Heroes in Search of Their Next Mission

A U.S. military veteran in AmeriCorps discusses a plan with a fellow veteran  in front of a laptop computer.
Dr. Joe Heck

Veterans Day is a time for us to honor all those who have stepped forward to serve in our Armed Forces. As we thank them for their bravery while in uniform, let us also celebrate the extraordinary contributions veterans make after their military service – and find ways to engage these heroes in new service missions at home.

Veterans gain unique skills and abilities through their military service, but some veterans find it difficult to match these skills with jobs in the civilian workforce. Many veterans overcome these hurdles by seeking out national and public service opportunities where they can leverage their leadership and problem-solving abilities to tackle challenges in their community. The camaraderie and mission-driven nature of the military overlaps with the mission-driven nature of government and national service. Nearly 40 percent of new, full-time federal hires were veterans in 2017, and more than 20,000 veterans continue their service in AmeriCorps and Senior Corps every year.

These numbers reinforce what the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service learned as we traveled across the nation last year.

Veterans continue to serve after they transition from the military, applying their skills and experience to meet critical community needs at home. During our travels, we met veterans whose new mission included fighting forest fires in Colorado, leading opportunity youth programs in Chicago, and serving other veterans at a VA hospital in Pennsylvania through Senior Corps.

One of them is Rebecca. When Rebecca was a senior in high school, she knew she was on her own to pay for college. She signed up for AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. She tutored, built trails, and painted houses. She used her AmeriCorps education award to pay her first tuition bill at the University of Colorado and joined the Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps. From Boulder to Bagram, AmeriCorps to Afghanistan, she credits every opportunity she’s been given to her national service roots. She says, “it’s all about service, no matter the uniform.”

Like Rebecca, I have some advice for my fellow veterans: never say "no" to a service opportunity.

As a teenager, I began my service journey as a rural, volunteer firefighter/EMT. Riding in ambulances and helping during emergencies piqued my interest in medicine. After medical school, I worked in emergency medicine, which led me to enter military service – as I wanted to take care of our troops in war zones.

As a physician by trade, I think that every American has a “service gene” and the Commission's job is to activate that gene. The goal: every American inspired and eager to serve. 

On Veterans Day, we celebrate and honor America's veterans who are already inspired to serve and have activated their service gene.

But if you are a veteran in search of your next mission – consider a second tour of service in your community.

Dr. Joe Heck is chairman of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. He is a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserve and represented Nevada’s 3rd District in the House of Representatives from 2011-2017. This op-ed originally appeared on The Hill on Nov. 11, 2019.

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