Veterans Are Eager to Serve, We Should Let Them

March 5, 2020

I just want to start this piece off with the disclaimer that I’m a conscientious objector to the entire military industrial complex. One of my biggest issues (of which there are many) is how veterans are treated as they adjust to civilian life. As a political talking point we frequently hear that we need to support our veterans, but most of the time it feels like lip service that is then discarded when the election cycle ends. This is a huge disservice to the approximately 200,000-250,000 service members who come off of active duty every year. 

Unfortunately, about 40% of our veterans report feeling a lack of purpose, an understandable feeling as many members of the armed forces join young; military life is all they know as an adult. In fact, according to the Council of Foreign Affairs, 84% of Marines’ recruits are 20 or younger (source) and the unemployment rate for veterans between the ages of 20-24 is 14.9% (source)

So how do we help our veterans? How do we show them they are more than a talking point? How do we provide a sense of purpose to citizens filled with experience, skill, and passion who languish in communities all over the country because they can’t find their next mission?

Mary Beth Bruggeman, Marine veteran and speaker of the talk, Veterans: Eager to Serve, touches on this idea greatly; we as an industry are ignoring a huge well of untapped potential in veterans looking for their next mission.

As Mary Beth said, “We need to open the aperture on what we consider to be a veteran issue,” because usually when we hear the words “veteran issue” we tend to only think about the problems plaguing the VA. Which isn’t to say that VA funding and operation isn’t a huge issue that needs to be solved, but so is vet homelessness and unemployment. Mary Beth opened so many minds to the concept that vets are powerful levers for social change. They can be and are passionate advocates for community, civic engagement, mental health reform, environment, gun safety, equity, and inclusion.

For 12 years, Mary Beth’s organization, The Mission Continues, has connected vets with opportunities to help in underserved communities in 56 cities. In 2018, hundreds of vets and civilians came together for an MC event called, “Mass Deployment”. For one week, “Mass Deployment” sets out to capture the best parts of a military deployment-- teamwork, connectedness, and hyper focus on a mission.

When we think about those skills honed in service that the “Mass Deployment” focuses on -- teamwork, communication, hyperfocus, problem solving -- Mary Beth’s words make perfect sense, “Imagine what they could do for advertising. The best thing about this industry is that just about anyone from any walk of life can find success....It’s good business to have vets lead efforts to tackle the tough and complex problems in communities and boardrooms.” Why wouldn’t we as advertisers want problem-solving experts, regardless of whether we find them in a portfolio school or fresh off deployment?

So in the words of Mary Beth, “Call a veteran. We’re out there looking for our next mission, and the harder it is, the better."