Thursday, June 21, 2007

On Volunteering

One reason that I joined Soldiers' Angels is because it allowed me to become personally involved in supporting our military. I've been a member for two years (appx) and, at first, it was enough to quietly do what I wanted and needed to do, support our military. It was not about recognition for efforts made. For the most part, it was enough to get the replies from those I have served and the general feeling of satisfaction for having done my part in supporting our nation in a time of war.

The reason I started participating more fully in fund raisers and the public events was because I wanted to do more for our troops, but was not financially capable of personally doing more. Yet, I would read in the forums the alerts and the stories of those who had no support and my heart would ache because I could only read and wonder if they were being cared for or receiving anything from home, letting them know that there was someone who believed in and supported them. Then there are the Vets in the VA that I have known for a long time were not getting the kind of assistance they need. As a nation, we often feel like we make a law, create a branch of the government to take care of our people and then we go on, largely forgetting, imagining that we have done what it takes to provide for those who have served us in the past. Then we are shocked to find that it is not so and we wonder why.

What then is our responsibility? What is my responsibility?

Then I recalled the many days sitting around my grandmother's kitchen table, drinking iced tea and listening to her and my grandfather tell stories about their youth during World War II. My grandfather had joined the Navy at the age of 17 and a year later was at the battle for Okinawa. He wanted to join at 16, but his parents wouldn't let him. When he turned 17, he told them he was going to go one way or the other, so they signed the papers for him to enter service. My grandmother talked about volunteering as a candy striper at a local hospital, wrapping bandages, the civil defense efforts, victory gardens and many other events: volunteering.

It struck me that I had been overlooking the most important part of volunteering and support. It isn't about the money, or more specifically, my money. It was about my time and what I was willing to do. The inspiration had been with me all along. I remembered that the reason my grandparents' generation was the "greatest generation" was because they harnessed the power of our nation. Not just the industrial power, but the power of the people when they are inspired to work towards a greater goal.

In my previous efforts in fund raising and collecting donations to provide for our troops, I met many people who wanted to help, but they didn't know how or where to begin. Most were very happy to have an opportunity to do so. What they lacked was inspiration and information. People are excited to find out that there is a way in their community to give back to those who give everything. I realized that, while our men and women in the military need to hear from us that we support them, our communities needed to know that there was a way to do it. Right here in their own backyard.

Right now, as I write this, our troops are in a big fight in both Afghanistan and Iraq. They volunteer, not because it is compulsory as many nations still require, but because they believe in something greater than themselves. They want to be part of something greater and they believe that they share a duty, a responsibility and even an honor to defend and protect their country, its beliefs and, most importantly, the people.

They come from our community. They are people that we know. Sometimes, until they leave us, we don't know that they are serving our nation. Mainly because it is simply what they do and they are not ones to publicize that anymore than we announce to the world in general what we do.

For me, and I hope for you, what they do is important, inspiring and honorable. It is unbelievable the sacrifices that these men and women make for our country, for you and for me. I know that there are far flung bases in many places that are nothing but a few huts, some tents, some sand and a flag pole. They aren't all living it up in Saddam's palaces or downtown Kandahar. I know there are places where our men and women are washing out of a bucket and brushing their teeth with bottled water because there is no running water. Toilets are "latrines" like we've seen in many a movie: a hut with a hole. They get mail and supplies once a month. There is no store or PX around the corner to run and get deodorant or toilet paper or something to eat when the dining facility has closed down for the day before they could return from an eight hour mission that turned into sixteen.

They are living and sometimes dying just as it has always been in war, just as our parents and grandparents did in the wars we all know from history: in conditions most of us could never relate to even on our worst camping trip. Add to that the long separation from family and friends and the very real possibility of being wounded or dying and you find that there is something more to it than people looking for a job or college tuition. It becomes the very thing that our founders believed in and fought for so long ago. It is "WE THE PEOPLE", our people, "providing for the common defense" of our nation. It becomes the noble act of sacrifice that not every generation has been called to. It becomes the very spirit of our nation from its inception: the struggle of Man against the elements, against all odds, to remain free.

I am living here free because of the generations that have come before and paid the price for me. I am living here without fear because I know that men and women stand watch somewhere for me. I am living here without want because they protect our borders, our seas and all the places from whence the very food, clothing, fuel and technology I use every day is purchased and delivered. I have witnessed the birth of democracy, the freedom of nations and people around the world. It is free nations and the spread of freedom that insures a future, maybe somewhere distant, where the best of Man is celebrated and brings the full potential of man to the fore. Even the potential someday to explore the very depths of the ocean and the heights of heaven.

I have all of these things, the freedom from want and fear, the freedom to worship. the freedom to dream and the freedom to live because I was born in a place and time where others still believe it is their duty, responsibility and even honor to insure it continues.

I had to ask myself recently if I was doing enough to "earn it". Not just for me, but, as my grandparents and parents had done: earn it for my family and future generations of my family and Americans. Because, that is why we exist in such prosperity and freedom today. That is why the United States continues on for generations. Because some one paid for it in advance.

The answer for me was, "Not yet." Maybe never, but the important thing is that I am going to do my best to honor that sacrifice and pay it forward.

It is not just about "duty" or "responsibility". There is a great feeling of satisfaction and honor in serving those that defend us. In essence, it is serving our nation. There is a great joy in knowing that I have made a difference. There is a great feeling of humility, knowing that I have done so little and enjoy so much including and often the gratitude of those that I serve.

I now know why my grandparents volunteered and served our nation in whatever capacity they were able. THEY didn't do it just because it was a duty or responsibility. They did it because they were part of something bigger. They did it because there was joy in the giving. It made them better people. It made them the people that I remember who always helped others and gave to their community in small ways and large. It was the reason that they were the "greatest generation".

I want to share that with others. I want people to know that there is something beyond the mundane, something bigger that we can be a part of. I want to share the joy and the honor of serving our troops with my community. I want to share it with you. I want you to be part of my community. I want you to share it with others in your community.

Go out and talk to your local Commerce association, to your stores, to your local fire departments, your police stations, your city councils, your church organizations and every place that you can think of to tell them about the need to support our troops. Tell them about Soldiers' Angels. Volunteer at the local VA hospital. Go to or organize meetings with community Angels to plan projects in your community or just share the joy of serving others. After you make that first, small effort, I guarantee that, not only will the next be easier, but the sheer soul uplifting experience will make you want to do it again.

Today, in places near and far, someone is standing in harms way earning it for you. Don't have to ask yourself tomorrow, "Did I earn it?"

In memory of Leroy and Mary Henry, members of the Greatest Generation.

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