Paul Reickhoff, president and CEO of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, has an idea about a great, untapped American resource. He believes national service models based on AmeriCorps to harness and leverage the skills of military veterans and can “help people think about us as the cavalry, not as a problem."
It's a terrific idea – especially when you know the stories of vets who are riding to the rescue every day. They are the community service embodiment of the cavalry, not a condition.
Disaster Calls Vets to Action
A deadly, headline-making EF-5 tornado a thousand miles away instigated a New York American Legion Post 1080's disaster relief drive that collected a flatbed truck of supplies. Two days later, a four-man volunteer team of veterans that spanned eras and conflicts arrived in Joplin, MO.
"I was shocked when the New York guys pulled into our parking lot," said Howard Spiva, a local Legion post commander. "I was even more shocked when they opened the back of the truck and I looked in. It was more than I ever dreamed it would be." The cavalry had arrived.
Global Mission Team Comes Home to Help
Jake Wood and fellow Iraq veteran William McNulty formed Team Rubicon with other Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to provide disaster service relief efforts around the globe. In 2011, the team came to Missouri with dozens of their fellow veterans, raised tens of thousands of dollars in disaster response donations, and saved lives and dreams.
Kasey Sands, 27, was one of the Joplin residents who received help from Team Rubicon. When she returned home, she discovered a dozen of the team members removing toppled trees from her yard.
“I asked them who they were, and they said they were veterans,” Sands told USA Today. “They said they like to help with peace and not just with war.”
The cavalry had arrived.
Leading the Way
Earlier this year, the Missouri House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution honoring the more than 300 AmeriCorps members from across the country who played indispensable roles in the Joplin recovery. The volunteers saved the area tens of millions of dollars and accumulated more than 49,000 hours of service. Joplin's citizens certainly know the value of our veterans here at home.
During his State of the Union Address in January, President Obama said that our freedom endures by “enlisting our veterans in the work of rebuilding our nation.” Whether one takes this figuratively or literally, our fellow Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are already coming home to continue their service by leading national and community service efforts.
Less than 1 percent of Americans have served their nation in combat. There is no doubt that many of us have faced challenges and continue to carry the wounds of war, both visible and hidden, yet those wounds do not define us. During the next five years, more than a million veterans will come home. As we welcome them back, it is important to remember that our veterans are not this nation's problem and they are not a condition.
They are the cavalry.
Koby Langley is an Iraq War Veteran, and serves as the Senior Advisor for Wounded Warrior, Veteran and Military Family Initiatives at the Corporation for National and Community Service.