Veterans Find Happiness, Purpose, Success After Iraq and Afghanistan

The status of veterans deserves our constant attention, and on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, we take a moment to show our respect and appreciation for those who have done well after serving in the War on Terror.

Former Army Captain Andrew Brennan made it his mission to build a national memorial to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, forming the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation.

The Washington Post reports his team includes former CIA director General David Petraeus, retired Marine General James T. Conway, Medal of Honor recipient Captain Florent Groberg, and Jan Scruggs, who conceived the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

Scruggs came aboard after he wrote an op-ed asking, “Who will step forward?” to build a memorial for veterans of our post-9/11 conflicts, and Brennan promptly did, equipped with “a full ops plan, 10 years out, describing everything from forming his nonprofit and its board, through the moment the National Park Service would take ownership of the memorial.”

Among the obstacles they seek to overcome is a law stipulating such memorials cannot be built until 10 years after a war is over — a requirement Brennan and his group believe should be waived for an indefinite conflict against an amorphous enemy.

There’s also the question of what to call the war, since “War on Terror” is viewed as a derisive name by some, although Brennan named his organization as such because “Global War on Terrorism” is written on service medals authorized by the Defense Department.

Brennan lost friends in that war, including Bryan Nichols, pilot of a Chinook helicopter shot down over Afghanistan. “I wear a KIA, Killed In Action bracelet for him, every day,” he told the Washington Post.

He explained to DoD News that it wasn’t a moment too soon to get started on a War on Terror Memorial:

Some of the veterans who fought at the very beginning in 2001, who may have been 40 at the time – right now they’re 55, so if it takes us 10 years, that veteran’s going to be 65 and later in life. It would be great if they’d have the ability to come here and pay their respects … and be able to … explain the history of what they did and what their friends did to their kids and grandkids.

Brennan will find some people in Congress who know exactly what he’s talking about. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have successfully run for office include Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK). Voice of America counts 25 current lawmakers who are “veterans of America’s two most recent wars.”

Shaun Garry was blown up five times during the 15 months he spent hunting for roadside bombs in Iraq. After his medical discharge, he came home to run a 2Toots Train Whistle Grill in the Chicago suburbs, a franchise restaurant that delivers food to its guests with toy trains.

When the franchise was a finalist for USA Today’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2014, the paper profiled Garry, describing him as “jobless for several years” despite sending out over a hundred applications. A fellow veteran, a Marine who served in Vietnam named Lynn Lowder, told him veterans were ideally suited to own small businesses and helped him get the loan he needed for his restaurant.

“I think the biggest misconception about these veterans is that they are damaged. He just presses on. If something doesn’t work, he doesn’t take it personally,” 2Toots co-founder Dale Eisenberg said of Garry.

After Army vet Chris Nolte received a medical retirement due to a back injury in Iraq, he installed an electric-assistance kit on his bicycle, realized he had discovered a business opportunity, and founded Propel Bikes. He told Kiplinger he needed only a $20,000 business loan to get started with a small bike inventory and a website he constructed himself. By 2015, Propel Bikes had reached $1 million in annual gross sales.

“One of my greater successes is that I can provide a living for my two siblings, and that makes me pretty happy,” he told Kiplinger. “My brother, Kyle, who is 25, is my right-hand man. My sister, Catherine, who is 28 and lives out of state, handles Web marketing.”

Resources to help veterans transition into successful civilian lives include groups like Combat Veterans to Careers, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and programs offered by many universities, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Baldwin Wallace University, and Texas A&M.

The U.S. Small Business Association runs a program called “Boots to Business,” which offers a curriculum including “steps for evaluating business concepts, the foundational knowledge required to develop a business plan and information on SBA resources available to help access start-up capital and additional technical assistance.”

Of course, there are many resources available and many veterans who have used them to achieve great success after returning from the War on Terror. It’s all too easy to overlook such stories because they are legion. It pays to dwell on good news, every now and then, as we consider how the world has changed since 9/11.

Victory requires deadly combat against a monstrous enemy, but our triumph will be reflected in what we build and what we cherish, despite their worst efforts.


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