The Student Veterans of America (SVA) has been a growing force since its founding at the University of Michigan in 2008. After attending the SVA's 2015 National Conference, it would be hard to believe that this national organization is only seven years old. The SVA, now led by D. Wayne Robinson, a retired and highly decorated Army Command Sergeant Major, hosted the four day national conference with record breaking attendance and commanded a national spotlight with guest speakers including Vice President and Dr. Biden, VA Secretary McDonald, and Medal of Honor Recipient Kyle Carpenter. While many ideas were discussed, two themes stuck out: resilience and diversity.
Marine Corporal Kyle Carpenter is the second living Marine to receive the Medal of Honor in the second Gulf War. While he has lived to tell the tale, it was not without withstanding an exhausting list of injuries. His account of overcoming those injuries, and the challenges he still faces day to day, left the more than 1,200 attendees with something to remember: challenges exist to be overcome.
If you are a Twitter user, you may have already heard of or read the quote "You cannot be Superman every day."
Kyle spoke incredibly candidly, and his message was genuine and impactful. The United States has now seen its greatest adversary of the Second Gulf War: suicide. Kyle recounted a time where he felt he had reached rock bottom. It was a point where he broke down, when he felt the ongoing surgeries, physical therapy, and relearning basic tasks like talking and eating weren't worth the effort.
He shared with the audience the realization that got him through his lowest point – you cannot be Superman every day. You just can't.
Valleys in life are just that: valleys. They are our low points, but not all is lost. Kyle's words were nothing more than a verbalization of his state of mind during one of the worst points in his life. But what he may not have realized is that he verbalized the very realization that will inspire what everyone struggling in their own valley needs: resilience.
Kyle's remarks spoke well to the heart of how Veterans feel internally, but the second theme spoke more to the effect of interacting with others.
Michael Stack, a U.S. Navy Veteran and one of four members of the SVA National Student Council, spoke as a part of the Campus Culture panel at the National Conference. While the U.S. Military is the most diverse organization in the United States, and possibly the world, there is typically a divide left unaddressed: diversity of veterans and non-veterans.
Traditional demographics aside, true integration of veterans with non-veteran counterparts is integral to a successful transition from military to civilian life. Michael spoke of his experience helping with and attending a retreat with student veterans and non-veteran student leadership at UC Denver. It was there that Michael felt everyone really got to know each other better; everyone was allowed to ask questions and the mysterious divide between the two populations was dissolved.
Michael's description of the retreat spoke to an important idea: military veterans who are transitioning into the civilian world need to make sure they are surrounding themselves with non-veteran peers and mentors just as much as other veterans.
The U.S. population of military veterans is at a generation-high of 12% of the total population. That may seem like a lot when compared to the late 1990s when veterans only made up 3% of the population. There may be many veterans around, but if transitioning veterans don't count on and take advantage of the expertise, knowledge, and diverse experience of the other 88% of the population, they are doing themselves and the nation a great injustice.
Focusing on resilience and diversity can often sound like nothing more than an HR department's clichéd annual training. However, when given context and real-life application, these simple clichés can have a determining impact on veterans and non-veterans alike.
Damien Bertolo is a post 9/11 Marine veteran and Four Block instructor.