When considering how veterans are doing their part in our communities, remember that it doesn't always take a disaster relief effort to make a difference and influence someone's life.
Former F-14 flyer, flight instructor, TOPGUN graduate, and Navy veteran Alan Pietruszewski recently spoke with me regarding his experience volunteering. Alan feels volunteering is very important to our communities, but it's bigger than that. He uses this as an opportunity to remind the world that veterans are people too, and that many of us are not the version many books and movies tend to portray us as. To share the value of his exact words, the following is Alan's response to my question about the importance of volunteering and why this is especially important during military appreciation month:
Whenever I interact with non-military people in a forum where I'm helping, or contributing in some way, I always find an "in" to share my military background. It's important to me that people know that active duty and veterans care, and are "normal" people. You read and see so many times in entertainment these days where veterans are portrayed as either a hero or as a broken, homeless, alcoholic PTSD affected delinquent. I want to help spread the reality that the vast majority of us who have served are normal citizens who have a little hero and a little of the other mixed in. We have all been affected by our service, but more often than not, we are out there still serving, just in new ways and without holding a weapon in defense of freedom and democracy. Making a difference, making an impact. I think that describes a lot of veterans.
One way that Alan volunteers is as a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Book Pal. The BookPALS program pairs SAG actors with elementary schools to read books aloud to children. Can you imagine, as a child, having had an actor, veteran, and F-14 flyer reading books to you? That sounds pretty amazing, and I'm sure it's making a difference for the children that benefit from the program. Appreciating the military no longer has a distance to it -- Alan is an example of a veteran who donates his time and, in the process, demonstrates the values that make men and women of the armed forces so worthy of our appreciation.
Alan had the following to share about why this particular program is important to him:
I feel really satisfied every time I get the chance to affect the life of another living being, human or canine. That satisfaction and knowing that you're potentially helping a child develop the tools to attain an advanced degree down the line are why I participate in BookPALS. I believe others would feel the same if they tried it. Plus, the kids get so excited when you arrive at their classroom, and are sad when you leave, it makes it feel like you've made an impact, made a difference.
He shared with me how the children swarm him every time he shows up, wanting to hug and high five (something he's still getting used to, as that sort of interaction wasn't part of his household growing up). It's touching, how excited these children are about having someone to be part of their lives who cares.
What Alan had to say struck a chord with me, and I believe many of us veterans would agree.
We can be normal citizens, still doing our part to serve, but in a new way. Consider how you can contribute to your community -- don't just stop with your end of service. Every little bit can make a difference in someone's life, and our work serves as a reminder of the type of men and women we are.