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Guest blogger Laura A. Moore is a Policy Analyst at Civic Enterprises, a public policy firm that helps corporations, nonprofits, foundations, universities and governments develop and spearhead innovative public policies to strengthen our communities and country.
Today, Civic Enterprises releases All Volunteer Force: From Military to Civilian Service, a report based on the first ever nationally representative survey of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and their civic lives. Over 1.8 million men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them on multiple deployments. The report shows that this generation of veterans returns home with undeniable skill sets and a strong appetite to serve on the very issues communities face every day, from at-risk youth to disaster relief.
I interviewed Mike Pereira, a 27-year-old combat veteran of the US Army who has deployed for combat duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a sergeant, to learn more about his transition home and how volunteering has helped him continue to serve the nation on the home front.
How did you decide to serve in the military?
Growing up in a working class family, I had been instilled with the qualities of truth, honor, integrity, courage, and selflessness. So when the opportunity came to be able to fulfill the passion I had for those qualities, I jumped at it. Being able to work with those ideals drove me more than the free food and opportunity to travel the world.
What impact did your experiences abroad have on you when you returned home?
Once when I was in Iraq, we were flying when the swing load of our helicopter overtook the aircraft and we went spiraling down. I thought I was going to die. I was walking through the door of death and what I cared about the most, I wasn’t bringing with me. What I cared about the most was that I was determined to save lives, to bring more men and women back with me. When I came home, I realized that I wanted to continue to save the lives of Americans and make their lives better.
Can you tell me a little bit about your transition home? In what ways was it difficult?
I spent two years consecutively in the desert as a key node of information about detainees. I did that for two years. I knew I was risking my life every day and saw the ramifications of my work. When I came home, I went down to the local sheriff’s office and said that I could come up with patterns and trends for their investigations, and they said I needed a college degree. I had seven years with the military and two years in the desert doing the exact same thing. When you offer to serve, when you volunteer to serve and you’re told "no," it makes you feel like you’re worthless. I couldn’t find another job that I was as passionate about as my military service. When you go from something that was so valued to something that is not valued, you just withdraw. At the time, my family could not understand this.
When I left the desert, what affected me the most was that I knew in my heart that I wasn’t just leaving behind the desert. I was leaving behind a position that I was never going to have again. I would never be serving in a position to have the impact on human lives I had.
What eased your transition home?
I heard a speech by Eric Greitens, who I spent time with in Iraq, about leadership and being an influence for others. He said we needed to step out of our uniforms and find service outside the uniform. We needed to continue our warrior ethos in our communities. After hearing that, I went down to the local volunteer center with some other veterans and asked if there was anything we could do. The lady started laughing and said "Yeah, we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of people in this community who are sick and dying and they need your help." When I heard that, it was like someone gave me a new uniform. Someone was putting medals back on my chest. Someone was putting my comrades back at my side. And the community was so thirsty for this kind of service. The only thing I did was live the ethics I did when I was in the military. This tells me how badly my community needs me. How badly they need others like me. That made me want to give even more.
If you could tell the American public one thing, what would you say?
Don’t forget us. Veterans are not just a news headline. We’re an opportunity. We’re an undeniable asset.
To read more about Mike and his generation of veterans, please visit: www.civicenterprises.net/allvolunteerforce.