people of today. I tell them they are amazing. They are hard working. They are smart, They are tough. They are kind. These young people endure unthinkable hardships. They see inconceivable violence. But they serve with honor and dedication and commitment. And these young people, when they return from duty, can be fantastic employees. But they need help. They need understanding. They need mentoring, and an integrated response from many sectors of society: churches, non-profit organizations, small, medium and large companies.”
I think there is a lot we can do as an entrepreneurial community to support veterans from all branches of the military. I doubt that many of them know about Startup Weekend, or Laid Off Camp, or creativity starters like Nanowritemo or coworking spaces. The camaraderie, and support that I find so prevalent in our vibrant world off the corporate grid would be a welcome addition to the more formal governmental and nonprofit organizations that support veterans.
My colleague Michele Woodward recently taught a career workshop to 150 female military officers at the Arlington Cemetery’s Women in Military Service Memorial . The group consisted of senior commissioned and non-commissioned officers, almost all of them combat veterans. Michele helped these bright, capable women, many of them mothers, navigate the new world of work with tools that work in this decade. I know that they will share these tools with the men and women under their command. Training military leaders in job search and business start up strategies is a great step to helping our veterans navigate the new world of work.
I could imagine my business partner Charlie Gilkey, himself an Iraq war Army veteran, training veterans in business formation and startup.
If we are creative, I am sure there are many ways we as an entrepreneurial community could share our knowledge with this powerful yet sometimes vulnerable population. I welcome your ideas and suggestions!
On the shuttle bus to the airport, I sat next to a retired Marine who told me about how confusing and awful it was to return to civilian life and work in a cubicle where “people were cunning and political. They would befriend me to get ahead, then step on me as they tried to move up in the organization. It felt very isolating. There were no mentors, no one who I could trust to get my back and help me find my way.” “We are just one percent of the population of this country,” he said. When I was in the Marines, of course I was surrounded by people who understood me. When I got out, I felt like a total oddball. We had a Veteran’s Day event at my church, and I was the only Marine in attendance.”
“War is vile,” Colonel Sutherland said many times during his speech. As for me, I do not wish for any son, or any daughter, of any person in the world to have to fight in any uniform in any war. It makes no sense to me and I hope we find the intelligence to resolve our problems in a civilized way, without having to harm and kill each other.
Until that day, which I do hope will come, I appreciate the tremendous sacrifices that our veterans have made. Thank you for your service.
You can get some tips for working with veterans and their families from the newly released report Employer Support for the Military Community.