By Magen James
The United States Military offers a unique community of individuals whose bond is stronger than any civilian is likely to find “outside the gates.”
Leaving this strong bond behind, and embarking on a new journey as a Veteran in the civilian community can be a difficult transition to make. The prevailing idea of why this transition proves so challenging is that the Veteran is leaving a strongly bonded community—a platoon for instance—for a community in which many civilians don’t even know their neighbors. This kind of transition can lead to strong feelings of isolation and a lack of personal mission.
Famed war correspondent Sebastian Junger wrote about the importance of building a community of support and the implications of modern society’s emphasis on individualism and isolation in his #1 New York Times bestselling book Tribe. In Junger’s book, he notes that “A modern soldier returning from combat goes from the kind of close-knit group that humans evolved for, back into a society where most people work outside the home, children are educated by strangers, families are isolated from wider communities, and personal gain almost completely eclipses collective good. Even if he or she is part of a family, that is not the same as belonging to a group that shares resources and experiences almost everything collectively.” It is important to note that this phenomenon is not isolated to the combat Veteran. This applies to nearly all Veterans and to many individuals.
This begs the questions- how does a newly transitioned Veteran overcome this new challenge and how do civilians aid in the process?
Building a network of support from scratch is not an easy feat, but it greatly supports the Veteran in his or her transition as well as the individuals incorporated into this new network of support. Simple tips include continuing to work out! Find a workout buddy and go to the gym. The mental health benefits of exercise cannot be underscored enough. Veterans can also form their own sports teams for softball, rugby, and even bowling. Exercising together with a group of like-minded individuals provides an outlet for comradery and depression. Veterans can also find fellowship in faith-based organizations throughout our communities. Alaska has more faith organizations per capita than the rest of the United States. There are many opportunities to find fellowship that fits within the ethos of any individual Veteran.
On the other side of the spectrum, many Veterans experienced a sense of purpose and mission while in the service. The effect of losing this service-oriented mission can be detrimental to the psyche. Thankfully, many organizations have sprung up in the last decade that provide comradery as well as a mission of service to others.
Three Veteran-centric volunteer groups that currently operate in Alaska are Team Red, White and Blue, Team Rubicon, and Paws for Purple Hearts, among others.
Team Red, White and Blue’s mission is “to enrich the lives of America’s Veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.”
The Fairbanks and Anchorage chapters have participated in races, meetups, and volunteer activities for a number of years and encourage active service members to participate alongside Veterans. Groups are also forming in Delta Junction, Galena, and Kenai.
Team Rubicon also has active members in the Fairbanks and Anchorage area, with the potential of expanding to rural Alaska.
Team Rubicon’s mission is “providing disaster relief to those affected by natural disasters…by pairing the skills and experiences of Military Veterans with first responders, medical professionals, and technology solutions. Team Rubicon aims to provide the greatest service and impact possible.” Alaska has no shortage of natural disasters, so volunteering with this agency can directly impact fellow Alaskans. Volunteers also have the ability to be “deployed” to other natural disasters to aid in relief efforts.
Paws for Purple Hearts is “dedicated to improving the lives of America’s Warriors facing mobility challenges and trauma-related conditions such as PTSD and TBI by providing the highest quality service dogs and canine assisted therapeutic programs.”
Currently, Paws only operates in the Fairbanks area but makes frequent visits to the Anchorage-based VA clinic. Veterans can sign up to be “puppy parents” and train these dogs to provide mobility and therapeutic services for other Veterans. In addition, the local chapter frequently hosts events such as “Warriors with Dogs having Coffee” – an event dedicated to having coffee with other Veterans and playing with and learning about the dogs going through the program.
Aside from the highlighted programs, there are many volunteer opportunities throughout the state of Alaska. Taking the first step to get involved in an activity, whether it’s heading back to the gym, joining a team sport or volunteering with a community organization, is the hardest step. It is important to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. The Alaska Forget Me Not Coalition is here to help you take the first step.