Gen. Martin Dempsey, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is expected to know something about the society he serves as well as the soldiers he leads, delivered a timely message Monday morning to an audience containing both soldiers and civilians at Kansas State University.
Acknowledging that the nation has a generally positive view of soldiers and veterans — one that’s well deserved — he called for raising the volume of the discussion about America’s war veterans and how they’re regarded in civilian society.
It is one thing for civilians to thank veterans — and that is happening. It’s quite another thing for civilians to take the trouble to urge veterans to discuss some of their experiences in the armed forces and what they aspire to in civilian life.
That’s something many veterans are loathe to do except among fellow soldiers. By the same token, citizens often are reluctant to demonstrate the sort of interest that could encourage veterans to open up. “We ought to have that conversation,” he said.
Gen. Dempsey, a 1974 West Point graduate and combat veteran, made his remarks during a Landon Lecture in McCain Auditorium. The conversation he envisions would help civilians understand some of the challenges that soldiers returning from war zones face in civilian life. Civilian society can be as foreign to soldiers as combat zones are to civilians. Soldiers’ transitions could be eased by knowledge of resources they can tap, such as job fairs and educational opportunities.
Gen. Dempsey also acknowledged that the Army itself must do more to help personnel prepare to return to civilian society. His story of a veteran trying to adapt to the “million tiny anxieties of life outside the combat zone” spoke volumes about the culture shock that awaits veterans, especially those who’ve been deployed multiple times in the decade that America has been at war.
It’s not only important for Americans to understand and help veterans prosper in the society they fought for, Gen. Dempsey argued that it’s also essential that the United States remain engaged with the rest of the world. That would foster our understanding of and collaboration with other cultures and ensure that our nation is in a position to influence events beyond our shores. Such involvement could lead to relationships that make troop deployments less necessary.
That would be a welcome outcome.