The Next Greatest Generation Comes Home
On Tuesday USC's Price School for Public Policy hosted a conference presenting the difficulties veterans face when returning home from war. The conference focused specifically on unemployment and homelessness as well as other difficulties many veterans have when assimilating to civilian life. Most importantly the conference highlighted the difficulties veterans face internally, those of self worth and drive, that follow them after their service.
A variety of veterans spoke about their experiences in and outside of combat and described how the difficulties of coming home could be more strenuous than those of war. The loss of community and sense of self is often devastating to many returning soldiers, not just among those who suffer from PTSD, but also within the greater veteran population who must find employment and housing after taking off the uniform.
The veterans however, are not without hope. The military provides vital skills that can be translated to civilian industry, what’s missing is greater utilization of services that can assist veterans in this transition. Programs like job skill training and college refresher programs can greatly assist in a veteran’s transition to civilian life but often go underutilized due to a dissonance that can arise after returning from service.
"We must not only have these programs but connect our veterans to them," said General David Petraeus, a current professor at USC and retired four star general whose most distinguished command came during The Iraq War. “Hanging up the uniform and leaving ones comrades and military life is often very difficult, neither going back to school or entering the civilian workforce is as easy as it might seem.”
Too often General Petraeus’s sentiments hold true. Young men and women who sometimes only a few months prior had been fighting under a unified banner for a combined goal find themselves without a sense direction once they leave military service. Civilian industry can seem banal, not for the lack of combat or adrenaline rushes, but for the absence of brotherhood and principal that guided their previous employment. Established programs do exist however that can bestow upon veterans the same sense of purpose they felt during their employment and utilize the skills they learned during their service.
"These hands that I had, these skills that I had, that were trained for war could just as easily be trained for peace," said Jake Wood, cofounder of Team Rubicon and veteran of The United States Marine Corps. Team Rubicon works to foster an environment for veterans where they are able to serve others, both abroad and domestically, by utilizing the skills they learned during their service.
Jake Wood and his cofounder William McNulty founded Team Rubicon shortly after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The Team rallied to assist Haitian natives in any way they could and according to Wood their unique background and skill set allowed them to “go to places (in Haiti) where other organizations couldn’t or wouldn’t go.” But the Team didn’t take on its present form until a year later when a friend and brother in arms of Wood took his own life and Wood then realized the cathartic potential that service in the post military life could have on veterans. Wood wanted to deliver to other veterans what he believed Clay had lost when he returned home from Iraq, “his purpose, his community, and his sense of self.”
But as Carl Castro, a 33-year veteran of the US army and recent addition to the school of social work, reminds, “many many veterans make a successful transition (to civilian life) because of the skills talents, leadership they learned while serving.” The problem with these veterans is that they fall off the map and do not have the opportunity to deliver assistance or at least provide data to aid in the assimilation of fellow veterans who may have had a harder time. What did these veterans do that made them successful and how can we translate their success, either through policy or other initiatives to aid struggling veterans.
Professor Castro emphasied the importance of strong relationships with family, friends, community and self. Relationships that can create a support network and bestow upon veterans "this sense of accomplishment, this sense of pride with what they've done, this ability that they know that they can tackle anything."
Like any strong aid program, veteran assistance must start at the core. It must create a positive mental foundation that education and employment can build on. It must create a sense of self worth and pride not only for the service that the veterans have completed but also for the work and service that the veterans will complete once they return to civilian life.
In the words of Jake Wood, “You can give a veteran a job and you can give him a roof over his head, but if he or she does not find purpose or value or community in his or her life than we are setting them up for failure. I believe this generation can be the next greatest generation…but what we need is for society at large to challenge us to do that.”