In my recent travels I found myself with a couple of hours to kill between flights in Atlanta. Standing under one of the departure display screens was a group of uniformed U.S. Army personnel looking at connecting flights. There was another observable feature displayed by this group that was deeper than the uniform. There were a surprising number of females in this predominantly male cluster of people and the cross section of all obvious ethnic groups was also represented. In a single impromptu squad of soldiers was the display of absolute diversity. Their overheard conversations showed that they had a bond of camaraderie and shared a passion for their chosen career path. I greeted them with, â€œI just want to thank you for your service.â€ I got sincere thank-youâ€™s in return and the conversation ended there, but they were all beaming with pride.
One community in Bangor, Maine has created the ultimate welcome home to these heroes. It seems to happen mostly in small towns where the â€œdisruptionâ€ of the flow of stressed travelers is less noticed. The PBS film The Way We Get By will move you toward a better understanding of the importance of such actions:
Apparently, not a whole lot of people give these young patriots thanks for what they do. I can relate to that because those of us who served in an earlier era fought in an unpopular war in Southeast Asia and there were no parades or throngs of people saying thanks when we returned. The common greeting among Vietnam Veterans is, â€œWelcome, home brother!â€ so they can hear that from someone who understands and cares. With all the turmoil that surrounds us in the world, those two terms are not pushed enough: Understanding; Caring. Most people do not understand the life lived by these people and the hardships they endure. Most people donâ€™t really careâ€¦ oh, they give it lip service, but the evidence of lack of caring is seen in everyday treatment of returning veterans trying to enter the job market. Most people donâ€™t understand them and really donâ€™t care.
If you have never walked a mile in their boots, you canâ€™t possibly understandâ€¦ you can only guess. If you want to feel what they feel, talk to them. Listen to their story. If you donâ€™t know what they want or have to offer your company, ask them.
If you want to truly care, give them a chance to prove themselves. These people are not only trained in leadership they excel in followership. Nature and the U.S. military abhor a vacuum, so if nobody is leading step out of their way and you will be amazed.
The final step is to share the story you have heard and the surprises that employing former military brings to a job. The problem of discrimination against these people will not be broken until everybody knows. Remember: They understand true diversity and will not accept your half-hearted efforts as genuine.
Image credit: PBS.org – The Way We Get By