Veterans Day is a reminder to show gratitude for people who provide us our freedom. But in addition to showing appreciation, I hope Veterans Day is also a time for us to learn from these brave Americans.
According to the Department of Defense, in 2017 only 29 percent of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 were eligible to serve in the U.S. military and less than 8 percent of the total population have actually served. With an all-volunteer force, those that join are truly the best of the best. So what can we learn from these high performers?
First, they embrace challenge. Service members know that they will have to endure hardships from Day 1, starting with basic training and progressing to long deployments which will test them both physically and mentally. That challenge, of course, is part of the appeal because service members know that through hardship comes growth.
Their families also know this all too well. Those who remain back home are responsible for keeping children safe, loved ones cared for, bills paid, and the home life secure — all while counting down the days until their loved one returns.
Second, military veterans put the good of the team before themselves. In the Navy, they use the mantra “Ship, Shipmate, Self.” The mission always comes first and the needs of others supersedes personal desire. They push each other to get better and support each other. They train together, celebrate together and sometimes struggle together. They build trust and friendship to the point that they truly value others above themselves.
There is a reason that the military has the strongest camaraderie of any organization. In the military, diversity is a force multiplier. Service members come from all parts of the country, all ethnicities, all religions and all different ways of thinking. Yet they learn how to work together. They travel the world and experience many cultures. Our country can learn from veterans how to embrace differences and have a conversation with people who look or think differently from us.
Veterans strive for continual improvement. Training is arduous and ongoing in order to be prepared for any situation. Battle plans are drawn well before they are needed. There is a premium put on education and personal development.
Veterans never stop serving. It’s in their DNA. They are leaders in their community and civic assets.
Veterans are resilient. They learn how to overcome obstacles to achieve growth. This is a trait that many military members impart on their loved ones as well, because of the adversity they must overcome in holding down the home front. When we recognize that our lives are a series of successes and failures, we’re better equipped to handle difficulties once they inevitably arise. Despite setbacks and failures, our next success is not too far in the distance.
Veterans never stop serving. It’s in their DNA. They are leaders in their community and civic assets. Service takes many forms and they are all important. In the military, some serve during a time of war while others serve during peacetime. Some are called upon to perform combat operations while others support from the rear. And veterans will be the first to say that you don’t need to serve in the military to have an impact.
I’ve also learned firsthand that in those unfortunate cases where a loved one who has dedicated their life to service does not come home, the grief their family experiences is like no other.
That knock at the door changes everything. But by channeling grief into service, facing tragedy can ultimately become our biggest triumph. It allows us to carry on the legacy of service left by our loved ones, and gives us the opportunity to keep their memories alive while finding a new sense of purpose.
Following the death of my brother, 1st Lt Travis Manion, to an enemy sniper fire in Iraq in 2007, my family founded a national non-profit organization in his name that has inspired over 100,000 people to live with character and serve others.
Before leaving for his second and final tour of duty, Travis was asked why he had to go back to Iraq and he responded “If Not Me, Then Who…” That is the ethos of the Travis Manion Foundation community. No matter how seemingly small, we can all do something nice for someone else.
Sit with someone at lunch who is sitting alone, offer a helping hand to a stranger in need, take time to appreciate those that sacrifice so much for us — the veterans, the first responders, the teachers and the coaches. Appreciate all that you have and pay it forward. Every day have an “If Not Me, Then Who…” moment and do something for someone else.
On Veterans Day, I encourage you to thank a veteran. They’ve earned it. But, more importantly, I encourage you to also reflect on the qualities that make that person special.
Do something challenging. And if you fail, then learn from it and move forward.
Invest in your relationships.
Have a respectful conversation with someone who thinks differently from you.
Learn something new and commit to personal growth.
Above all, devote yourself to serving others. We all have the power to make a difference.
Ryan Manion is the president of Travis Manion Foundation, Gold Star sister to Marine 1st Lt Travis Manion, and a co-author of the recently released book “The Knock at the Door,” which shares the stories of three women from Gold Star families, and speaks to their unique responses to tragedy and loss. It is intended for any reader who has been challenged to demonstrate resilience in the face of struggle of any kind. Their vulnerability and resilience is a powerful reminder of the ways in which grief can change us for the better — if we let it.