For nearly a century our great nation has honored its veterans every November 11th, thanking them for their service with what former Chairman of the Joint Chief's Admiral Mike Mullen called a "Sea of Goodwill." I'm both honored and humbled each and every year for those who have shared their appreciation of my service in uniform. Yet, when recently asked by a good friend what would be the most meaningful way to thank a veteran for their service I told him give them the opportunity to continue to serve- long after they've served their country.
Purpose, passion, and a cause greater than ourselves- these are the things that make life worth living for so many of us- veterans or not. Whether you're a teacher, a doctor, a Soldier, or a parent, so many of us thrive when we have that reason to get up in the morning. One part sacrifice and many more parts reward.
The challenge we sometimes face is re-capturing that purpose through the transitions life presents us. A parent who finds themselves in the empty nest, a teacher who retires from the classroom, and a veteran who takes off the uniform, these are the moments of our lives when we may feel furthest from our intended purpose- both lost and vulnerable. Yet, if we can still find ways to serve, to give of ourselves, we retain our identity in the most meaningful of ways.
A teacher doesn't need to be in the classroom to teach, nor does a parent need to have a child at home to still be a parent, and a veteran does not need to serve in uniform to serve a cause that's bigger than themselves.
Shortly before my retirement I was part of charitable home-building project for lower income housing with an organization here in Washington D.C. The event organizer came up to me in the middle of the event, overwhelmed by the number of disabled veterans who were involved. She said "I want to help them...how can I do something for them?" Without hesitation I replied "you already are doing something for them, just look around you."
There are roughly two and a half million veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Tens of thousands transition to the civilian community every year. That collective "Sea of Goodwill" that Admiral Mullen described is an incredibly powerful part of helping them transition. Yet, perhaps what's even more meaningful is the opportunity to continue to serve as part of someone else's "Sea of Goodwill."
This Veteran's Day I will serve by being a dad, and as chaperone for my youngest son's class on his school trip, and for me that's about as meaningful a thank you as I could imagine!