Stop for a moment and ask yourself: What do you think of when you meet a post-9/11 veteran?
Sure, everyone knows or has met someone who has served in one capacity or another in Iraq, Afghanistan, or both. Most have yellow stickers on the back of their cars thanking veterans for their service. Everyone knows veterans have sacrificed and seen their brothers and sisters wounded and killed on the battlefield of this global war on terror. But there’s another undercurrent in the media, in movies and in society that portrays veterans as broken and not how we view ourselves at all. Someone has built a narrative that we are all broken and that the VA has the tools to fix us. But I’d like to change that!
I work with and talk with my fellow veterans every day through my work as the director of strategic development at the Green Beret Foundation. I see veterans as a proud, strong, patriotic group of Americans. I, for one, am very proud of my service and all of the accomplishments during my military carrier. But what concerns me and most of my fellow post-9/11 veterans is transitioning out of a life dedicated to serving our brothers and sisters and our country, to a life of an everyday citizen. We want to be just as successful and, quite frankly, have the same opportunity to succeed as those for whom we fought for that right.
I find that today’s veterans are entrepreneurial and are leading this country forward. They are supporting one other in self-organizing groups such as Veterans in Film & Television and Team Rubicon. Veterans are heads of businesses, small and large, and growing our nation’s economy. They are using the post-9/11 GI Bill to get bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees at some of the most prestigious schools in the nation. Post 9/11 veterans are heading into other areas of service, such as nonprofits, and are entering a life of politics and taking the fight to Washington to effect policy and change.
Today’s post 9/11 veterans should inspire you. And they have much more to give to our country. That’s where the Green Beret Foundation is stepping up. We’re starting a new program called “Next Ridgeline,” which will empower our special forces veterans to lead. We are going to support our community as veterans transition to the civilian workforce through mentoring, networking, business plan development assistance and other career services.
Having served 25 years as a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier, I feel a personal drive to support my fellow soldiers as they transition, and I am proud to do it. In Tampa, where I have lived for the past seven years, I am mentoring a number of young veterans and active in numerous local fundraising activities for various veterans groups.
Far too many veterans depart the service unprepared and un-networked in the communities they return to. Most don’t have someone to provide the guidance like an old commander or sergeant used to. It is even harder in our special forces community where we were selected and trained to be highly independent. So we as Americans need to take that first step and figure out how we can support them in their professional endeavors. We need to provide guidance and connect them to people who can make their business plans succeed. We need to overcome that current stigma that the VA will take care of our veterans and that all of them are broken by war.
I am proud of my service to our great nation and encourage you to support today’s post-9/11 veterans as they transition. I think it’s time for all Americans to get involved and to bypass the stereotypes of the victimized veteran.
Scott Neil retired in 2010 as Senior Enlisted Advisor to the director of U.S. Special Operation Command Interagency Task Force at MacDill Air Force Base after serving for 25 years in the Army Special Forces, better known as the Green Berets. He was one of the first to deploy to Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa following 9/11. Today Neil serves as the director of development for the Green Beret Foundation, which provides resources to help the wounded, ill and injured, provides support to the Special Forces community, and works to uphold Green Beret traditions and values.