Veterans and those they fought for find common ground at town hall

Dec 16, 2016
Editorial
by Rep. Susan Davis

“I woke up inspired to listen today.”

“Thank you so much for this event. My heart is larger from listening to our brave and dedicated veterans.”

These are quotes from two members of the community who had not served in combat and recently attended a special Veterans Town Hall in Balboa Park, sharing their forum experience.

Military veterans who served in combat from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and a spouse whose husband was killed in Vietnam each had the opportunity to freely address San Diegans and describe their or their loved one’s combat service and what it meant to them. It was non-judgmental and solemn.

It was also powerfully moving, especially as we recently commemorated the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

This is where the power of these forums exists. The town hall brought these communities together in profound respect. They took a “deep dive” together to diminish the sense of separation. The community was present to witness the stories and validate our warriors. It also brought a gift for the town: an opportunity to listen, with an open mind, to learn and drop preconceptions. We heard how the desire for people to assign labels must be rejected — that these men and women veterans aren’t present to be pitied, feared or provided a diagnosis. They simply wish to return to the community and to live full, happy lives — much like all of us.

The warrior throughout history and in certain communities is a highly respected figure. Here at home, we have 1 percent of our population making up a dedicated all-volunteer Armed Service. However desirable it is that these service members volunteer, we are seeing the consequences of extended exposure to combat. With this minimal representation of the population serving multiple deployments, people back here at home do not know of the sacrifice freely given in the defense of our ideals and our nation. We have been a military at war but not a nation at war. This creates separation between these two groups in our community — the warrior and those they serve and protect.

At the town hall, combat veterans shared the interconnectedness that existed in their fighting units. One veteran shared the story of a Marine who said that if an enemy ever tossed a grenade at them that he would throw his helmet on the explosive weapon and smother it with his body. As the random and definitive hand of combat would have it, an enemy grenade was released in hand-to-hand combat with an enemy fighter and Corporal Jason Dunham did just as he said he would. He covered the grenade as it exploded, saving several Marines lives and that of the enemy combatant, while giving his own life. For this act of valor and devotion he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

During the veteran’s transition out of active duty military service, he or she goes from a warrior culture — or “us” culture — to our “me” culture here at home. With the fracturing of that communal sense of oneness and the primary care of each other, a combat veteran may become understandably disoriented and may choose isolation upon returning home.

Combat veterans have so much that they can bring to the community. Part of the contract that we entered into with them is that of those of us who do not serve will be there for them, as they were and are for us; to facilitate the same manifestation of love and that we are indeed all in this together. The forum allows this exchange. Hiring combat veterans and providing opportunities for them accomplishes this as well. Employers will see that they are the ones who are the beneficiaries of these motivated, loyal, responsible and accountable combat veteran employees.

We need to show veterans that they are not separated, but merely “away.” The promise in carrying on with these forums here in San Diego and throughout the nation is to bring people together to sit and listen; and in so doing, to heal. I am pleased to be a part of this new movement to encourage this kind of listening forum inspired by Sebastian Junger of “Restrepo” fame and my colleague Rep. Seth Mouton (D-Massachusetts). I will share the value of this event with my colleagues in Congress.