I recently published a piece outlining why I decided to leave the active duty Army after 14 years (located here). I wrote that piece to help anyone grappling with the same dilemma I was: the opportunity cost of sticking around to collect a pension.
The Army and all those with whom I’ve served have immeasurably changed my life for the better; even many of the miserable memories somehow contain newfound positive aspects ever enhanced with time. Rather than discuss the topics I frequently address (retirement, tax, estate planning etc.), I’d like to dedicate some space to discuss why I decided to stay working with military, specifically Veterans, upon leaving active duty.
For those who lack a lot of exposure to military life, what I am about to write may sound foreign, so let me first start with an analogy. When Americans go abroad, they encounter foreigners who assume we are all the same. As anyone who grew up in America knows, we are anything but “all the same.” Most Americans bristle at criticism of our country by non-citizens even when we will engage in endless argument with our countrymen.
In general, we share traditional reverence and love for democracy, freedom and the rule of law because of the role each has played in building our wonderful nation; however, our country is so diverse that our dissimilarities are also profound. Having lived all over this country, I can attest firsthand to the fact that dairy farmers in Wisconsin, healthcare professionals in Nashville, beltway insiders in Washington, DC and financial professionals in New York City don’t just have different geographies and industries.
They have very different values, and yet, it works. Our differences are part of the strength of the nation, even when those differences manifest themselves into serious discord at times.
The same sorts of cultural conundrums apply to the military. If a foreigner views Americans as mostly homogenous, my experience has taught me that most Americans view the military as being roughly the same. The truth is far from that. Each service is proud of its culture and pokes fun of the others; while I’ve seen it get out of hand on a rare occasion or two, our interactions and relationships are nearly always built on mutual respect.
The issues facing Veterans are unique in some respects, but there is a much stronger similarity to the problems facing the nation as a whole than one might ordinarily assume (E.g., paying for college, finding steady employment, combatting homelessness, assisting entrepreneurs etc.). In much the same way Americans are relieved to find another American when abroad (especially in a non-English speaking country), I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue working on legal issues facing Veterans.
The ecosystem of being American is as diverse as the ecosystem of military service. Nonetheless, nearly every Veteran I’ve met shares my sense of profound gratitude to be a member of both these ecosystems.