Veterans Day musings from a non-veteran

By Joy Portella, Minerva Strategies –

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never paid much attention to Veterans Day. Every year I call my dad, a Korean War vet, to thank him for his service, and I feel inspired by generations of veterans gone by – men who served and sacrificed in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. But contemporary veterans never touched my life. No one in in my family serves, and neither do any of my friends. I, like most Americans, am completely removed from America’s all-volunteer military.

This year will be different. Minerva Strategies is proud to work with the Schultz Family Foundation, the private foundation of Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz and his wife Sheri. Three years ago, they began a learning tour that led them from West Point to military bases across the country. They were inspired by the men and women they met, and learned about the unique skills our post-9/11 veterans have to offer. Earlier this year, the Foundation announced Onward Veterans, a national initiative that empowers post-9/11 veterans and their families as they transition to civilian life.

Onward Veterans invests in organizations that empower veterans to get better jobs, medical care, and reintegration services. But another significant aspect of Onward Veterans is engaging the rest of America – people like me – around veterans’ military experiences and the skills of those who have served.

One great example of this civilian engagement is the new book For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us about Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice co-authored by Howard Schultz and Washington Post Rajiv Chandrasekaran. The book is a hard-hitting selection of profiles of men and women serving on the battlefield and back on the home front. Also this week – on Veterans Day – will be The Concert for Valor, a star-studded celebration of veterans and their families on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. You can watch it on HBO; everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Tom Hanks will be there.

But the idea behind these initiatives is not to read a book or watch a concert. It’s to have a better understanding of veterans and their families – the talents they have, and the challenges they face – and to do something about it. If you own a business, hire a vet. If you can volunteer with a veterans service organization, do it. If you meet a veteran, ask her about her experience and insights.

A friend of mine whose boyfriend is an Iraq veteran recently bemoaned to me that veterans have become like “curiosities to many of us.” That’s a shame both for those who served and those of us who miss out on their perspectives, skills, and talents. It’s a situation we can and should change.