09/12/2016

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Thanks to the persistence of social innovators across the country, every day we see strategies that are working and delivering results in a rapidly changing world. This ongoing blog series will highlight the voices of our Coalition of more than 70 social innovators and their solutions to our country’s most pressing social problems, as well as examples of how this powerful work can be transformed into national change. Today we will hear from Spencer Kympton, a former U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter pilot and President of Coalition organization The Mission Continues, about the power of mobilizing veterans and deploying them as service volunteers to rebuild communities across the United States.

From George Washington and Andrew Jackson, to Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, many of our presidents protected and defended our country in a military uniform before donning the garb of public servant.

The U.S. Armed Forces are known for providing rigorous training, discipline and leadership opportunities. But what many don’t realize is that with military service also comes deep experience in addressing local, regional, and national conflict – most often in multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious settings. Today’s veterans have built schools and roads while overseas, trained local police forces, and forged coalitions in communities with conflicting opinions and long-standing cultural fractures.

Turn on your local evening news and it’s clear that this kind of experience is essential to addressing our nation’s current domestic challenges. At a time when our citizens are desperate for a more promising future, we must call upon our veterans to do what they do best: dig in, take action, and continue the mission to rebuild and reunite communities here at home.

My message to our Presidential nominees, to their future Administrations, and to Members of Congress: Break away from our prevailing national conscience about veterans as a population that simply needs our help. Call upon them instead as a force that is poised to mobilize and make our country stronger.

Broaden your veterans’ agendas beyond “fixing” the Department of Veterans Affairs. Focus it also on how to support more veterans as they transition from active duty to a life of leadership and service in their own communities. Place veterans on your leadership teams, in your body of advisors, and in your cabinets. Integrate their perspective on more than just national security issues or veterans affairs. Veterans come from a fighting force that draws from all races, genders, religions, and sexual orientations – empower them to lead the way in healing the fractures that continue to divide our communities.

In the absence of this call, veterans are already digging in. They are on the ground in our communities in need, engaging as volunteers and local leaders within innovative nonprofit organizations and partnering with local civic leaders. This time, their boots are on domestic soil, in at-risk communities like Washington, D.C., Detroit, and Los Angeles.

Veterans are taking action at the local level to champion the change they want to see in their communities, in hopes of making them the types of communities they were proud to defend overseas. Through this work they are also creating examples that inspire future generations of Americans to pursue selfless service in their own lives. Veterans are teaching our kids that they must invest in this country in order to keep it strong, from within.

Read more about how social innovators in the America Forward Coalition, like The Mission Continues, are solving America’s biggest problems in communities across the country every day and America Forward’s call for the next President to commit to a veterans civilian service option in our briefing book, Moving America Forward: Innovators Lead the Way to Unlocking America’s Potential, and join the conversation. Follow @MissionContinue and @America_Forward, and tell us how veterans and service volunteers have helped rebuild your community using #AFPresidential16.

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