Guest op-ed: Reflecting on the bonds that connect veterans

By Rep. Max Rose

When we reflect on Veterans Day, we may not be thinking of the entire picture. We might honor our friends and loved ones who served, or look to support organizations that help veterans find jobs and readjust to civilian life. We might simply look for an opportunity to stop veterans who have returned home and thank them for their service.

But this Veterans Day, I also want to take a step back and look at the women and men who are just beginning their service to our country. Because as they stand to take their oath of duty to our country, we similarly owe it to them to exhibit the same unity of purpose here at home.

I think back nine years ago when I anxiously walked through Fort Hamilton’s Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) in Brooklyn, surrounded by people from all different backgrounds, all about to begin a journey filled with unknowns. Six months ago, I had the honor of returning to MEPS to administer the oath to a new group of patriots beginning their own service to the U.S. Army and our country.

A lot has changed in the near decade between those trips. We’ve brought thousands of troops home from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, only to face new challenges here at home. Our political battles have only gotten more divisive, even as they relate to leadership and policy at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense. And for the soldiers of today who are still fighting abroad, we’re seeing constantly evolving threats and new styles of warfare that will undoubtedly impact their needs once they become the veterans of tomorrow.

But what stood out to me when I returned to Fort Hamilton was the one thing that had not changed a bit from the time I first walked through those doors — the deep sense of duty and patriotism that drew every person together in that room.

Every patriot who has raised his or her hand and sworn an oath to protect and defend the United States Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic shares a common bond of service, sacrifice and honor. That bond defies all of the characteristics that are most often used to divide and separate us, whether it’s race, gender, religion, family life or upbringing.

No matter how much our experiences on the battlefield differ, that sacred bond among veterans never goes away. When I think of the women and men I served with in Afghanistan, they couldn’t agree on anything, from music or movies to food and Gatorade flavors. But that didn’t matter, because we all were there to serve side by side.

But there’s something so pure about seeing that same bond among the young men and women at MEPS. Many of them have no idea what they’re getting themselves into, or how their life is about to change. It’s impossible to understand it fully until they experience it. But still, they show up and serve their country, united around that common purpose.

What excuse do the rest of us have, especially those of us in public service? We know the challenges we face. We know the problems we’re going to have to try to solve when we show up at work every day. And still we allow ourselves to be divided in ways that those men and women raising their hand to serve their country refuse to be.

As we pause on this day to reflect and honor all our veterans, let us also learn from their example of service. Let us honor their service not just with words, but by following their lead to look past what differentiates us all and unite around those common bonds that bring us all together.

Rep. Max Rose represents Staten Island and South Brooklyn and serves on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. An Army combat veteran, he currently serves in the National Guard.

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