This post also appears on Engaging Volunteers.
When my younger stepbrother entered the Marines, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. He enlisted right after high school and I strongly felt that he should go to college first, get some life experience, mature a little and then join up. I knew best, of course.
At that time the military was a vague abstraction for me, something other people far removed from my world did when, to be honest, they didn’t have anything else to do with their lives.
Then I attended my stepbrother’s graduation from boot camp.
I was astounded by the level of focus and determination that was emanating from the new recruits, many of them barely 18 years old. By the internal motivation, burning like a bright fire, that clearly drove them to work much harder than even their scary drill instructors could possibly have done. By the level of maturity that my stepbrother had achieved in a couple short months, something that would have taken years in college, if not longer.
It was a humbling experience for me, someone who always finds it difficult to admit when she’s wrong. And boy, was I wrong in this case. It became clear to me that I knew basically nothing about the military and the individuals who are a part of it, and also that my stepbrother had made the right decision.
He was not the first of his family to make this decision. My stepfather spent decades in the Navy, and my older stepbrother also served in the Marines before becoming a local policeman. I began to realize that military service is something that gets in your blood, through nature or nurture or both, and becomes a part of who you are.
Which is very much like volunteering and service. For me, at least, I’ve always thought of my choice to work in the nonprofit world, to dedicate my time to help people and nonprofits make a difference, as aligned with something inside of me.
After that experience at my stepbrother’s boot camp, military service became real to me. I realized that he and his fellow service members spend every day working harder than they’ve ever worked in their lives. They often spend months away from family and friends, sometimes heading into life threatening situations while needing to be at the top of their game.
And when my stepbrother was seriously injured in Afghanistan, the commitment and sacrifice that so many individuals make became a stark reality. They’re not figures quoted on CNN, they’re not fodder for protests and elections. They are people who have decided that what they are doing for others – for all of us – is more important than anything else.
My stepbrother is fine, thank God, but since that day when I got that call I’ve felt inside myself a heightened need to make what I’m doing count – just the way my stepfather and his sons have done. Each day provides new opportunity to push myself farther and find new ways to have an impact, in big and small ways, both professionally and personally.
So today, on Veteran’s Day, don’t honor our veterans just for the sacrifices they make and the work they do to protect us. Honor them for the inspiration they provide us all, showing us by example that each one of us really can make a difference.
Who are the veterans that inspire you?
If you’re inspired to give back to veterans and their families, check out these opportunities on VolunteerMatch, and encourage your employee volunteers to consider it, as well.