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My Greatest Regret is Never Having Worn the Uniform

There is a lot of talk today about “1 percent of the population.” When most people hear that phrase, they immediately think of the smallest percentage of the population with the greatest wealth. They think of the ‘have’s’ vs. the ‘have not’s.’ 

What do I think about? I think about the 1 percent of the U.S. population who raised their right hand, signed their name on the dotted line, and volunteered to serve our country since the September 11th, 2001 attack on U.S. soil.  I think about the 99 percent of the population that has no clue or no connection to military service.  I think about a time when ‘out of sight - out of mind’ has never been truer.  I think about a time when most every family had some connection to military service – whether you were drafted or volunteered to serve, supported (and waited for) a spouse who served, were the parent of a child or the child of a parent who served – the entire country played some part and globally understood the meaning of service and sacrifice. 

Today...not so much.

Today’s all volunteer force is a different breed. Today’s military is a group of men and women who made a clear and determined choice to not only serve our country but, in essence, risk their lives in the process. Their reasons for volunteering are truly as varied as their backgrounds and experiences. In fact, I would venture to say that the military population encapsulates the most diverse workforce in existence. There are men and women from every state in the country, from small towns to big cities, from families living paycheck to paycheck to those from wealthy families, from the highly educated to those who obtained a GED, gay and straight (thanks to DADT), and of every possible ethnicity.  The most amazing story here isn’t necessarily the diversity, it’s that none of it matters because there is just one common goal amongst all military service members and their mission.   

While no group can be wholly stereotyped, what I have found about the military population is this: by virtue of volunteering, this is a group of incredibly diverse individuals who have demonstrated a level of commitment not fully known or recognized by 99 percent of today’s population. To voluntarily sign your name on a dotted line to: (1) serve your country; (2) be willing to put your life on the line and potentially pay the ultimate sacrifice; and (3) venture into the unknown is something each and every civilian should awe. While every service member has his or her own personal reasons for enlisting into the military – and while some of the reasons may be similar, each is a very personal story in and of itself. Maybe they come from a military family and it’s simply “in their blood;” maybe after 9/11 there was a need/desire to “do something” meaningful with their lives; maybe the thought of the education benefits earned – and being able to attend college after time served (often as the first member of a family to do so) – was a driving force; or maybe, just maybe, they didn’t have a direction and thought the military would give them one. 

I never served my country and am somewhat embarrassed to say that growing up, I never thought about it. It wasn’t something that was put on the table as an option or ever discussed. And since I didn’t know anyone who served (or who talked about their service), I had no clue whatsoever... just like the majority of our population today. However, that all changed a little more than 10 years ago, when I had the great fortune to manage a project that focused on preparing veterans with ‘barriers to employment’ (DOL-speak) to enter or reenter the civilian workforce.  Little did I know that project would have such a profound and lasting impact on me – professionally and, more importantly, personally.

Today, I live with one mission that is incredibly simple yet profoundly complex: to serve those who have served. I wake up every morning thinking of ways to help returning service members and veterans (many of whom are coming home with injuries requiring a level of rehabilitation and recovery that is incomprehensible to most) make a successful transition to the civilian workforce.

Knowing what I know today about the values and character of today’s service members and veterans, I want to believe if I had it to do it all over again I would have signed my name on that dotted line to serve my country in uniform.  Since I’m too old now, I will continue to my mission to serve those who have served... because it is that 1 percent that has made a tremendous difference in my life, ignited a passion in me that I never knew existed, and deserve not only to be thanked for their service, but offered an opportunity find a place that welcomes the home. 

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