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


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On "Hands" by Jewel

Every year around Christmas time there seems to be one song in our play list of over 900 holiday songs that stands out and holds extra meaning for me. It varies from year to year. This year, with so many of our troops returning from Iraq, the obvious choice seems to be Happy Christmas (War is Over) by John Lennon; and that song has been significant to us this year. But for some reason, the song that seems to hold even more meaning – that brings tears to my wife’s and my eyes every time we hear it – is Hands by Jewel. To be perfectly honest, after listening to it for weeks now, I still can’t say that I’m crystal clear on why it is so powerful for me this year. I have some ideas… Perhaps you can tell me:

in the end only kindness matters

if i could tell the world just one thing
it would be that we're all okay
and not to worry 'cause worry is wasteful
and useless in times like these
i won't be made useless
i won't be idle with despair
i'll gather myself around my faith
for light does the darkness most fear

my hands are small, i know
but they're not yours,
they are my own
but they're not yours,
they are my own
and i am never broken

poverty stole your golden shoes
it didn't steal your laughter
and heartache came to visit me
but i knew it wasn't ever after
we will fight not out of spite
for someone must stand up for what's right

'cause where there's a man who has no voice
there ours shall go singing

my hands are small, i know
but they're not yours,
they are my own
but they're not yours,
they are my own
i am never broken

('cuz) in the end only kindness matters
in the end only kindness matters
i will get down on my knees, and i will pray

my hands are small, i know
but they're not yours,
they are my own
but they're not yours,
they are my own
and i am never broken
we are never broken

we are god's eyes
god's hands
we are god's eyes
we are reflections of god
(god's hands)
we are reflections of god
(we are god's eyes)
we are reflections of god

Now, if you’re not a religious person (as I am not), then please feel free to insert the word “universe”, “source energy”, “zero point field”, or even “each other” where you see the word “god” in this song – the point remains the same.

I’m starting to understand what this song means to me, and why it is so incredibly powerful.

What does it mean to you?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Guest Blog: Allison Mewes' Top 10 Things We Wish Nonmilitary Families Knew

Continuing our series on what military families wish civilians knew about military life, this week’s blog comes from Allison Mewes, a military wife and writer. Allison’s husband is a Sergeant in the Active Guard Reserve, currently serving in Iraq. Allison was kind enough to share an excerpt from her forthcoming book, Intro to Army Life: A handbook for spouses and significant others entering the Army lifestyle:

Before becoming a military spouse, I would tear up when watching the video montages of service members reuniting with their families after a deployment. But honestly, I have to admit my understanding of, and involvement with, the military lifestyle didn’t go much deeper than that. I didn’t know anyone who had served in the military, nor had I experienced the military lifestyle growing up. Now, being neck deep in military life, I realize it’s a big deal! Your life revolves around the military, and it can be tough, especially during deployments. If you love a soldier, there is no doubt that you’re nodding your head as you read this—you get it!

According to the 2010 Military Family Lifestyle Survey conducted by Blue Star Families, 92 percent of military family respondents felt that the general public did not truly understand or appreciate the sacrifices made by service members and their families. Now, we aren’t complaining about our military lifestyle. We have an enormous amount of pride for our soldiers and what they do, but civilian and military lifestyles are definitely different.

These are a few things I’d like nonmilitary families to know about the military lifestyle:

  1. Your husband being gone for one to two weeks on a business trip is not comparable to my husband being deployed for three to 12 months in a combat zone. Unless your husband has been in a combat zone, and you have to worry about his life on a daily basis, you simply can’t understand.

  2. It is hard to manage on your own when your spouse isn’t around. If your friend or family member is dealing with a deployment, he or she may act differently, as life stressors may drastically increase.

  3. Acknowledging the struggles military families are going through, as well as being there as a source of support to listen and help, is extremely valued and appreciated.

  4. Not many military spouses will ask for help, and they may be very reluctant to accept it. If you want to do something, don’t ask if they need anything—just do it! Military parents rarely get time alone; offer to babysit, and let your friend or family member have some “me time.”

  5. Don’t take it personally if a military spouse or significant other leaves your party early or ends a call with you when his or her spouse calls from Basic Training or overseas. Contact with our soldiers is so limited that we’ll most often drop everything (a phone call, a social engagement, a favorite TV show) just to hear his or her voice and know they’re alright.

  6. We don’t want to have a political debate over war just because our loved one serves in the military. We concentrate on the safety and well-being of our soldier, no matter what our political beliefs may be.

  7. The smallest gestures sometimes mean the most. Just asking how our soldier is doing means a lot to us, and it helps to know that they haven’t been forgotten while they’re away. Someone once asked me, “What does your husband need, and where can I send it?” That was one of the nicest things I experienced while he was deployed.

  8. Two weeks of leave seems like a long and short time to us during a deployment. It’s long since we haven’t seen our soldiers for anywhere from four to seven months, and it’s short because we know they’ll have to leave again soon so we have to cram one year into two weeks. It is hard to share our soldiers with everyone who wants to see them during the two weeks of the year they’re home. Please understand if we can’t fit everything in.

  9. Coming home from a deployment is an extreme adjustment for our soldiers. Understand that your friend or family member may act differently for a while, until they reintegrate back into society. Also, help be on the lookout for PTSD symptoms, such as drinking or drug problems, shame, despair, anger and violence.

  10. Some soldiers are career military men and women. They don’t necessary “get out” automatically after a deployment—their lives and careers are focused on serving our country. Now, that is something to be proud of!

Share your “What I Wish They Knew” tips and stories on Allison’s Intro to Army Life Facebook page: www.facebook.com/IntroToArmyLife

Friday, November 11, 2011

On The Love of a Veteran

I attended a ceremony at a local Veterans home this morning in observance of Veterans Day. As I sat in the audience listening to the presenters, I was struck by a couple of things.

First, I was struck by the fact that all of the presenters – every last one of them – were Veterans. The vast majority of the people in the audience were Veterans. As I looked around, it seemed as though this event was really about Veterans honoring each other, as opposed to us honoring them. Where were we?

Sheer numbers suggest that the audience should be filled with more civilians honoring Veterans than Veterans honoring each other. There are about 23 million living Veterans in the United States today, and a little over 2.6 million currently serving in some capacity. That’s 8.5% of our population. Where was the remaining 91.5% of us who have not served but live, and have lived our entire lives under the blanket of the freedom that these people have provided to us? I realize that it was a Friday, and many of “us” were at work. But Veterans work, too. If they can get there, why can’t we?

I suddenly remembered conversations I’d had with parents of teen-aged children about their relationships with their children. Conversations about how the child feels entitled to have the parent provide a roof over their head, clothes on their back, food in their stomach, the latest iPod, smart-phone, tickets to the concert, fees for their sports team, and rides and spending money in their pocket to go do… whatever it is that teenagers do. But the child can’t be bothered to spend time with the family, offer a hug, or tell their parents they love them. No, a simple “thank you,” or “I love you” is too much to ask of them.

I thought this is what it must feel like to be a Veteran. To have sacrificed years of your life; in many cases your mental and/or physical health; relationships; financial abundance… the list goes on and on… all in defense of people who don’t even appreciate it, and in some cases are completely indignant and disrespectful in return. And, like the parent who loves their child no matter how self-centered and unappreciative they are, the Veteran continues to serve regardless of how civilians respond; and in many cases even respects the civilian’s right to be disrespectful as an expression of the very freedom that they are defending.

I’m not a parent. And I’m not a Veteran. But I hope that I can love as deeply as they do; and that I can serve as unconditionally.

Thank you, Veterans, for showing me (again) what unconditional love looks like.

And thank you Mom and Dad (a Veteran). I love you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Flags for Able Company

Today's post is a call for help: a forwarded email that I recieved from the First Sergeant of Able Company, serving in Afghanistan. Here's what he had to say:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I have been making efforts to complete this project, I have finally asked my friend Barbara Walsh to advised me on who to contact concerning the possibility of having flags donated to Able Company, 1/26 Inf. As I have exhausted all Military avenues and am now looking to civilian assistance as Barbara as is State side I am hoping that perhaps we may accomplish this endeavor.

Let me introduce myself and my partner in crime, the First Sergeant of Able Company, 1/26 Inf. I (Christian L. Molitor) am the Border Operations Advisor to the Company Commander of Able Company and the First Sergeant (John Boxrucker) is the ranking NCO of Able Company. Able Company is stationed at Combat Out Post Terezayi in Khowst Province, Afghanistan. We have been at COP Terezayi since December 2010. Able Company will redeploy back to Fort Knox, and other US Bases some even in the San Antonio area the end of December 2011. I will remain at COP Terezayi until March 2012 to assist the new member and attachment personnel, a US Flag that has flown over COP Terezayi for 9 minutes 11 seconds. We will print up flag certificates stating that the flag was flown over COP Terezayi and include any and all persons, who assisted in donating flags or any other form of donation. I am purchasing the certificates, plexi-glass and wood to make the certificate holders. First Sergeant Boxrucker will make all the certificate holders when he gets back to Fort Knox. This endeavor will require 200 US Flags, the flag holders would be an added bonus but we could do without them if need be.

We are looking to do this so that these troops who have fought and survived a year at the Combat Out Post Terezayi one of the most let’s say there are no amenities for us. We are in one of the largest combat zones and we want to send these boys with a lifelong memorial to their service, to the camaraderie, to the tasks performed and the service of their country.

Timeline for the flags is mid November, so there is enough time to fly the flags and then pack them in one of the connex trailers being shipped back to Fort Knox. If the presentation boxes are possible, they could be shipped to Fort Knox anytime in January. All donors will receive a flag and certificate. I might be able to have either the First Sergeant or the Company Commander come to San Antonio to present the donors with the flag and certificate sometime in March or April after I return back to Texas.

I will be out of pocket for about three weeks starting around 29 Oct. Anything questions you have can be directed to First Sergeant Boxrucker at the following email address: [First Sergeant Boxrucker's contact information removed here -- if you're interested in sending flags, or contacting First Sergeant Boxrucker with questions, please email me at scott@gratitudecampaign.org and I will forward your request to First Sergeant Boxrucker].

Any assistance you could provide would be greatly appreciated by all the personnel of Able Company. This Company has lost two of their own during this deployment. One was 1st Lt. Frison, the Platoon Leader of Second Platoon, Able Company and the second was Specialist Elm of Headquarters Platoon. Lt. Frison was killed in Action last May and SPC Elm was Killed in Action last Friday.

I want to thank you in advance for your time and effort to assist John and me in this special project.

God Bless America

American Flags are available online through many outlets, including Target.com for $19 each. For less than $100, you could send 5 flags to Able Company. Check it out at http://www.target.com/p/United-States-Embroidered-Flag-3x5/-/A-11177216.

Monday, October 10, 2011

On All or Nothing

It seems like I’ve blogged about this before, although I can’t seem to find this exact phrase in my records. So perhaps it’s worth discussing again if only to take a slightly different approach to it.

Beneath some of the comments that I hear about supporting or not supporting those who serve, there seems to frequently be an “all or nothing” mentality. What I mean is that there seem to be a fair number of people out there who take the approach that they must agree with absolutely every aspect of military service if they’re going to show any support for those who serve – as though you’re only deserving of gratitude if you’ve always done everything “right”, and never done anything “wrong”. (“Right” and “wrong”, of course, being the eye of the beholder.) In my view, this is a philosophy that can only lead to dissatisfaction with everything, everywhere.

Where else in your life do you apply this kind of thinking? Do you leave a lover the first time you disagree? Do you disown a friend the first time they let you down? Do you leave your job the first time they don’t take your advice? Do you give up your kids for adoption they first time they break your rules? Of course not. If this kind of thinking made any sense at all we wouldn’t have laughed at Jerry on Seinfeld every time he broke up with a girl because she had “man hands” or was a “low talker”…

In life we surround ourselves with the people who are generally in alignment with who we see ourselves to be. In fact, some of our best friends and family may only have a handful of qualities that we truly admire and want to cultivate in ourselves. But if those qualities be powerful enough, a handful can be more than enough.

The vast, vast, vast majority of what our military service members do for us (and for others throughout the world) on a daily basis goes unnoticed, and unreported by the media. And, unfortunately, the more sensational, “newsworthy” things they do are frequently the most controversial. But that should not negate the majority of the service that they provide on a daily basis.

If there are aspects of what our military does that you don’t agree with, I would encourage you to speak out about those aspects – preferably to the people who can actually do something about them, like your Congressmen. Just don’t forget the rest of what they do – not the least of which is defending your right to speak out in the first place. And remember that the military is not one Soldier, or one Unit, and it is not one incident in one place at one time. It is two and a half million people currently serving in hundreds of places, in thousands of ways, and over 20 million living Veterans who came before them. There is so much to be grateful for in addition to be concerned about. All you have to do is look for it, and remember it the next time one of those sensational stories hits the airwaves.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

And/Both: On The Peace Sign - Part 3

If you’re one who feels that we’ve beat this whole Peace Sign issue to death and it’s time to move on, I get that. I feel that a bit myself. But as is often the case debating one issue can bring deeper more fundamental issues to the surface and those are worth discussing, as well. So stick with me here for just a moment as we take this opportunity to discuss one such issue…

One of the things that stood out to me when reading some of the comments about our last few blogs about the Peace sign was how many of those who opposed our use of the Peace sign seemed to completely ignore the idea behind the sign and why we had it on our site, and focused simply on the surface issue of whether or not it was offensive to a handful of Vets. [And let me be clear – I do not say “handful” to be flip. I watch our numbers fairly closely, and the number of Vets who have voiced opposition to the sign compared to those who have not had an issue with it is extremely small.] Several people argued that if the symbol offended any Vets at all we should pull it from our site – regardless of the purpose behind it. They offered no alternative solutions, no new ideas that would achieve the same result in a different package – just “scrap it”, intended message and all.

The irony is that this is exactly the kind of black and white, my way or the highway thinking that created the tension around the sign in the first place. The anti-war protestors of the Vietnam era wanted only one thing: bring the troops home, and let the chips fall where they may. They didn’t care what the ramifications were. They had no alternative solutions to offer government officials that would address their concerns about the spread of communism in Southeast Asia without war. All they cared about was ending the war, and thus they created conflict in their own house. Many feel that in doing so they undermined the war effort, aided our enemies, and thus endangered our service members. For some Vietnam Vets, that is what the Peace sign represents – not peace itself.

One of the key aspects of what we’re calling Responsible Peace is in shifting to an and/both mentality as opposed to an either/or mentality: the idea that we can support our Troops and support Peace. Being productive as opposed to destructive or divisive in this environment requires a willingness to see, acknowledge, and address others’ concerns in order to find compromise wherein they will be willing to address yours. Compromise often requires an ability and willingness to focus on the “what” that you really want – not the surface details, but what is at the root of what you really want -- and to open your mind to “how” you might get what you want in such a way that allows your “opponent” to get what they want, as well.

In this case, we realize that some Vets are offended by the Peace sign due to their own unique experiences with it. And, again, it is not our intention to be disrespectful or to offend those Vets. It is our intention – what we really want – to support those Vets and to do everything in our power to ensure that future service members do not have the same experience that Vietnam Vets did. And we can see no greater way to support a service member than to do what we can to prevent sending them into battle in the future.

Part of the “how” for us in communicating that message is in combining the power of the Peace symbol with our logo, communicating the duality of our message -- the idea of supporting Peace as a means of supporting those who serve. As with most things in life, there is a cost/benefit analysis here in that, while that symbol may carry some bad connotations for a small number of Vietnam Vets, for hundreds of millions of people the world over the Peace sign simply means Peace. We have made the conscious and deliberate choice to risk offending a few in order to connect with and engage the many. Ideally, we would prefer not to offend anyone – especially Vets. But it is a risk we are willing to take in order to propagate a new social paradigm. We hope that any Vietnam Vets who are offended by the sign itself will choose to focus on the intent behind the message, and not on the package it comes in – to allow us the concession of using a symbol that holds a different connotation for them than it does for us for the benefit of getting what we all want, which is to support, protect, and defend those who serve as they do for us.

If we could all apply this sort of thinking on a more global scale – respect, understanding of intent, compromise -- would we ever go to war again? Just something to think about…

Sunday, September 11, 2011

On 9/11 + 10

Today I find myself searching for something profound to say. Something that will bring some solace on a day otherwise filled with grief and remembrance. I’m not sure why I feel responsible for that. The truth is that there is likely nothing that I can say that hasn’t been said, no words that I can offer that will change what was, and what has been since. And even if I could, I’m not sure that that would really serve anything. Sometimes, it is important and valuable to just sit with the grief, and not try to change it.

So I will say simply this: today is a day of remembrance. A day to remember those who have passed; both the innocent victims of a senseless crime, the heroes who died trying to save even more than they already had, and the heroes who have lost their lives to prevent more attacks from happening since or into the future.

It is also a day to remember and be incredibly grateful for those who survived and are still with us today.

I hope that everyone will take at least a few moments today to pray, meditate, grieve, think, just be silent - whatever label you want to put on it – for anyone and everyone touched by the events of 9/11; and if you were not personally touched by those events, to be grateful for that, and for those who serve to make sure that you are not touched by any such similar attacks now, or in the future.

If you were personally touched by the events of 9/11 – perhaps you lost a family member, a friend, a coworker, a fellow firefighter or police officer – I hope that you’ll take a moment today to close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Listen to silence. And in that moment, feel the subtle pressure on your chest of a warm embrace, and the moist sensation of tears on your shoulder from your fellow human beings sharing your grief today, and know that our hearts are with you.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On The Peace Sign - Part 2

Based on the feedback we’ve received to last week’s blog, it seems that there are some strong opinions out there about the Peace sign and its role on our web site. Some of the feedback has raised some interesting issues around the topic that I think are worth discussing in greater detail. So I am going to address some of those issues in some follow-up blogs in the coming weeks, beginning today.

First and foremost, I think that it’s important to point out what I probably should have included in the first blog on this topic, and that is that it is not, nor has it ever been our intention to try to change how Vietnam Veterans feel about their experience including how they feel about the Peace sign and what it represents to them. Their experience is their own, and we have no judgments about that. Our message, and our web site, is targeted primarily at civilians and encouraging them to express their gratitude to those who serve in their own way. The Gratitude Sign is just one way of expressing gratitude. There are many others.

With respect to the Peace sign and its role on our web site, I’ll keep this first follow-up relatively short and say simply this:

On U2’s 1988 album Rattle and Hum, Bono introduces the song Helter Skelter by saying, “This is a song that Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back.” What I hear in that is, “We’re not going to let Charles Manson twist the meaning of this song, or ruin this song and what it means to us. We’re going to embrace it, and focus our attention on the positive aspects of the message in the song, and make it ours.”

In the late 60’s and early 70’s anti-war protestors (not to be confused with Peace activists) stole the Peace sign, and twisted its meaning for many Vietnam Veterans. We’re stealing it back.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

On The Peace Sign

I’ve received a couple of comments recently from Vietnam Vets who are offended by a feature on our web site. It’s a sort-of hidden feature, which many of you have probably not even seen: If you roll your curser over our logo in the upper left side of the page, it turns into a Peace sign. Seeing this, and hearing that it may offend some Vietnam Veterans might lead one to ask, “Why is it there? What does the Peace sign have to do with showing gratitude to those who serve? Why would it offend Veterans? And if it does offend some Veterans, why would you keep it there?” I felt like it was time to answer some of those questions. Addressing the issue in a somewhat chronological order, I’ll begin with why it offends some Veterans. So first, a little history:

What we have come to know as the international symbol for Peace actually started in 1958 as a symbol for Nuclear Disarmament – not necessarily “peace”, per se. The symbol was designed by a British designer and artist for a nuclear disarmament rally, and is based on the semaphore signals wherein two flags at 45 degree angles = “N”, and two flags vertically = “D”. The sign was later adopted by anti-war protesters of the Vietnam era. For many Veterans returning from Vietnam to a hostile and abusive public, the symbol became the sign for ungrateful, hypocritical, abusive and spoiled draft-dodgers who blamed the warrior for the war. Many Vietnam Vets refer to the symbol as “the footprint of the American Chicken.”

So why, if this symbol offends some Veterans, would we have it on our site? Well, first it is important to recognize that the meanings of symbols in our culture change and evolve over time and circumstance. The swastika, for instance, has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. It can be found in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, as well as Greek, Roman, Celtic, Baltic, and Slavic cultures, and was generally used as a sign of good luck. It is only since Hitler adopted it as a symbol for the Nazi party in 1920 that much of the world has come to see it as a symbol for fascism and racial prejudice. Perhaps one day, with enough time and distance from WWII, its meaning will shift back to what it was for the majority of its history. That is our hope and expectation for the Peace symbol. While that symbol may hold some negative connotations for Vietnam Vets who were disrespected and mistreated upon their return from Vietnam, for the majority of the world, and especially for younger generations who do not remember Vietnam, it is a symbol for Peace (not to be confused with anti-war).

So what does that have to do with showing gratitude to those who serve? Let me ask you this: If we, as civilians, truly want to support those who serve, wouldn’t the most supportive thing be to do everything that we can to prevent the need to send them into battle? To avoid risking their lives as best we possibly can? Now, let me be clear here: I’m not talking about the “bring the troops home and let the chips fall where they may” approach of the anti-war protesters of the Vietnam era. I’m talking about civilians taking more personal responsibility for when, where, how, and why we send our troops into battle, and making different lifestyle choices that reduce the likelihood of going to war in the future. What those choices are, specifically, and how we can reduce the likelihood of war in the future without sacrificing our national interests and national security remains to be discovered. But it is a dialogue that we are opening up with the followers of our campaign, with government officials, and with academics and consultants. It is a dialogue whose time has come.

Generally speaking, and always with exception, those who have supported Peace in the past have not supported our Troops. And those who support our Troops typically have not been big supporters of Peace. Many see Peace as weakness – an unwillingness to fight for what is right. The truth is that we all want Peace. We just have different ways of achieving it. Some opt for the “turn the other cheek” approach, while others prefer to “walk softly and carry a big stick”. We are suggesting that we can support Peace because we support our Troops, and we don’t want to put their lives at risk frivolously or recklessly. We know that there are times and places when we must stand up and fight for what we as a society feel is right. We’d just like to see those times being fewer and farther between, until perhaps one day we will “fight no more forever.”

Forty years ago the Peace sign had mixed and somewhat contradictory connotations to it depending on an individual’s personal experiences with it. The sign is now experiencing resurgence in pop culture, appearing on t-shirts, shoe laces, jewelry, bumper stickers – pretty much anything that can be printed, stamped or forged – and it is generally viewed by most today as an international symbol for Peace. It is not, nor has it ever been our intention to offend or ignore those who served and suffered in Vietnam and upon their arrival home. Rather, it is our intention to encourage people to shift their thinking, to shift their awareness, and to consider serving those who serve by making the world a more peaceful place that does not require our service members to, as Douglas MacArthur put it, “…suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On "They/We Will Never Understand"

I’ve been working on thegratitudecampaign for nearly four years now. In that time I’ve the honor and privilege to have many conversations with those who serve and their family members about what serving is like, and what kinds of sacrifices they make on our behalf every day.

Part of my goal with this campaign is to bridge the gap between civilians and service members and their families. I’ve asked on several occasions, “What do you, as service members and military families, most wish that civilians understood about what military life is like?” The one comment, or phrase that seems to be uttered in nearly every response is, “Anyone who hasn’t served will never understand what it’s like.” I hear similar comments from the other side – civilians saying, “I can’t imagine what it is like.” After hearing this as many times as I have, I felt the need to address it – on both sides of the conversation (or lack thereof, as the case may be). So I have a request – or perhaps a challenge for people on both sides:

Try anyway.

For military members and their families: Try to explain what your life is like – what you’re going through, or have gone through. It’s not about asking for sympathy or pity. It’s simply about understanding. It’s about helping people to understand what they don’t currently see. And you’re absolutely right – anyone who hasn’t experienced what you’ve experience will not understand it on an intellectual or emotional level that is equal to your understanding. But a little understanding is better than no understanding. And they truly never will understand if nobody is willing to help them understand.

For civilians: Ask questions. Try to put yourself in their shoes (or boots, as the case may be). Try to picture yourself dealing with all of the stresses that military families deal with on a daily basis on your behalf. And show them the respect of acknowledging that you don’t completely understand, but that you’ll do the best that you can to identify with what they’re going through.

Gary Sinise, who has launched a foundation to support those who serve and their families, recently said in a press conference, “We can never do enough to support those who serve, but we can always do a little more.”

My personal friend, Master Sergeant Kevin Johnson, who appears in our video, would share with me his experiences in combat and in life since combat. For my part, I always prefaced my questions by saying, “Kevin, I haven’t been there and done that, so I have no way of truly understanding what you’ve been through. But I promise to try to the best of my ability. I won’t judge, pity, or presume to tell you how you should be dealing with what you’ve experienced. I will simply try to understand.”

For Kevin’s part, he would do his best to relate what he had experienced, knowing full well that that my imagination is not the same as his personal experience. He would say to me, “You’re not going to get what I’m about to tell you, but you need to understand it as best you can in order to do what you’re doing.” Not so amazingly, it was often the long silences between Kevin’s sentences that told me the most about what he had experienced.

Kevin died in November of last year from liver failure brought on by the heavy drinking he did to medicate his struggle with Post Traumatic Stress. If I were going to do anything to show respect for Kevin’s life, for his service and sacrifices on my behalf, it has to start with understanding who he was and what he experienced as best I can.

Knowledge is power. Understanding can change the world. Millions of people who don’t have AIDS or Cancer, who’ve never been beaten or abused, who’ve never lost their home in a flood or fire, or who’ve never been sold into slavery or the sex trade are doing powerful work every day to change those things so that those who have experienced them will find some peace, and so that fewer people will experience those things in the future. They were inspired to do so because someone who does have personal experience with those things told their story. And they listened, and tried to understand.

So please, tell your stories. Listen to others’ stories. That’s how we begin to change the world.

Monday, July 25, 2011

From a Soldier's Perspective - Part 1

This week we start what I hope will become a new series of guest blogs written by Service Members and military family members aimed at helping those of us who have never served to better understand what military life is like, and what kinds of sacrifices are being made every day on our behalf.

Today's guest blog comes from Active Army Guard Reserve Sergeant Rusty Mewes. Rusty's military service spans 13 years. He has been deployed to Iraq since September 2010, and is currently working in the Force Protection field at the Victory Base Complex in Baghdad.

I asked Rusty what he most wished that civilians understood about what modern military service is like. Here's what he had to say:

That's hard to answer because no matter how I write it down or explain, a non-Veteran civilian will never understand. I will give it a shot, though...

First, even though the Military has declared combat over in Iraq, to me and many others it’s not. As you read in newspapers or watch on the news, many US Soldiers are still dying here from small arms fire, indirect fire, and the numerous forms of IED's. So combat is not over -- just our combat missions.

As I look at this past year, sometimes it is like being in prison, but not as bad. I am confined to within the walls of the base, I don’t get to see my family and friends, I eat cafeteria still food, and wear non-civilian clothes. Activities include weight training, continuing education, writing letters to my wife, work, and worry about dying. In prison you may get stabbed, beat up, or hurt in other ways. Here in Iraq you may get Indirect fire, hit by an IED, or shot.

We live in small trailers around 9'x 18' with 3 people in each room. For the 1st 6 months I had to walk 300 meters just to use a restroom that was not a porta-john, and to take a shower.

Another issue that was tough, and is currently bringing more stress to an already stressful environment is that we as Soldiers almost did not get paid in April of 2011 and would still be fighting over here while our families struggle to feed themselves back home. This may happen again here in August. If my boss when I worked for restaurants decided not to pay me I would stop working and go find another job. Being in the military, and in a war zone, you do not get that choice.

I know I have not given you much on what I wish civilians knew. But honestly, for me being in Iraq in 2011, I think no one needs to understand what we go through. Because no matter what we have experienced here unless you were here you will not understand. The only time someone needs to understand is if it is a Soldier that needs help with issues he gained from being here. I guess I wish they understood more the sacrifices each service member gives up to be in the military, whether deployed to a combat zone or not.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On Giving

As I was driving to my office today I saw a rather disheveled man standing on the street corner with a sign that read, “Disabled Veteran. Anything Helps.”

For those who don’t encounter the homeless on a regular basis, it might seem like a no-brainer to reach into your pocket and give this man something – anything – just to help him out.

For those of us who’ve lived in large cities and who’ve encountered pan-handlers on a daily basis, however, I’m sorry to say that it is easy to become somewhat jaded and distrustful. I’m not proud to admit that while living in downtown Seattle I became very skeptical of those asking me for handouts. Is this person really a Vet? Are they really going to use this money for food or shelter, or are they going to buy drugs or alcohol? Are they really trying to get off the streets and support themselves, or are they “career homeless”, living off the generosity of others? I work for my money; why should I just hand it over to someone who doesn’t?

What I would say to that now is, check in with your gut. What is your first instinct? I’m not talking about what your head says when you start asking yourself all of the questions I just listed above. I’m talking about what your gut says in that split second after you saw the person in need. If you’re like me it’s, “What do I have on me that I can give?”

Unfortunately, the head and the ego jump in pretty quickly and say, “I’ve only got 10’s and 20’s. I’m certainly not giving away $10. If I had a $1 bill, or some change, maybe; but I’m not giving this guy $10.” These are thoughts based in fear. Fear that I don’t have enough to give some of it away. Fear that I’ll encourage more pan-handling. Fear that this person isn’t being honest with me, and that I’m going to be made the fool for giving to them. And once I’ve processed all of those fears, I’m twelve paces past the person, and I’d have to turn around to go give them something; which I’m not likely to do. So I just keep on walking and try to forget that I just ignored this person, as though they weren’t worthy of even being acknowledged.

Love would give this person whatever I had on me. Love would look them in the eye and acknowledge their humanity. Love would have faith that what comes around goes around, and whatever I give to this person will come back to me tenfold. Love would see itself in that person’s eyes, and recognize that the vast majority of us are only a few paychecks away from being destitute ourselves. And that if we didn’t have friends and families to support us if and when that happened, we might be right where that person is. Love would give.

But if you want to stay in your fear place for a little while, consider these “what ifs”: What if this person really is a Vet? What if they served to defend your freedom, and now they find themselves living on the street? What if they’re suffering from Post Traumatic Stress or Traumatic Brain Injury – wounds that you can’t see – they can’t get a job, and aren’t getting the support they need? What if their PTS has left them feeling disconnected from society, and being ignored for pan-handling is just driving them further into a black hole of depression that leads to alcoholism, drug abuse, and even suicide? How important is that $10 to you when compared to what this person might be going through?

For me, I’ll err on the side of being taken advantage of. I can afford it. Most of us can. If $10, a look in the eye, and a genuine wish for good luck might make the difference in this person’s life, I’ll take the risk that they’re not being honest with me, just in case they are. Either way, I’d rather come from Love than Fear. And it doesn’t have to be $10. It can be $5. Or $1. Or 50 cents, if that’s what you have. If you don’t have any cash at all, try just looking them in the eye and saying, “Hello, how are you doing today?” Many Veterans feel invisible. Homeless Veterans feel even more so. You might be surprised how meaningful it can be to be treated like a human being, even when no money is offered.

You can also pass along information for help. Homeless Vets can get help by visiting the National Coalition for Homeless Vets at http://www.nchv.org/ or calling their hotline at 800.VET.HELP. The call is free, and homeless Vets can get internet access at most public libraries.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On What We Thank Them For

I was having a conversation the other day with a psychologist, Kate Dahlstedt M.A. L.M.H.C., Co-Director of an organization called Soldier's Heart. Kate works with Veterans who are struggling with Post Traumatic Stress (remember, we dropped the D – “Disorder” part). She was telling me about some of the work that she’s doing with Veterans, and that some of them struggle with being thanked for their service at all. Some of them, according to Kate, feel that they did and saw some pretty horrible things in the course of their service in combat, and they don’t feel that those are things that we should be thanking them for.

Although I haven’t had that experience myself, I can understand how someone who has experienced what they’ve experienced might feel that way. So I thought that it was worth taking a moment to reflect on what exactly it is that we’re thanking them for when we thank them for their service. Of course, everyone has their own experience, and their own point of view on things, and we at thegratitudecampaign acknowledge and respect that. Here is our point of view:

We are free. Free to be the people that we want to be, to go where we want to go, to do what we want to do, and say what we want to say. As human beings those freedoms are our birthright; but they must be respected, and they must be defended.

When someone signs up to serve, they take an oath of service. The crux of that oath is that they promise to “…protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign, and domestic.” From that point on, throughout the duration of their service, where, when, and how they fulfill that oath is not completely up to them. Depending on the circumstances they are presented with, some do it heroically. Some do it quietly, almost anonymously. And it is the fate of some that they must endure, and perhaps on occasion participate in the most brutal aspects of being human over the course of their service. Not having walked in their shoes, those aspects are not mine to judge. But they all – every single one of them -- by taking that oath, have joined the ranks of millions of men and women who, for over 200 years, have served and sacrificed to defend Freedom so that the rest of us may live the way we want to live.

That, in its simplest terms, is what we thank them for.

For more information about Soldier’s Heart, please visit http://www.soldiersheart.net/

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On Anonymity

I recently received an email from our web site from a… disgruntled viewer. Essentially, this person’s opinion was that our motivation for starting thegratitudecampaign was to inflate our own ego(s); that it was all about putting the attention on us, rather than on those who serve. And that if we truly wanted to support those who serve, we would do it anonymously. For instance, they argued, we might make a donation to a non-profit anonymously, or we might pay for a service person’s meal in a restaurant anonymously. This is one of the less frequent comments we receive. But it’s not the first time we’ve received it, so I thought it was worth exploring.

First, for the record, I have done both of these. I both personally, and on behalf of thegratitudecampaign, have made donations to non-profits anonymously. I have also paid for service personnel’s meals in public restaurants on several occasions. And I will tell you – if you’ve never done that, I highly recommend it.

One of the reasons that I love paying for meals anonymously is that the receiver – the service member – doesn’t know who paid the tab. They only know that there is someone at that restaurant who appreciates their service. What I love about that is that, if I did identify myself, they would know “here is one person who values my service.” But by not identifying myself, they are left to wonder that it may have been any one of the people in the restaurant. It may be that ALL of the people in the restaurant value their service. By identifying myself, they are valued by one. By not, they may be valued by all. And the truth is that they probably are. I get a bigger emotional charge out of them entertaining that idea than I ever could out of some sense of obligation that they might have to me personally for covering their meal.

That is the pro of anonymous giving. Here is the con:

If I give anonymously, the only two participants in that experience are me, and the receiver. Nobody else in the restaurant witnesses or is affected by that experience (with the one exception being the server who processes the payment). Nobody is inspired by that experience. And so the giving stops there.

You may have seen a commercial on television recently. Much to the chagrin of the ad agency who wrote it, I’m sure, I don’t recall who the ad was for. The commercial shows a series of events, presumably over the course of one day, wherein someone does something nice for someone else. In every scene, there is a third person who witnesses the act of kindness, takes note of it, and is inspired to perform an act of kindness themselves, which we see in the next scene. This process goes on, and on, and small acts of kindness continue to spread to people who have no direct relationship to the person we first saw do something nice. This is the beauty of NOT being anonymous -- kindness has a tendency to spread.

So… there is certainly something to be said for anonymous giving. I’m a huge fan, and I highly recommend it when and where it’s appropriate. For the record, our campaign is in no way, shape, or form about glorifying ourselves as the “thankers”. And while I’m not advocating any sort of need to purposefully call attention to yourself in expressing your gratitude to those who serve, I would ask you to consider that by allowing others to witness your act of kindness you might be an example to them, as well. You never know who you may inspire, and where that may take us all.

Monday, May 2, 2011

On Killing Osama Bin Laden

This is a long one. I had a lot to say, I guess…

Like many of you, I assume, I awoke this morning to the news that Navy SEALS had finally located and killed Osama Bin Laden. I was on my laptop computer in the kitchen, and I exclaimed (just being honest - no editing here), “Holy S**t!” My wife asked what I was referring to, and when I told her that we had finally killed Osama Bin Laden, we both shared a brief moment of celebration.

I then pulled up a few stories online to get more details. While watching a story posted by the Today Show, I was struck by a clip of several Americans out on the streets smiling, laughing, and chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!”; celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden. Celebrating death. It was a very sobering realization.

In a flash, I was reminded of a quote by President Roosevelt that I had included in a previous blog:

“I have a suspicion that when this war does end, we shall not be in a very celebrating mood, a very celebrating frame of mind. I think that our main emotion will be one of grim determination that this shall not happen again.”

I then remembered that in October of 1993 an American Blackhawk helicopter was shot down over Mogadishu, Somalia. I remembered watching on CNN as the people of Mogadishu stripped our dead soldiers of their uniforms and dragged their naked corpses through the streets, chanting and celebrating. At the time I thought, “You barbarians. I understand that you may hate the U.S. and our military. But how can you celebrate death in this way? How can you take so much pleasure in it?”

Are we any better than they as we chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” simply because we don’t have a corpse to drag through our streets? And what if we did have his corpse? Can we honestly say we wouldn’t do the same thing? Tragically, I’m not sure…

Very quickly, I wasn’t in such a celebrating mood.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t have pursued Osama Bin Laden, or that I feel any regret about US forces having killed him. I, like many Americans, felt a sense of justice in the idea that we had finally “got him” after ten years of pursuit, and after the thousands of people his organization had killed or wounded over the years. I wrote in a previous blog that, while I support Peace, I also believe that there are times and places when we must fight for what we believe is right as part of our human experience. The fight against Bin Laden and Al Qaida, I believe, is unfortunately one of those times and places.

Interestingly – and not coincidentally, I suspect -- I recently received an email from a supporter of thegratitudecampaign that quoted Gandhi when he said that, “An eye for an eye just makes the whole world blind.” The hard reality for many of us Americans to accept is that, by killing Bin Laden, we’ve simply taken another eye. It is powerfully symbolic, but in the end it won’t solve anything. Al Qaida is still alive and well. And truth be told, killing Bin Laden will likely only fuel their fire. Someone will step into Bin Laden’s place and we will have to fight them, too. And because wars are ugly, and they tend to have collateral damage, we will only enrage more people in the region inspiring even more to join the forces against us. Remember – Osama Bin Laden himself was once an ally of ours in our fight against the Soviets.

Simply put, killing just begets more killing. It is a cycle that has no natural end... until someone makes the difficult and conscious choice to deny their instinct for revenge, and stop killing. Who will that be?

Gandhi’s answer was to turn the other cheek -- passive resistance. In the face of sometimes brutal oppression, he and his followers refused to fight. Would some form of that work with Al Qaida? I don’t know. My gut says no. Gandhi opposed an empire – a nation that had political and financial interests in controlling his country. Simply put, Al Qaida fundamentally hates who we are. They don’t have any political or financial incentives that I am aware of; they are not a nation that we can negotiate with. In this moment, I’m not sure that I possess the wisdom required to say how to stop the cycle. I just know I would like it to stop. So, while there doesn’t seem to be a simple answer at the moment I will continue to ask the question, even if only of myself.

What I do know is that, for me, today is not a day of celebration. It is a day of remembrance. It is a day to remember the 19,629 people who have lost their lives in Afghanistan; the families that our fallen Troops have left behind; the wives without husbands; the husbands without wives; the children without parents; the parents without children, the untold thousands who have and will return home with injuries both seen and unseen… the terrible price that has been paid by the many in the pursuit of the one.

It is a day to remember that we are all human beings sharing life on this planet – including Osama Bin Laden. While I don’t agree with his opinions or his methods of spreading those opinions, I acknowledge that he was a fellow human being doing what he thought was right, just as we believe that we are right. I don’t know how we deal with the Hitlers and Bin Ladens of this world when they seem bent on killing or being killed. Perhaps when they set those terms, then killing them is the only thing we can do to preserve our right to live free. But I hope that one day we will find another way. And I hope that, in our determination not to yield to their oppression, we don’t in the process sacrifice our humanity and compassion by embracing their hatred. While killing and dying may sometimes be necessary, I hope that we learn to stop celebrating it. For as long as we celebrate it, it will never stop.

And so, while I’m not sure that Bin Laden left us any alternative, I take no pleasure in his death. His death brings a chapter to a close, but it does not justify the 1,566 US Troops we’ve lost in the pursuit of him, nor any of the remaining Coalition Troops or civilians killed in Afghanistan. It does not justify a single death, except to the extent that it may assuage the grief of the families of those who’ve died in his pursuit more so than if those Troops had died without ever achieving their mission of killing or capturing him.

One thing is certain. The killing of Osama Bin Laden has left a void in the world. Where there was once a hatred and a passion for killing Americans, there is now a vacuum. And Nature abhors a vacuum – it must be filled with something. Who will fill it? And what will we fill it with?

Monday, April 11, 2011

On What We Can Do

This week I want to share an e-mail that I received a few days ago. I think this sums up well many of the themes that we've been discussing in recent blogs, but in words that I could never offer:

Dear Scott,

Please allow me to thank YOU! As a Vietnam Vet from 1967-68, I know the pain of anonymity and rejection. You understand veterans and their plight completely. For someone to say to me, "Welcome Home" is a sentiment that always brings tears to my eyes, and even now I am crying as I write this.

War changes you irrevocably. Your eyes and psyche are burned with images that will never fade from view. Returning to the states and trying to re-integrate into your lifestream becomes a surreal and dreamlike event. Believe it or not, the war became our reality, and back here everything seems so banal, so trivial, so inconsequential. We are no longer of this time and place, but Outworlders, forever looking in but somehow never a part. It is a state of Being that is incomprehensible to those who never left. They try to understand our faraway gazes, our detachment, our tears, our silence. But they never will.

The best anyone can do is embrace us, hold us, allow us our contemplation, accept us, but never try to condescend, understand, sympathize, or patronize. Some of us saw and did horrific things. We remember our fallen brothers with honor, and wonder why the better man didn't go home instead of us. This is true for all who served, regardless of their campaign.

Anyway, from the deepest recesses of my heart, Thank You.


Doug Fedele

Thank YOU, Doug. And Welcome Home.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

On The Pacific

Continuing our conversation on movies that have informed and inspired our gratitude for those who serve, I suppose I could have chosen any number of the movies that people listed as their most inspiring. But for some reason, The Pacific is standing out to me right now as worthy of discussion.

Like many of the other movies listed, I think that Spielberg and Hanks’ HBO series The Pacific tells the full story of those who serve and have served, with sometimes brutal realism, shocking imagery, and very frank, to the point, but at the same time very human writing.

There is one scene in the whole series that is standing out to me right now, that I think illustrates an important point that was clearly relevant at the end of WWII and, unfortunately, is still relevant today.

In the final chapter of the movie series, one of the Soldiers that the series had followed through his combat experience in the Pacific campaign has returned home following the Japanese surrender, and is attending a job fair to transition back into civilian life. The clerk checking him in asks him if he has any experience in a long list of skills that might translate well to the private sector. After responding, “No. No. No. No.” again and again, she finally asks him what the Army did train him for. He responds, (and I’m paraphrasing here) “They trained me to kill Japs. And I got pretty goddamn good at it.”

This Soldier, like many others in the film, is clearly struggling with Post Traumatic Stress – although they didn’t call it that in 1945 – and completely lost as to how to transition back into his old life. He is a shell of the man who left home to defend his country. And he has no idea what to do, or who to be now. Unfortunately, it seems, not much has changed on that front. This is still a huge problem for those returning from combat zones today. They still feel lost. They still have PTS. And we’re still not supporting them as we should.

Sting said, “History will teach us nothing.” I hope we can prove him wrong. (I suspect he hopes so, too.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

On Saving Private Ryan

Continuing our discussion of movies that have inspired and informed our gratitude for our freedom and those who serve to defend it, it seemed appropriate to next tackle Saving Private Ryan. When we asked which films had informed and inspired you most, this was by far the most popular answer. Why is that?

I think there are several reasons:

For starters, Saving Private Ryan was probably the most accurate depiction of military conflict that we civilians had ever seen to that point in movie history. Saving Private Ryan was released in 1998, and up to that point most military combat in movies had been fairly glorified and Hollywood-ized. There had certainly been graphic movies before. But none to that point had quite managed to capture what combat felt like to the people who were in it. I remember hearing before I had gone to see it, people asking, “Have you seen Private Ryan yet? Man. The first 20 minutes will blow your mind.” I also remember seeing interviews with Veterans who were there at Omaha beach, and hearing them say that Private Ryan was the most realistic depiction they had ever seen of what it was really like.

In the opening 20 minutes, we see the Troops storming Omaha beach on D-Day. It’s absolute mayhem. The water is red with blood. Bodies are everywhere. We see limbs flying off, Soldiers lying with their internal organs spilling out around them, bullets and bombs flying everywhere, and the disorientation of Soldiers trying to navigate the beachhead to a place of cover. We see everything from brave focus and determination to mortally wounded men screaming for their mother as they lie dying. And we see the randomness of combat – that you might be talking to a guy right next to you, and a split second later he’s dead -- shot in the head while you turned yours away. We also see the great degrees to which people respond to combat – the heroism in the face of great danger; the crippling terror; the confusion; the barbarity; and even still, the humanity, and everything in between.

There were no glorified slow motion shots in Saving Private Ryan; no heroic advances, no infallible characters. The men in the movie were as real, and as fallible as they could be; just there to do their job, and try to make it home alive; caught between believing in what they were doing, and at the same time realizing the futility of war.

The mission to save Private Ryan is a metaphor for all of the sons, brothers, and fathers who were lost in WWII. It is a focused, powerful reminder that families everywhere lost, and still lose loved ones in war. And it reminds us of the terrible price that is paid by a relative few, so that the majority of us can live free and safe. Of the seven men assembled to find Private Ryan and return him to his family, only two survive the mission.

In the final scenes of the movie, as Tom Hanks’ Captain Miller lies dying at the edge of the bridge, his final words are to Private Ryan. He says, “Earn this.” In the final scene, as an elderly Ryan is visiting Miller’s grave some 54 years later, he says, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best that I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I've earned what all of you have done for me.”

This is Spielberg’s challenge to us all. To earn what these men and women have sacrificed so greatly to protect and defend for us.

Have we? Are we?

Monday, February 28, 2011

On The King's Speech

In honor of the Oscars, which were just awarded this past weekend, it seemed appropriate to begin our discussion of movies that inspire and inform with this year’s winner for Best Picture, The King’s Speech.

Now, you might be thinking, “What does The King’s Speech have to do with thegratitudecampaign?” Simply put, it’s about service. It’s no accident that I tend to refer to active personnel and Veterans as “those who serve”. These men and women have chosen to serve their fellow man by defending their freedom and security. As a benefit of their service, the rest of us enjoy the freedom and security to be who we want to be, and do what we want to do. That is no small gift. And in many cases, these men and women sacrifice themselves – who they are, if not their lives themselves – in order to give us that gift.

In The King’s Speech, Colin Firth shows us the great struggle that King George VI had to overcome a life-long stammering problem in order to be able just to speak to his people.

For those who haven’t studied WWII, by 1940 the British people found themselves alone after the fall of France to the Germans. They were isolated on their little island, with German U-Boats sinking hundreds of ships bringing much needed food and supplies to the UK. The only thing that stood between them and German invasion was the English Channel, and a handful of RAF pilots. London was bombed daily and indiscriminately. Thousands of civilians were killed. And those who weren’t killed lived under constant threat, dwindling supplies, and scarce food. I wonder sometimes if we Americans, so secure in our homeland for so long, could survive the same kind of ordeal.

Amidst all of this, King George VI, who never really wanted to be king at all, was called to lead his people. With the advent of radio, his most powerful weapon would have to be his voice – the one thing that he had o faith in at all. With his country at war, and his countrymen dying around him, he had to face his biggest fears, ask for help, embrace the work to overcome his challenges, and speak to his people to inspire them to persevere. Although he wasn’t on the front lines, King George VI understood what his people needed from him most. He knew the way in which way he could best serve them. And he did what he had to do to support his people.

This is the kind of service that every man and woman in our armed forces provides, every day. Doing their part, at great risk and sacrifice, so that we might all be free to do what we want to do, and be who we want to be. Some sacrifice more than others; and some have to overcome greater obstacles than others in order to serve. But they all do their part, and stand ready to answer the call.

The King’s Speech informs and inspires. It’s about Service.