2017-11-09 / Editorial

Legislator asks, ‘What do veterans want us to know?’

Legislative Lowdown
by Rep. Martin Grohman

As a legislator I have made it a priority to work with veterans. The finest honor of my legislative career was being awarded an honorary life membership in the Vietnam Veterans of America. The second best honor was being named the American Legion Legislator of the Year. While I am not a veteran myself, I’ve been fortunate to know and act on the behalf of real veterans. In hopes of obtaining a better understanding of what it means to serve, I asked our veterans what they would like the rest of us to know.

Today, there is no draft. It is an entirely volunteer force. The number of people serving in the military is a paper thin slice of the population. Less than 1 percent of us raise our hands to serve. It can feel like a thankless, underappreciated job.

I also learned it can be a tough transition back to civilian life. When you’re serving, particularly in combat, but also in the numerous support roles required, the transition back to civilian life is not easy. One veteran described returning from Desert Storm, throwing his backpack and cartridge belt on the lawn, and realizing it still had sand in it. The transition is abrupt.

Making a career in the civilian world isn’t always easy for a veteran who joined right out of high school. Twenty years in the Navy as a cook won’t get you a cooking job. Fortunately, this is changing. The Maine Bureau of Veterans Affairs just announced veteran unemployment is at an all time low. Nobody wants to be pitied, nobody wants a handout. They just want a fair chance. Remember that military members are dedicated to a mission bigger than the bottom line and because of the rank structure are always thinking of training their replacement – so they often make great managers.

Serving in the military can be a whirlwind. One veteran said, “The First Sergeant said right face, we got on a bus and we’re in the jungle. What we did wasn’t just about the flag or for the country, it was for our buddies, for the rest of us. Whatever the cause, we didn’t always know, but we would do whatever was asked of us.”

I asked several veterans how they felt about being told, “Thank you for your service.” Universally, they all said they appreciate it. They also want people to know the following, “I would want them to know that they were worth it, and it was my honor to serve.” Another said, “I always tell people, don’t thank me, thank my family, thank my wife who stayed home with the children, thank the people around me who made it possible.” Another said, “Don’t say it if I can tell you don’t mean it. But if you do, take a moment to ask for a memory, and really listen, and ask what I learned and what it meant.”

There was a time not so long ago, in the Vietnam War, when we didn’t thank our returning soldiers. That generation has paid a price, so Vietnam veterans in particular can’t be thanked enough.

Challenges remain. Veteran suicide remains a problem. I was shocked and saddened to learn that we recently lost a member of our local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter. There is a suicide hotline staffed 24/7 at 800-273- 8255.

In Maine, we are a state of military and Coast Guard veterans. Among the highest percentage of any state serve in our United States military. Veterans Day is this Saturday, the 11th of November. It originated in 1919 to commemorate the signing of the armistice, signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, that ended World War I.

Please join me in thanking the veterans in our life and in our community for raising their hand, and perhaps take an extra moment to also thank their families and ask them to share a memory with you.

Rep. Martin Grohman of Biddeford is an Independent State Representative serving his second term in the Maine Legislature and is a member of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Outside the legislature, he is chair of the Biddeford Solid Waste Commission. Marty hosts a podcast for Maine entrepreneurs called The Grow Maine Show. Find it on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, and sign up for legislative updates at www.growmaine.com or facebook.com/repgrohman.

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