Posted on September 11th, 2014 by Col. David Sutherland
As I reflected on what 9/11 means to me, I got to thinking about those with whom I served who enlisted after 9/11. This blog post is for them, and for all of our readers who came of age after 9/11.
There’s a good reason why the number of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will jump by 26 percent by 2016. These veterans joined the military after terrorism invaded the U.S., driving increased security and also increased patriotism and civic engagement. It was this desire to tangibly support their country that propelled many so-called “millennials” to volunteer for military service, even though it meant deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan.
I personally believe that 2 million Afghanistan and Iraq veterans, nearly two-thirds of whom are millennials, are poised to become our nation’s next “greatest generation.”
I led thousands of millennials during multiple tours in Iraq, including as the Brigade Commander in the volatile Diyala Province for 15 months in 2006-2007. I watched my troops carry out remarkable feats of bravery and perform selfless acts of courage. They demonstrated all the qualities one could want in the toughest of situations – smarts, guts and compassion.
But if I asked you today if you know someone who served in the U.S. military, how would you answer? Too often, the response is no. So to me, a good place to start is by connecting those millennials who have served with those who have not.
I’m committed to doing this because we now need the peers and classmates of these young veterans to step up and leverage their social connections to help support the next “Greatest Generation.” How can this new generation support its peers? It can be done through small, simple acts.
• Think local. Support an organization in your community that helps veterans such as Easter Seals. Volunteer once a week or once a month right where you live.
• Be inclusive. Through that community organization, you’ll meet many vets. Why not get to know one better through peer-to-peer mentoring? Introduce him or her to your social network and watch the connections grow.
• Encourage hiring. If you’ve created your own start-up, consider hiring a vet. You’ll be surprised at the leadership and organizational skills they bring to the table. Or ask your HR department to be more proactive in hiring young veterans for entry-level positions.
• Tutor a vet. If you’re still in school, see if your college has a Student Veterans of America chapter. Offer your services to tutor or review papers. It’s another way to expand your network and see a different world view.
Your generation has spent more than a decade at war. As we transition into peace, it’s time to reach out to the 1.25 million veterans who are part of the Millennial Generation. With just a small amount of your understanding, attention and support, they are ready to become the next “Greatest Generation.”
(This blog is adapted from a 2013 commentary published on PolicyMic.)