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Friday, April 13, 2012

Thank a Veteran

Advocating for veteran support has long been a passion of mine.  I grew up learning of the struggles veterans face when returning to civilian life from my grandfather, a veteran Marine. Now, a veteran myself, I know all to well the difficulties our service members deal with, in their attempts to find a new reality once they return from combat.

I wanted to write this blog today because I think it's hard for civilians to understand the position veterans are in, and why they face some of the issues that plague them after their military service is over.  I'm sure you've all read news articles highlighting the most common issues; homelessness, unemployment, the mental and physical conditions effecting many of our veterans.  But before you can begin trying to understand the cause of these issues, I think it's important to consider the biggest struggle our veterans face and that's the mental transition from active duty to civilian life.

The strength of our nation's military is based on a team mentality; everyone does everything the same way at the same time.  While serving, there are very few opportunities to make a decision on your own; most decisions are made for you by your leaders.  Regardless of what branch you serve, all members dress the same, walk the same, eat the same, operate on the same rigid schedule.  Now imagine the challenges one might face when trying to transition from that type of existence, back to a normal civilian existence.  No one is there to tell you what to do and how to do it, anymore.

Many of our service members, and especially those returning from combat, have been living their life in situations where every decision could mean life or death.  Upon returning home from war, it's difficult to find meaning in what most Americans know as everyday living.  There's a scene in the movie The Hurt Locker, that I think really sums up the point I'm making.

At the end of the movie, the main character has just returned home from Iraq.  While serving his tour, he was a part of a bomb squad and everyday he dealt with life or death situations.  In this scene, he's standing in the cereal aisle of the grocery store, just staring at all the boxes of breakfast options; unable to make a decision.  It's difficult for him to choose which cereal he wants to buy because the whole notion seems utterly ridiculous.  He's used to making decisions that will lead to continued life, or death.  Who cares what kind of cereal he picks out!

This scene really resonated with me, because I understand the struggle.  It's so important that our veterans receive the support they need to make a healthy transition to civilian life and I think the first step in that process is for all Americans to try and understand, or at least recognize, the issues our men and women in uniform are facing.

American civilians are blessed to have men and women who volunteer to serve and protect this great country of ours.  Because these people answer the call, others can sleep soundly in their own beds at night, they can enjoy family barbeques and work in the field of their choice, they can celebrate freedom of speech and of religion and they never have to experience the brutal reality of war. 

Our veterans sacrifice everything they have, many of them laying down their own lives, so that the rest of our people can enjoy freedom.  The very least owed to our veterans when they return home is to be shown compassion, gratitude and understanding.  I encourage everyone reading this blog to try and understand that returning home from war is just the first step down a very long road for our veterans.  They need all the love, support and recognition they can get. 

I hope you'll join me in my effort to raise awareness for these men and women and show them how much we appreciate all they have done for each of us.

Semper Fi!


  1. Well said Dakota. You are right that it is hard for regular people to understand what service members go through, and you are doing a wonderful thing to educate us all. I look forward to hearing more about it.

  2. I also agree regular people have support for soldiers when they are at war but when they come home they get forgotten about its wonderful that you are educating regular people so they know what the soldiers have to struggle with when they come home.

  3. This is outstanding and so true, Dakota. I work with active and retired service members with severe PTSD in a military wellness program in NY and re-integration is a major issue. I have never been in the military , but the more experience I gain working with these amazing men and women-the more I realize that civilians have no idea how difficult it is. Everyone says support our troops but not many take action. It is an issue that affects not only the service member, but the entire family. I am thrilled that you spoke so honestly, because I find that most service members would rather not share their experiences and this further blocks civilians from understanding their situation. Most civilian knowledge is based on movies rather than fact....Thank you for all you do. You are amazing :)

  4. Thank you for even taking this issue on Dakota. I agree with all of your words whole-heartedly. I do feel that you missed mentioning one other aspect of that transition. During their service, a vet and their family have a powerful support network of people, who share common battles and obstacles, including being away from extended family, deployments, facing death, or possible death, as a community, and many more. For the vast majority of us, that support system is never available after leaving.
    This was brought home to me especially clearly when about five years after my own service we moved into “base housing” on a base that had been closed for a decade or more. That sense of common community never existed because of the surrounding. It existed because of the people, the vets and their immediate families.
    Semper Fi and my personal undying gratitude brother!

  5. Well written. My father, 05/06/1927 - 02/24/1998, was a disabled WWII veteran. He spent most of his years after the war fighting for veterans and trying ot educate others of what veterans face after service and/or war. He volunteered significantly for various causes and was a leader for many veteran organizations such as the DAV, VFW and others. God bless our service men and women, past, present and future. Thank you Dakota for continuing these efforts and thank you for your service.
    Mike Hedlund

  6. Your words made me view veterans in a very different way. I have always had respect for them and thankful for their courage. I'm going to share this article with a friend of mine who is going through a tough time in her marriage now that her husband returned home. He is having a hard time adapting back to "everday life." Thank you Dakota for serving our country and educating those who have never been in ur shoes.

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  8. Thank you, Dakota, for speaking out on such an important issue. God has given you a platform and it warms my heart to see you using it to speak out and educate the American people. As the mother of a disabled combat Marine, I have seen, firsthand, how difficult the transition can be for our veterans. With so many veterans returning home with invisible wounds, we must educate everyone. We are all affected and our veterans deserve the best care and treatment that can be provided. Thank you for your military service and your continued service as a veteran. You make all of us from Kentucky very proud. If you are ever interested in speaking on these issues, I invite you to come on our radio show at We would be honored to have you share your message with our listeners.

  9. Dakota,

    I was so tired when I first posted here I had to delete and edit my reply.
    First,thank you for your service, I personally owe you a debt I can never repay. If I had to physically hold at bay an enemy who is determined to bring down this country and force their brand of their religion on us all, and indeed on the entire world, I would be sitting here typing in a burqa. I do not have the abilities that people such as you do. My own husband is a 30 year retired honor grad of West Point, the Army War College, he's Airborne Ranger, Malaysian Jungle Survival School, and received the Bronze Star for his work during the surge in Afghanistan. He did not get to take off his boots however, and he is serving in Iraq during the transition with the State Department. We own a small ranch in Texas and operate it as a retreat for the military, (including their families, because they quietly serve too,) and I want to point out to your readers two things I have discovered on my own, and then researched and found that there if a large body of well done research supporting my observations as I have worked with Soldiers and their Families. First HORSES, next MUSIC THERAPY, both of these things literally "knit" back the circuits of the brain. No one in particular understands why, but measurable scientific data proves it. One last thing... it isn't just the mental stress... all those explosions going on around a combat Soldier do physical things to the brain. IT IS VITAL TO NOTE THAT THOSE PHYSICAL CHANGES CAN BE UNDONE. TO ANYONE READING DAKOTA'S MESSAGE, DON'T GROW WEARY, DON'T GIVE UP, AND WE THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ARE BEHIND YOU 100%!!! I will be posting on my own blog soon the links for different research papers I have found concerning PTSD and its treatment. The human brain is a complex and remarkable thing, and has the ability to "reroute" around areas which are affected by many different aspects of war, especially with a little help. Again, thanks to each one of you, America is still in desperate need of patriots such as yourselves.