This September 11th, I have the honor of having been invited to appear in Glenview to facilitate a discussion about how best to bridge the gap that sometimes seem to be present between the military and Veteran community and the civilian community.
With over a decade of war behind us, and daily combat operations continuing, it is undeniable that our nation, like many lives, has been forever changed since that September morning, 11 years ago.
I am a service connected disabled Veteran, with service, on the ground, as a member of the US Air Force in both Southwest Asia and Somalia. After leaving the military, it took me almost a decade and a half to finally seek out the help and treatment I needed for my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
I had lost a series of good jobs and relationships, served time in State prison down in Texas, and even left the country to live in the canyons of Mexico before I finally “made it back”. As men and women demobilize from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, way too many are following in footsteps that I know all too well.
The world our military members leave behind before they deploy to a combat zone is never the same as the one they return back to when their service has ended. So, too, it is true that after such a transformative experience, many come home with personality changes that can make them seen like completely different people to their family members and friends.
These personal changes mirror, in many ways, the changes that American society has changed since the World Trade Center towers were destroyed, since the Pentagon was attacked, and since Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania.
An entire generation has come of age in schools without lockers; due to security concerns. Taking our shoes off has become part of our airport travel rituals, words like “Homeland” are part of our daily vocabularies.
I grew up just as the Cold war thawed, being raised in a military family, perhaps my focus was a bit more intense than others, but I vividly remember having “bomb drills” at school. Teachers told us to get under our desks and cover our heads in the event of a nuclear attack from the USSR.
It was never forgotten that millions of Americans and equal numbers of Soviet citizens could be destroyed with only moment’s notice. The combined death-toll on September 11, 2001 was 2,819 lives lost…a tragic number. But, the fear and uncertainty ushered into our lives that day still linger over a decade later.
In the years since these attacks, America has continued to become more and more politically and ideologically polarized. In the presence of an outside threat, we seem to have retreated into shelters of our own chosen beliefs and points of view, much like cold war era bomb shelters.
I now work under contract for the Texas Department of Health Services as a PTSD counselor and facilitator, assisting Veterans and their families to recover from the traumas of modern warfare. Learning to talk about issues that affect us, and to remain open-minded to all possible points of view is the beginning of healing for many of life’s challenges.
I also travel often, leading workshops and fostering dialog between Veterans and those that have chosen not to serve in our military. It all begins with mutual respect and a willingness to understand each other. Just as individual soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are finding that the way back into a well-adjusted post-military life is through openness and a willingness to share their strengths and challenges with others; I contend that the way back towards the Unity that we all deserve as citizens of the UNITED States of America lays in a willingness to simply start talking to and respecting each other again.
This September 11th, I hope that you will join us for a community discussion at in Glenview at 7:00pm for just such a discussion.
Just as many of our Veterans are working with admirable tenacity to recover from their physical and psychological injuries from war, we all have an opportunity to help our nation heal by sustaining a respectful dialog with each other.