“Thank you for your service,” that’s the purpose of Veterans Day, to tell those who wore the uniform that we appreciate them. Of course, the focus is on military service. But what often goes overlooked are veterans’ valuable contributions and service to the nation in civilian life.
Nearly 20 percent of our nation’s police officers are veterans. Close to 400,000 veterans own businesses that create opportunity and benefit their local communities. Tens of thousands have become teachers, transforming young lives by sharing their knowledge and devotion to duty.
Veterans also represent their neighbors and fellow citizens in state legislatures and the halls of Congress. Even though less than 2 percent of Americans served in the military during Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, currently 14 percent of state legislators, on average, and more than18 percent of the U.S. Congress are veterans. It’s worth noting that these are historically low numbers, but fewer Americans are joining the military today due to the smaller size of the military in the post-Cold War era. And the most recent generation of veterans is stepping up, last year, more than one-third of all veterans running for national office served after 2001.
Military service imparts valuable life lessons, as author JD Vance, who served as a Marine, puts it, “We think of the Marine Corps as a military outfit, and of course it is, but for me, the U.S. Marine Corps was a four-year crash course in character education.”
We are blessed that so many of our nation’s 18.5 million veterans use that education to continue to serve the country out of uniform.
For me, my character education began on November 13, 2005, when I stepped onto the yellow footprints at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Over the next 13 weeks, I faced fear, exhaustion, and uncertainty. I was forced to push myself beyond all logical limits. Boot camp broke me down then built me back up better and stronger. The drill instructors had done their job. When I left, I was a Marine, indoctrinated in love of Corps and country.
After 4 years and a deployment to Iraq, I returned to civilian life, but like those before me, dedication to service and my commitment to our country didn’t end. Gen. John Kelly explains, “One day, you’ll get out of the Marine Corps; you’ll put your uniform up, but you’ll never not be a Marine.”
That’s why I joined Concerned Veterans for America. Our group is made up of veterans from all branches. We’ve served in conflicts spanning from World War II to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and now we have rallied to serve again as active citizens. We fight to preserve the freedom and prosperity we sacrificed to defend.
As veterans, we bring a unique voice to the public square. We know the price of freedom, and around the world, we’ve seen what happens to societies when it is absent. We understand how truly fragile freedom is.
I am grateful to all veterans who, through public service, activism, and volunteer efforts, make their voices heard and help the country they fought for to become even better and worthier of their sacrifices. During these divisive times, it’s comforting to know our country can depend on those who have proven themselves capable of selfless service.
So, this Veterans Day, let’s pause to thank veterans for their service to our nation both in and out of uniform.
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Dan Caldwell is the executive director of Concerned Veterans for America. Caldwell served in the United States Marine Corps and is a veteran of the Iraq War.