Looking past monuments, parades for vets' next steps
By Leo Shane III
Stars and Stripes
Published: June 12, 2013
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WASHINGTON — Instead of thanking veterans, Blake Bourne wants Americans to ask them to do more.
“No matter where I go, when people hear I’m a veteran they immediately say, ‘Thank you for what you did,’” the 31-year-old Army veteran said. “But we’ve almost gone too far with that.
“It feels like most people want to tell you that you did enough work, and now it’s time to relax and take a knee.”
The Iraq and Afghanistan wars were the first prolonged conflicts to be fought by America’s all-volunteer military, and many troops are returning looking for more opportunities to volunteer.
For Bourne, that meant joining Mission Continues, whose stated goal is to help veterans reintegrate into civilian society through continued service. He’s almost six months into a fellowship with the group, receiving a small stipend to spend his time coordinating community volunteers in Charlotte, N.C.
“You can have 5,000 people come out and applaud a group of veterans, and that’s great, but what does it really do?” he said. “I think I’d rather see that same group go out and plant trees, maybe help just a small group in the community, but really engage and show what they can do.”
The idea of second service among returning troops has led to a rise in recent years of a new breed of veterans groups, ones that avoid lobbying and public affairs in favor of direct community interaction.
“This is a generation of volunteer servicemembers,” said Spencer Kympton, director with Mission Continues. “Many of them don’t feel like they need to be given anything. What they need is a new mission.”
Officials at Team Rubicon, a disaster response charity of veterans volunteers, has a stated goal of giving returning troops “a renewed sense of purpose” through emergency response work suited to their military skills. Team Red, White and Blue, which runs sporting events for veterans and civilians, sees physical activity as an common experience and easy entry point for military reintegration efforts.
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