2022 Fall CEO Letter By Brian Gilman, Colonel, USMC, (Ret.)
It was January 1994. Chaos descended out of nowhere. I was two days into the U.S. Marine Corps Officer Candidate School. This was “pick up” day – the day our company’s drill instructors took control. The first thing our platoon did was get haircuts. In less than a minute, I sat in the barber chair — at the position of attention — and was shaved bald. The second thing we did was dump all our possessions on the ground where our drill instructors rifled through them and confiscated everything of a personal nature – our clothes, our identification, our photos. That action began the multi-month process of destroying our individual identities and rebuilding them as disciplined members of a team.
From that point on – and for the rest of my 27-year career as an Active-Duty Marine – the Corps provided everything I needed to thrive as a member of the Marine Corps Team. The Corps clothed me, housed me, fed me, trained me, educated me, and gave me teammates with whom I forged some of the most intense personal relationships of my life. The Corps instilled in me an extreme sense of shared values and gave me a mission that I understood and was well trained to accomplish. The Corps built in me and my fellow officer candidates a strong sense of self – a renewed identity, with a clear understanding of our potential. Finally, the Corps gave us a sense of purpose that bound us to the Corps Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment for life.
My experience reflects the typical experience of the 3.4 million post-9/11 combat veterans, and the millions who preceded us. When an enlistee enters the U.S. Military, the military provides all the needs that service member requires to thrive in the military – for the duration of their service. This is by design. The U.S. Military does this to remove every possible distraction so its Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines can focus solely on their mission.
Contrast that experience against what the typical veteran experiences when they leave the military. When members of our armed forces leave the military, all the needs previously provided for by the military are stripped away, and the newly-minted veterans are left to rebuild those needs entirely on their own. Unlike their transition into the military, their reintegration is organized only by them. The duration and character of this process depend on the veteran’s individual circumstances – the intensity of their military service and the challenges associated with that service. Throughout the process of reentering civilian society, “self” becomes the primary consideration again. The individual has to choose the identity, mission, values, and culture that are important to them.
As a result, reintegration into civilian society leaves the average service member feeling like an alien in their own country, ill-equipped to thrive in their new environment. The psychological and sociological elements of transition are not limited to simply finding employment, but rather involve a total reinvention of oneself, typically over a period of years. This transition process is disorienting and destabilizing and can cause significant psychological distress as one attempts to find themselves in this new world. The struggle to find a new identity and the ensuing distress that emerges as a part of this process is near universal.
Former U.S. Army Infantry Officer and former Head of Military & Veterans Programs at LinkedIn
We understand this universal challenge that post-9/11 combat veterans face. Warriors & Quiet Waters Foundation has always delivered veteran programming designed to help Warriors make meaning of their service, rebuild the human connections important to live a thriving life, and find stability in their new environment through inspirational, immersive activities in nature – like fly fishing. Our programs are designed to enable veterans to rebuild the hierarchy of needs they lost when they left the military. With our newest program, Hunt for Purpose, and the exciting additions we’re making to our programs in 2023, WQW programs will enable post-9/11 combat veterans and their loved ones to craft their new identity and purpose as veterans so they can live a thriving life of personal growth and resiliency.
Thriving veterans contribute to thriving communities and that means a better future for all of us.
Colonel, USMC (Ret.)
CEO, Warriors & Quiet Waters Foundation
This letter was originally published in WQW's 2022 Fall Newsletter, the Fall Rut. If you'd like to support WQW's mission, please visit our donation page.