Huffpost Impact

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jennifer Simckowitz Headshot

Not All Military Heroes Wield Guns on Battlefields

Posted: Updated:

At the beginning of the 21st century's second decade, global challenges have become boot camp for soldiers turned "Change Agents" -- whose unstoppable energy and military-honed commitment is changing lives of people and environments around the world.

It seems like we often neglect to fully recognize extraordinary feats of armor-less military heroes who are unleashing out-of-the-box solutions on the world's most alarming problems. All too often, the stereotypes of military heroes overshadow their extraordinary humanitarian acts as first responders in failed states or natural disaster-ravaged countries.

After reading about the medical humanitarian aid mission to Haiti aboard the USNS Comfort -- the largest mission of its kind EVER -- I started to think differently about the U.S. military and Vets. I wondered if we cast the military in what many would characterize as a left-leaning point of view, how many more Americans would feel a connection with these larger-than-life personalities, their breathtaking stories and the real impact they're having in circumstances we can't possibly understand.

Case in point: The military doctors today on the USNS Comfort. Navy doctor and Captain Terence McGee is as much a Change Agent as any rescue worker or emergency room surgeon. He and his crew take on some of the most challenging medical crises around the clock. Within one day of arriving to Haiti surgeons on the USNS Comfort completed nine surgeries, finishing at around 4:30 a.m. That's no small feat for a team of doctors floating in foreign oceans. By the end of the second day they quickly filled the 1,100-bed ship -- the largest number of endangered lives ever to be aboard one ship.

I read a story about a doctor who had a name tag made out of surgical tape on the back of his shirt. It read: "Bulldog." I think that sums up what they're doing rather nicely. They are Change Agents, Bulldogs, up against the odds, who take responsibility, work until they drop, get little rest and do it all again. Their personal sense of duty goes beyond the call of duty because that's what Change Agents do.

Similarly, Marine Captain Brian Steidle's sense of duty extends beyond his military assignments. Back in 2004, the Navy sent Steidle to Darfur to observe and document its conflict. Six months later he returned to the U.S. to report what he saw to Congress.

Steidle's mission turned him onto a life-long journey to educate people about genocide in Darfur. He told the story of the afflicted people through his on-going narrative, photographs and work. Rather than weapons, he used journalism and photography, combined with military acumen, to explain the Darfur conflict and help us understand it. How many military vets do you know who have written a feature film? Steidle's "The Devil Came on Horseback" premiered at Sundance in 2007!

As if creating a documentary about Darfur wasn't enough, Steidle also founded HOPE, an organization to support education and growth around the world through artists and Steidle Corporation, which provides consultation and investigative services for human rights violations.

All military Change Agents don't have to travel overseas to make a serious impact. Al Brittain, Veteran's Task Force member and retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant turned his passion for dogs into a continuous volunteer role with Canine Companions for Independence. He trains service dogs for Veterans with disabilities and impairments.

A new generation of soldier Change Agents is using cutting edge technology, battlefield skills, and cultural tools to shape positive change around the world. I think it's time to bring to light the extraordinary humanitarian acts of our service members.

A version of this article was originally published on