Eight years ago, after the capture of Saddam Hussein in a spider hole, TIME Magazine named The American Soldier its “Person of the Year.” It was an iconic cover story that put a face on these wars and played a decisive role in getting Americans to separate personal politics from their treatment of our troops.
Now, as we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, TIME has unveiled a historic follow-up to that initial introduction -- “The New Greatest Generation”-- in recognition of a new 21st century veterans’ movement helping mold a stronger America. Various forces, people, and organizations have converged for one purpose – to better the lives of military veterans and their families, in honor of their service and dedication to our country.
For Iraq and Afghanistan veterans everywhere, this is a game-changing moment.
In a week when the media is covering 2012 candidate feuds as if polls open tomorrow, the TIME cover story shows the entire world the face and potential of a powerful new generation of leaders for America. Tough people who are dependable in times of adversity. Men and women who put their country first. Leaders who can get things done. The five of us (Liz Young McNally, Wes Moore, John Gallina, Dale Beatty and myself) are humbled to have been chosen to represent our brother and sisters in the veterans’ community.
Take what Dale and John have done with Purple Heart Homes for an example of how individuals can take ideas and turn them into transformative change. They combined their homebuilding experience with their military experience, and created an organization that is both practical and inspiring. All it took was a lot of grit, determination and innovation.
Also featured in the article are powerful emerging leaders like Brian Stann of UFC fame, Jake Wood of Team Rubicon, and Eric Greitens of The Mission Continues. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. We represent the diversity, skill and energy of all 2.3 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. And we’re just barely scratching the surface of the tremendous contribution and potential of this new generation of vets. Thanks to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, many more will be following in our ranks in government, business and the nonprofit sectors -- and the country needs to start paying attention. The TIME cover story shows the entire world that we are not a charity, we’re an investment. We’ve led America in combat overseas, and we’re ready to lead at home. We are social entrepreneurs. We are changemakers. We are force multipliers.
This past week, I met thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at IAVA events at baseball games in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Many of them reminded me of Dale, John, Liz and Wes. Some of them have just gotten back, and are just getting their feet on the ground. Others are just now starting college because of the G.I. Bill. Many are looking for work, eager to join a team that values hard work, creativity and flexibility.
Make no mistake about it, more young vet movers and shakers are in-bound to American communities across the nation. Investing in their future now is the best thing we as a country can do for our collective future, from their education to their health care to their employment. Initiatives like the White House’s “Joining Forces,” and the Chamber of Commerce’s “Hiring Our Heroes” are great starts. But this isn’t the end-game. It’s more like halftime.
As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and Veterans Day on 11/11/11, it’s critical to keep the spotlight on new veterans, their contributions in the military and the impact they are now making on our everyday lives in the civilian workforce. They are living proof that service to country doesn’t end when you take off the uniform. A new surge of combat veterans will be returning home in the coming years. Hopefully, they will find the road a little more well-paved than their predecessors did, due to the hard work and dedication of people like Liz and Wes, and organizations like Purple Heart Homes and IAVA.
It’s not all positive, of course. Veterans’ unemployment continues to skyrocket nationwide. The mental health concerns and homelessness numbers aren’t going away anytime soon. This TIME cover story needs to be a catalyst more than a celebration. The leaders in this article, and the hundreds of thousands they served beside who weren’t named, represent exactly what America needs to rebuild its economy and propel its future: leadership, resilience and commitment to serve. They are our small business leaders, our teachers, our novelists, our screenwriters, our CEOs, our diplomats, and probably, a President or two.
And it’s going to take all of us, from the owners of the smallest businesses to the most powerful Senators in D.C., to make sure America maximizes all of that potential.
Iraq and Afghanistan vets will do our part, make no mistake about that. We’ll lead from the front. We always have. The TIME is now.