Being a vet is not a cause, it's a calling

It is a calling to share with our fellow Americans our insights about true leadership, character and moral courage

Being a vet is not a cause, it's a calling

Colorado military veterans stand at attention while holding American Flags during the I-70 Twin Tunnel re-naming ceremony Sept. 11, 2015, in Idaho Springs, Colo. Colorado State Legislature passed the bill in April 2015 to re-name the tunnels to recognize and remember the nation’s military veterans. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Samantha Meadors/Released)

By Capt. Alex Gallo

Recently, we learned of the courage, character and selfless service of Junior ROTC cadet, Peter Wang. Wang was last seen holding open the door to allow his fellow students seek safety during the school shooting in Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The U. S. Military Academy at West Point posthumously offered admissions to Wang, stating: 

“One of USMA's priorities is to develop leaders of character who are committed to the values of Duty, Honor & Country. Peter Wang's actions on February 14 are an example of those principles & the academy honors his dream of being a West Point cadet with a 2025 letter of acceptance.”

To many in our society, Peter’s actions were heroic — above and beyond. To us, Peter’s actions are that of a veteran — an ordinary person put in an extraordinary circumstances, who selflessly stepped up and did exactly what needed to be done.

And even though Peter Wang had not formally served in the military, clearly he had already internalized the values and the selfless commitment to others that we hold dear as veterans. 

He also represented the best of the many young people that join the military all the time — those who were always a little different because they had the strength to stand-up for others against bullies, because they had the character to do the right thing and because they had the courage to speak the truth.

But being a veteran does not always seem to be about those unique and timeless values; being a veteran has become a cause. 

Today, veterans are the draw to the gala ball. Veterans are the reason for the fundraiser. Veterans are viewed as the victim, the problem — not the solution. 

Civilians think that veterans need them, when, really, it may be the other way around.

What if we reversed the polarity of the assumptions and norms about the role of veterans in our society? What if it were veterans who helped civilian society — through their leadership and their values?

What if veterans started mentorship programs for civil society?

What if veterans established programs that taught the leadership, values and ethos to civil society?

What if leadership and character actually became valued in society?

My fellow veterans, we are not a fundraising event. We are not a gala dinner benefit, we are not props for politicians and we are not a cause.

Being a veteran, particularly today, is a calling. It is a calling to share with our fellow Americans our insights about true leadership, character and moral courage. 

Veterans do need help. We need help transitioning into civilian life, navigating the job market and making the challenging life decisions that all must do. That’s why RallyPoint’s Command Post exists. It’s a place where veterans can interact with each other and help each other with these steps in life.

But this forum must also become a platform from which to change the way our civilian brethren view veterans.

We have so much to contribute to our fellow Americans. In fact, they need us.

So, we must step up. Let’s fundamentally change what it means to be a veteran in society today. 

Help change it from a cause to a calling.