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


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.

On The Power of the Movies

Last week I posted a question on our Facebook page. It said:

Movies inform and inspire us. In honor of Oscar weekend, which movie has most inspired your gratitude for your freedom and those who serve to defend it?

Movies have always been an important part of my life. I wasn’t just giving lip service with my question – they have informed me about a wide range of topics that I would not have otherwise been exposed to. And they have inspired me to be a better human being. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that I started thegratitudecampaign to begin with.

Movies are so powerful because they show us aspects of who we are that might not otherwise be apparent to us. They show us what is happening in the world around us. And they show us how life could be, if only given the right circumstances. Would we have been ready to elect an African-American President by the year 2008, for instance, if Hollywood had not been showing us what that would look like for ten to fifteen years prior?

So it wasn’t surprising to find that they have inspired many of our Facebook fans, as well. Several fantastic movies were listed as inspirational. So I thought that was worth taking a closer look at. In the coming weeks, I’m going to spend a little time discussing some of the movies that have inspired and informed our gratitude for our freedom, and those who serve to defend it.

Stay tuned…

Friday, February 11, 2011

On Dropping the D

I was in a meeting with a Soldier yesterday, and the topic of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) came up. He said to me, “You know that it’s not PTSD anymore, right?” I said, “No. I hadn’t heard that. What is it now?” He replied, “They’re just calling it PTS now.” I said, “Good! It’s about time we stopped calling it a ‘disorder’.”

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had the great honor and blessing to be able to talk to some of our Service Members who’ve served in combat about their experiences. I say honor and blessing because many of these men are not comfortable talking about their experiences. I suspect that there are many reasons for this. Some don’t want to revisit the pain. Others don’t think that there’s any point in trying to tell a story that someone who has never experienced anything close to could possibly truly understand. And I’m sure that there are other reasons that I’m not even aware of. For my part, I fully admit that there is no way that I could truly understand what they've told me. Still, I believe that some level of understanding is better than none at all. So it is a great honor for me that they trust me enough to open up to me. And so I do my best to listen, empathize, respect, and not to pity or judge.

Through these conversations, I’ve been able to garner some level of understanding that goes beyond what I would have had had I not had these conversations or if I had only read about these things or seen them in movies. There is something very profound in sitting with a strong, brave, powerful, disciplined, and dedicated man, and watching him have to pause for just a moment as his eyes turn red and glossy before he can spit out his next sentence about what he has seen and experienced in war. There is an exchange of emotion in that moment, albeit unspoken, that cannot be denied and at least in my experience cannot be forgotten.

Webster’s defines “disorder” as “an abnormal physical or mental condition”. After hearing the stories I’ve heard directly from those who have been there and done that, and reflecting on my conversation yesterday, it seems an oxymoron to call their stress a “disorder”, or “abnormal”. Most of us experience moderate to significant stress from traffic, job deadlines, credit card bills, relationships, having too much to do in too little time. It seems to me that if one were able to experience death and destruction on the scale that some of our Service Members have experienced, having been called back to war for four and five and six deployments, and to return home with no residual stress that was debilitating to some degree, that would be an “abnormal mental condition”.

Now, I want to be crystal clear here – I am not judging those who’ve experienced war and returned home able to manage their stress and memories without needing therapy, treatment, or medication. Everyone’s experiences are different, and everyone manages stress in different ways, and to different degrees.

I will simply say that one Veteran’s Center counselor that I spoke with estimates that upwards to 85% to 90% of those who’ve experienced combat return with some level of PTS. But current official estimates range from only 10% to 35%, largely due to lack of reports as a result of stigmas surrounding PTS(D), and lack of awareness as to how to recognize the symptoms of PTS.

Simply put, it seems apparent that experiencing PTS as a result of combat experience is not an “abnormal mental condition”. To the contrary, it is perfectly normal. And I’m not sure that I would want to live in a world where experiencing war stress-free is “normal”.

So here’s to dropping the “D”. Thank you for the insight, Staff Sergeant.