Five years after founding The Gratitude Campaign, I've received over 10,500 e-mails, and 1,500 comments on YouTube. It seems that there is a lot to talk about with regard to gratitude for those who serve; not the least of which is the ever present challenge of understanding how to keep the politics out of it. Hopefully this blog will give us an opportunity for some rational, reasonable, and respectful discussion. I hope you'll join us...

~Scott Truitt, FOUNDER


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

On Why Freedom Matters

As Americans, it's easy for us to take our freedom for granted.

Have you ever seen a movie, watched a play, listened to a piece of music, read something, heard someone speak, witnessed an event, or had an experience that made you think in a different way than you ever have before?  Something that changed who you were, even if only in a very small way? 

As human beings, we define ourselves by our experiences and our relationships.  “I am like this.  I am not like that.  This is how I feel.  This is what I think.  This is what I like.  This is what I don’t like.  I agree with this.  I disagree with that.”  Our personal identities are inextricably tied to our ability to explore the world and to find our place in it.  In other words:  our freedom, or lack thereof. 

Have you ever considered what your life would be like if you didn’t have the freedoms you have today?  What if you didn’t have the freedom to say what you wanted to say or to listen to others say what they wanted to say?   What if you didn’t have the freedom to go where you wanted to go – to see or experience anything beyond your own narrow existence?  What if news just couldn’t talk about certain topics?  What if it were illegal to speak out against the church or the state?  What if you were told what you had to wear, what you would do for a living, or what religion you had to be?  What if you were forced at gunpoint at age 13 to join a militia that you didn’t support or believe in?  How would you even know who you truly are if you didn’t have the freedom to be whatever you wanted to be?

And by the way, if you're thinking that this is a conversation for 1776, not 2013, think again.  These restrictions on freedom are things that still happen in the world, right now – quite a bit of the world.

Freedom is how we know ourselves – by having the freedom to think and say and do what we want, and by others having the freedom to think and say and do what they want so that we can observe and compare and learn from their experience, as well as our own.  We only are who we are to the degree that we are free to be. 

Let’s remember that, and celebrate our Independence as individuals, as well as a nation.  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

On Veterans' Freedom

John F. Kennedy said, “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, no man is free.”  If I could be permitted to paraphrase, all men and women deserve to be free.

That includes those who serve to defend freedom for the rest of us.

Unfortunately, you aren’t as free as you once were when you’re struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress, perhaps severe enough to lead to alcoholism, drug abuse, or suicidal thoughts; or when you’re discriminated against for admitting that you struggle with PTS, even if only on a minor level; or when your family and friends don’t recognize you anymore because you’re just a different person since returning from your deployment.  

You aren't as free as you once were when you've sustained wounds, lost limbs, or suffered Traumatic Brain Injury that diminishes your ability to do the things that you've always been able to do, or to live in the house that you worked hard to buy before your deployment, or go back to the job that you loved or always dreamed of doing after your service.

You aren't as free as you once were when you’re concerned about your family trying to survive with a single parent while you’re deployed overseas and your normal support network of family and friends is in another state; or when you’re struggling to provide for your family on an entry-level income.  

You aren't as free as you once were when you’re trying to transition out of the military and discovering that your skills don’t translate into the private sector; or that the private sector doesn’t value your training and experience.

And you aren't as free as you once were when you’ve lost a parent, a sibling, or a child to their military service, and you no longer feel like a member of the military community; or… the list goes on…

Everyone deserves to explore and express and enjoy their freedom; especially those who have fought the hardest and sacrificed the most to defend it for the rest of us.   In the military, nothing is a one-man show.  Everything requires teamwork – everyone doing their job as best they possibly can to support everyone else.  We – civilians – are part of that team.  We need to do our jobs of supporting those who serve so that they can do their jobs, and so that they can enjoy the same freedoms they’ve provided to us.

Friday, November 9, 2012

On Veterans Day

It occurs to me that, as we approach Veterans Day, we might take just a few minutes to think about what we observe on that day, and why we observe it. It seems that for many of us the calendar is filled with holidays that mean little more to us than a day off of work, or out of school, or perhaps the inconvenience that banks and post offices are closed for the day. Sadly, Veterans Day frequently falls in that category.

So what do we observe on Veterans Day, and why? The obvious answer seems to be, well, we observe Veterans and their service. It’s about them. And that is true. But I think that, more to the point, we observe what Veterans have given us. We observe the Freedom that they have provided each and every one of us through their service. Quite simply, we are free because of their service and sacrifices -- tens of millions of men and women serving in a thousand different ways, in hundreds of different places throughout the world, over 200+ years.  Veterans come in all shapes and sizes.  They might be a senior citizen, or a 22 year old.  More importantly, they might be your mother, father, brother, sister, grandparent, coworker, teammate, neighbor...  they are us, and we are them. 

Ask yourself this: Where would you be without your Freedom? Who would you be without your Freedom? In a very real way, Veterans Day is as much about us as it is about them. It’s about our Freedom to explore who, what, where, and how we want to be in this world, and then simply extending a heartfelt “thank you” to those who have provided that to us, day in and day out, for our entire lives.

We observe Veterans Day on November 11th every year because it also marks the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I – “the war to end all wars” – on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Unfortunately, it did not end all wars. But we remember that day, and we call it Veterans Day as we also remember the service and sacrifices of those who have provided us with our Freedom, safety, and security – our ability to simply be. And in expressing our gratitude, we wish the same for them.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Guest Blog: Helping Military Members to Stay Healthy

Today's blog comes to us from Emily Walsh, Community Outreach Director for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.  Emily writes:

Our military members have strong shoulders, carrying great burdens every day as they willingly serve. They face stress and extreme conditions, putting themselves at risk of numerous health problems. However, service members can be proactive to remain as healthy as possible and loved ones can be a part of the effort. Family and friends want to feel like they can do their part. They can help by taking action to safeguard a military members health.

People may often overlook a service member's mental and emotional health, yet this is extremely important. There are many simple things that can be done to help a person on active duty to deal with mental strain. Friends and family need to be a support system, showing how much they care even when separated by time and distance. Regular care packages with notes, mementos, and reminders from home, can help to ground a person. Phone calls, video chats, and e-mails help to close the gap and lift the spirits. When the time of service is over, those who are stateside need to realize that our military members may need help upon their return. Having a listening ear, being patient, and setting up counseling services are essential. Taking a mental health screening is a good place to start. Members can be screened for depression and post traumatic stress disorder amongst other things using services like Military Pathways.

Many of the physical problems are easier to identify because we can see the symptoms and are able to head them off at the pass. But some are also as subtle as the mental health problems. If they experience a persistent, chronic cough that seems like a bad cold or respiratory infection, mesothelioma (What is Mesothelioma?) could be the problem. Have your soldier consult a doctor and discuss all the possible dangerous and harmful chemicals they may have been exposed to.  Make regular trips to see this doctor because the diseases and health problems caused by chemicals such as asbestos or Agent Orange, as well as the various pollutants that get released into the air from burn pits.

Service members should be dressed properly to suit the conditions. Family members can make sure to send packages with socks and underwear. Eating well is important also. Packages from home can include favorite snacks, protein bars, beef jerky, and other foods that will provide added energy to keep going. Gum will help to quench thirst in dry conditions. Vitamins and supplements can help to ward off illness. A first aid kit with pain reliever, cold medicine, and any necessary medication, can be on hand to take care of any minor issues that may arise.

Lets make our soldiers feel appreciated while they are away and once they arrive back home. Love, care, kindness and appreciation can go a long way in keeping our soldiers safe while away and making their transition back to civilian life a little bit easier. Lets never forget whose freedom they fight for. 


Thanks for the great tips and reminders, Emily!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On Never Forgetting

Forgive me follower, for I have sinned.  It has been five months since my last blog…
I tend to blog when the inspiration hits me.  And for whatever reason, the past five months have been busy with distractions and I haven’t been hit with any particular inspiration to share.  But it always happens eventually… and last night it did.
Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s my wife and I loved the show Ally McBeal, and we recently rediscovered it on Netflix.  We’re currently in Season 5, and last night we watched an episode that aired around Christmas of Season 5.  This happened to be the first Christmas season after 9/11.
In this episode one of the partners in the law firm was trying a case wherein a mayor of a small town had decided to effectively “cancel Christmas” by not funding the typical town decorations, and not issuing any parade permits.  The story line was that the small town had had a rough year – a local plant had burned down, costing many of the townspeople their jobs and several firefighters had died in the fire.  The mayor determined that the town needed to mourn, and that it was not a time to be joyful and celebratory. 
This, along with another storyline in the episode, was clearly an analogy to 9/11, and it took me back to Christmas 2001.  I remember people debating whether we should be celebrating – whether it was appropriate, or whether it might be disrespectful to those who had lost so much. 
I remember feeling very determined not to let the terrorists win by destroying our spirit – by circumventing the desire to share our love for one another and to celebrate the season and our traditions, whether that be Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, Solstice...  whatever brings us together at that time of year.  And I remember finding a strange new interpretation of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas as we watched with new eyes, and saw that Christmas was about the love that we share for one another – not the presents, or the decorations, or the festivals.  And that the best way to observe that is to continue on with it even when it seems to have been taken away from us.
As John Cage, the attorney arguing the case, made his final arguments he talked about what a rough year it had been, and the firefighters who gave their lives for us, he said, “This is not a year for skipping Christmas.”  Tears streamed down my and my wife’s faces as we knew he was talking about 9/11 and not some fictional character in a fictional town. 
In Rob Thomas’ song “Little Wonders” he says:
Our lives are made
In these small hours
These little wonders,
These twists & turns of fate
Time falls away,
But these small hours,
These small hours still remain
 9/11, and the firsts that followed it – the first Thanksgiving, first Veteran’s Day, first Christmas, New Year... – were just such small hours.  And they still remain. 
We don’t have to live under the cloud of those moments 24/7/365 in order to honor those who died in the attacks or those who have served, suffered, and sacrificed since.  It's easy -- and ok -- to get caught up in our daily lives and to push those memories back into the attic storage of our minds.  But I hope that when those little reminders do appear as they did for my wife and me last night, that we’ll take the moment, just a moment, to connect with them, to say a prayer in whatever way we each do that, and to honor our promise to Never Forget.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

On Inheriting the Wind

As I sat drinking coffee with my wife this morning, I was perusing Facebook and I came across two very interesting, opposing posts: 
First, I noticed a post with an image of Abraham Lincoln.  It quoted him as saying:
“America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”
I then came across another post with an image of President Obama pointing off camera.  The quote read:
“See that guy over there holding my golf clubs?   There’s a job I created.” 
The subsequent comments to that post then got into a heated partisan political debate, with a lot of finger pointing as to whose fault our current political and economic climate is – the “libs” or conservatives; Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama; the Democrats or Republicans in Congress.  The vast majority of the debate was about bashing specific people or groups of people, not on the merits of any particular idea or legislation itself. 
I’ve said many times before that our campaign is not about politics, and I hold to that statement.  Having said that, that doesn’t mean that we never discuss politics in general, theoretical terms.  What it means is that we do not get into partisan political debates, we don’t choose sides, and we don’t place a value judgment on anyone’s right to their own opinion. 
After reading this debate on Facebook, I was reminded of the Abraham Lincoln quote I’d just read, and of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Inherit the Wind (1960; Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Gene Kelly).  The movie is based on the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 wherein teacher John Scopes (Bert Cates in the movie) was charged with unlawfully teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in a public school. 
There is a scene in the movie wherein Bert’s girlfriend Rachel, who had just testified in the case, goes to the prosecuting attorney Matthew Harrison Brady’s hotel to confront him for twisting her testimony in his favor.  She has a conversation with Brady’s wife, Sarah:
Rachel:  I want the whole world to know that Matthew Harrison Brady is a fake!  …If he could do such an evil thing then he must be an evil man.  And everything he stands for must be evil, too!
Sarah:  Oh, stop it, stop it!  Youth can be so pure.  What do you know of good or evil?  What do you understand of the sum of a man’s life?  …You see my husband as a saint – and he must be right in everything that he says and does.  And then you see him as a devil, and everything he says and does must be wrong.  Well, my husband’s neither a saint nor a devil.  He’s just a human being.  And he makes mistakes. 
Rachel:  How can you defend him?                                                                                                                                         
Sarah:  It’s not he I’m defending!  I’m defending the 40 years I’ve lived with this man and watched him carry the burdens of people like you.  If he’s been wrong at least he’s stood for something.  What do you stand for? 
Is this not the current state of our political climate?  People, dissatisfied with their own lives, wanting someone to blame?  Someone to point their finger at and say, “It’s HIS fault,” or “it’s THEIR fault”?  Not debating concepts, ideas, or legislation, but rather attacking the person or party presenting the idea and deciding that the idea is good or evil simply based on whether they see the person or party presenting it as “saint” or “devil”?  And if this increasingly polarized, partisan debate continues how will anyone, from any party, ever be able to get anything accomplished in Washington?  The polarized debate creates a climate where neither party can accomplish anything without the other stalling their efforts.  And thus, the accusations of “it’s the other sides fault” are a self-fulfilling prophecy. 
The title of the movie comes from the bible verse, Proverbs 11:29:  “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind; and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.”
This polarized debate starts with us – with what we discuss amongst ourselves in restaurants, schools, churches, and even online, and what we choose to follow (and fund) in the media.  I’d like to encourage us all to be a little more “wise of heart”, and to learn to debate thoughts, ideas, and legislation as opposed to people and parties… lest we do as Lincoln cautioned us not to:  troubleth our own house, and inherit the wind. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

On "Home of the Brave"

I just finished watching the movie Home of the Brave (2006). What a powerful movie. So often in our want and need to check out from our daily lives we choose movies that are fantastical, or action-packed, to give us that escape or that adrenaline rush that we need to make us feel alive again. And there is certainly some of that in Home of the Brave; but there is also much more.

The movie chronicles the experience of four Soldiers returning from service in Iraq, and trying to transition back into their old lives. It was striking to me, and very telling, how many scenes in the movie reflect stories that I’ve heard from combat veterans – issues with getting proper benefits and treatment for injuries and wounds; feeling overly medicated to deal with post-traumatic stress and medical issues; struggling to deal with a world that seems so trivial and unimportant now; and one scene where being cut off by a random car in traffic brings out a combat-like reaction that is totally disproportionate to the situation. That scene was almost verbatim what I’d heard from a Soldier nearly three years ago.

There are certain phrases that we hear throughout our lives, some on almost a daily basis, that we eventually take for granted and don’t give much energy to anymore; “home of the brave” being one of them. We’ve all heard that so many times that we likely don’t give it much energy anymore; at least not as much energy as it is probably due. But what struck me in a very powerful way at the end of Home of the Brave was that perhaps that phrase isn’t limited to those who have bravely served in combat. That may be the most obvious, and perhaps most significant display of bravery that we can point to. But it is not the only example that exists, nor is it the only one that we need.

There is another bravery that we need right now, and that is from us – civilians. We need to be brave enough to support those who serve for us. We need to repay their bravery with ours. Now, you may be thinking, “What bravery is required of us? What can we do that is so ‘brave’?” The answer is we need to be brave enough to love and support those who need us, despite how challenging that might appear at times. Just as a Soldier displays bravery in helping a fallen comrade out of a hot zone and back to safety, we have a responsibility to help our Veterans and Service Members back to safety.

That means holding a space for them wherein they can safely make their transition back to the world without combat. It means holding our judgment of behaviors that appear out of the norm. It means allowing them the time and space to re-acclimate. It means respecting their experience and holding them in the highest esteem even when they appear to be at their weakest. It means acknowledging that we cannot possibly understand what they are thinking or feeling, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t try. It means offering understanding as best we can given our lack of direct experience, and not pitying them if they are struggling. And it means loving them when they are not being very loveable.

There is a scene in the movie in which Samuel L. Jackson is standing calm and controlled as another Soldier waves a pistol in his face. He is calm, partly because he knows that he must remain calm to diffuse the situation, and partly because he understands what the Soldier is going through. Brave. When these Service Members come home, it is our turn to be that brave. To stand calm, but supportive, with respect, and dignity, and compassion, and the most understanding that we can possibly offer, and to love them back to a place of safety just as they would for any fallen comrade, whatever that place of safety looks like for them.

That is how we as civilians can help earn the title, Home of the Brave.