DALLAS, November 7, 2013 ― With one million service members leaving the military over the next five years, the discussions about veteran and military issues often focus on the challenges and potential problems veterans may have re-integrating into civilian life. Got Your 6 is an organization that wants to redirect the conversation on veterans to emphasize the special skills, talents and benefits veterans are bringing back to our communities. Their goal is to bridge the gap that has emerged between the military community, including service members, military families and veterans, and the civilian population.
Friday, nine veterans will tell the stories of their ideas and innovations at Got Your 6 Storytellers, an event hosted by Google and broadcast live online. These former service members are working in diverse areas such as disaster relief, technology, education, and public policy. They will talk about how they’ve applied the skills they’ve learned in the military to meet the challenges and solve problems in their communities.
Chris Marvin, managing director of Got Your 6, says the civilian-military divide is manifested by misperceptions and misunderstandings that civilians have about the military and veterans. “Many times the idea of a veteran in a civilian’s mind is an extreme idea, this portrayal that all veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder, or there’s lots of amputees, or lots of issues with unemployment.” Marvin said. “These things happen, but they’re more rare than most people think they are.”
Many of these misperceptions can be corrected by facts—for example, the unemployment rate is lower for veterans than for the general population. But primarily Got Your 6 hopes to use conversations and storytelling to correct these long-held misperceptions.
Marvin notes that focusing on the negative or the extreme is not uncommon in both news and entertainment. However, this focus is causing the nation to miss out on the resources veterans offer by having low expectations for them. As long as these misperceptions hold, “We’ll continue to see them as some sort of problem that needs to be solved, and not see them as an opportunity for our communities.”
While Marvin agrees veterans face challenges, for veterans, “Challenge is a good thing. Challenge is where you adapt and you overcome and you ultimately have your greatest success.” He believes communities should harness the potential of veterans by challenging them to step into leadership roles. “Veterans are trained to be leaders and they have the potential to become civic assets. Only if we empower them to take on that role will they actually do so.”
However, there is a cultural reluctance to make that challenge, particularly when it comes to talking to veterans from the recent conflicts. Marvin says while civilians are quick to thank military members and veterans for their service, most people hesitate to have more meaningful engagements. Most civilians are afraid to ask military members and veterans about their experiences, and misperceptions and cultural attitudes keep them from expecting and encouraging veterans to take leading roles in their communities.
To ameliorate this, Got Your 6’s primary call to action this Veteran’s Day is to ask of civilians is to have a conversation with a veteran. “It’s fantastic to tell someone ‘Thanks for your service,’” Marvin said. “But don’t ever do it without also saying, ‘What’s your name, where are you from, what did you do in the military,’ and most importantly. ‘What’s next.’” Conversations and sharing stories will do a great deal to bridge the civilian-military divide, says Marvin.
To facilitate this call to action and encourage engagement between civilians and military, Got Your 6 is focusing not only on the Storytellers event, but is also working with Storycorps’ Military Voices Initiative. Storycorps is a well-known non-profit organization that collects stories from people across the country. The collaboration with Hollywood is also geared to change perception and share the stories of veterans, as is their work with the History Channel’s “Take a Veteran to School Day.” All of these efforts are geared toward facilitating conversations, encouraging veterans to rise to the challenges in their communities, and bridging that gap between civilian and service member.
You can sign up now to view the Storyteller’s event live tomorrow morning. The stories will also be made available online.
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