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by Scott Kelly
On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month in 1918, the guns fell silent over Europe as WWI ended. Within the year, this day became known as Armistice Day, to celebrate the end of the war to end all wars, and honor those who fought in it. In 1954, after several more generations of veterans had been created, it was renamed Veterans Day – a public concession to the reality that no matter how terrible a conflict was, war would continue, and more veterans would come as a result.
Veterans Day has correspondingly meant different things to different people over the years, based on their own experience, relationship to military service, and the national mood. It has always been a special day for me, though the meaning has changed over time. When I was a kid, it meant that all my favorite old war movies would be playing on the TV. As a young adult, it was a reminder of the sacrifices being made by friends who I watched go off and fight in the forever wars. As a soldier, it was a day to see which of my colleagues would make cringe-worthy posts on social media. This year is different. This year is my first Veterans Day as a veteran.
It is hard to say what Veterans Day means for veterans. Society tends to paint us with a broad brush, but our experiences in uniform, and how we carry those memories after, are very personal. Some of us lived in the mud with a rifle, others poured over intelligence reports in dingy tents. Some were engineers maintaining our nation’s most advanced systems, others handled payroll and administrative functions. The only real constant I have found is fond memories of the best conversations with comrades over the worst food imaginable. Even here though there are differences there, too. For an Army infantryman, it was a cold meal ready to eat (MRE) served with moldy bread and tepid coffee that resembled motor oil. For an Airforce pilot, it was a steak accidentally served well done.
The transition out of service to becoming a veteran can be challenging. Wearing the nation’s flag every day and working with people who are willing to drop everything and pay any price in service to their country comes imbued with a sense of purpose and meaning that is difficult to recognize until you take the uniform off. For many, myself included, a key part of a transition from soldier to veteran is finding a place that helps you hold on to a little bit of that, to find a place where you’re still surrounded by folks who have an intrinsic motivation to serve and excel beyond just knocking out the daily task list.
I was able to find a new career in a privately owned tech company committed to bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.. My days serving the country by jumping out of planes with a rifle may be over, but I still get to be of service by working to help secure America’s technological future and reduce our reliance on hostile foreign regimes for our economic lifeblood. There are numerous like-minded veterans working to do the same in different companies, filling positions in every department, at every level, modeling excellence in how they carry themselves daily and the leadership they bring to their teams.
Perhaps this begins to get at the heart of what Veterans Day is about. It is a day of remembrance and bonding, both between veterans who come together, and between the veteran community and the nation who asked them to serve. For the nation, it is a chance to express gratitude and develop an understanding of those who have borne the burden of its security. For veterans, it is a day to honor colleagues, remember the past, and remind us it is okay to lay down those burdens we may no longer have the strength or desire to carry as we pick up new tools in our new lives. For both, Veterans Day is an opportunity to reflect upon and learn from the sacrifices of our past so we can better pursue the opportunities of tomorrow.