Colonel David Sutherland had just gotten back from Iraq. His wife picked him up at the Dallas airport and drove him to their hotel. As they pulled up, he remarked, “All I can think about is how to take down this building.”
He looked the same, but he thought differently. He acted differently. And it was hard — really, impossible — for his family to relate.
After seeing what they’ve seen and feeling what they’ve felt, America’s veterans will never be the same again. Even veterans who return from combat with all of their limbs and faculties intact have been forever changed.
America welcomes them home with open arms — signs at the airport, parades, a simple “Thank you for your service” at the grocery store. But most people don’t know how to help as the long-term settling back into the community begins.
That’s why a small non-profit called Esprit de Corps made the movie Veteran Nation.
The film is a 30-minute documentary that goes inside the war stories — and the homecomings — of our fighting men and women. Colonel Sutherland is one of the veterans featured in the film.
“The American people know what we are; they may not know us,” Sutherland says. “This is a great way for the American people to know veterans and their families. To know them, their experiences, what they’re going through.”
Veteran Nation honors the sacrifices that our 22 million veterans and their families have made and explains ways that people can reach out to include them in their communities. One of the biggest challenges for veterans is to feel that they fit in, Sutherland says, and we need to connect them with the many people who want to help.
The film, released earlier this year, is already having an impact. One example: Approximately 60 people gathered to watch it in Fair Haven, N.J., last month. After the movie, veterans and family members were inspired to share their own experiences, resulting in a moving discussion. The discussion prompted a few ideas that the community is hoping to turn into a “Hire a Vet” program.
James Carafano, who co-wrote and produced the movie, had exactly that type of local gathering in mind for Veteran Nation. Carafano, a 25-year Army veteran and the vice president for foreign- and defense-policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, was inspired to make Veteran Nation after learning about a group in Bozeman, Mont., that provides a healing environment for wounded service members. Warriors and Quiet Waters uses its community’s resources — in this case, fly fishing — to connect veterans with one another and support them.
“While not every town in America is blessed with rivers and scenery like in the movie A River Runs Through It, every town could muster what it does best to serve those who served,” Carafano observes.
Every seemingly small action helps, and many times there are already resources in place; it’s just a matter of connecting veterans with them. This March, for example, Carafano wrote about Operation Renewed Hope Foundation, a local organization that helps homeless veterans, in the Washington Examiner. A homeless vet picked up a copy of the free newspaper, read the article, and called. Operation Renewed Hope was able to get him off the street that night.
“Just being a part of goodwill towards our veterans is very special,” says Lieutenant Colonel Deborah Snyder, founder of Operation Renewed Hope Foundation. Snyder was also featured in Veteran Nation.
“Often, our country has a short memory and attention span, so I hope the film will be seen all over the country, and people will genuinely be inspired to act now and for years to come,” she said.
It’s easy to host a screening of Veteran Nation in your home or community organization. Esprit de Corps will provide you with a free DVD. Please visit www.servingourvets.org for information.
Sutherland says the first thing veterans should do when they get home is share their experiences. There is no better place for them to do that than in a supportive setting of friends, family, and neighbors who are willing to listen — and then to act.
— Amy Payne is editor of the Heritage Foundation’s blog, The Foundry.