In a way, I’ve been working on this week’s cover story–which sadly resides behind the Time paywall–for the past five years, as I’ve embedded with our troops downrange. Watching them in the field, I’ve noticed that they’ve had to learn some new and unusual skills–skills that are extremely well-suited for public service.
We hear a lot about the troops who come home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder; we hear about the suicides and domestic violence. We hear about the unemployment and homelessness. All of which is sad and true But there’s another side to the story…
Take John Gallina and Dale Beatty, for example. They were best friends in the the North Carolina national guard–and they nearly died together when their humvee was blown up by an anti-tank mine. Dale lost both his legs; John suffered a traumatic brain injury. When the local homebuilders association offered to build Dale a home, both John and Dale helped out–and found real satisfaction in the work. They decided to start building homes for other handicapped veterans–and Purple Heart Homes was born.
I spent the past few months traveling around the country, finding veterans who are using the skills they learned in Iraq and Afghanistan for the betterment of their communities. Any given rifle company Captain had to be, in effect, the mayor of a town in Iraq or Afghanistan–and had to develop political skills like the ability to deal with local shuras [councils of elders], the ability to find out from the local population what sort of construction projects they favored, the ability to put people to work on those projects with a minimum of fuss…as well as the ability to make important decisions under incredible pressure.