Today, we remember and honor the brave men and women who died in the service of our nation. Our military families and service members embody the ultimate spirit of selflessness and national citizenship. Like their loved ones in the service, military spouses, parents, siblings and children also make a deep sacrifice when a loved one goes to battle -- when a solider goes to war, a family goes to war.
Memorial Day provides us the opportunity to come together as one community -- both military and civilian -- in remembrance of the fallen and to honor their spirit.
We know well how our soldiers embody the spirit of sacrifice, citizenship and service on the frontlines in battle. But veterans and their family members also continue to serve their country and community back home once the uniform comes off.
They do so through service opportunities that provide an outlet for them to use their passions and abilities to strengthen communities. Organizations like The Mission Continues, Teach For America, The American Legion and Blue Star Families engage our military community and give veterans a chance to use their leadership, team building, and problem-solving skills to help solve some of our nation's toughest challenges.
In the words of Rachel Gutierrez, a young business owner and veteran, her period of military service as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army was just the beginning of a "lifelong role of service." After exiting the military, Rachel became a Mission Continues Fellow, dedicating herself to assisting veterans with disabilities and hardships for six months. After her term of military service ended, The Mission Continues allowed her to bring her sense of unity and purpose back home and continue to serve her community:
Service was also therapeutic for me, providing an outlet to use my passions and abilities to provide for and serve others. Serving my community renewed my desire and confidence to set forth and actually do something, drawing upon the strength and inspiration of all those that I met.
After completing her fellowship with The Mission Continues, Rachel went on to lead the Phoenix Service Platoon, where she inspires other veterans to serve with her to combat chronic homelessness among local veteran and under-served youth populations.
Like Rachel, many veterans are continuing to serve their community and country once they return home to civilian life. In recent years, we have seen veterans and military family members leading movements across the country to: improve disaster relief and community preparedness, promote physical fitness, combat homelessness, increase educational attainment, and more. Data from the Veteran Civic Health Index report shows that veterans strengthen communities by volunteering, voting, engaging in local government, helping neighbors, and participating in community organizations -- all at rates higher than their non-veteran counterparts.
- Veterans volunteer an average of 160 hours annually -- the equivalent of four full work weeks, compared to an average of 121, or 25 percent fewer, hours annually for non-veterans.
- 17.7 percent of veterans are involved in civic or service groups, compared to just 5.8 percent of non-veterans.
- Veterans are 18 percent more likely than non-veterans to talk frequently with their neighbors, showing stronger community connection.
- 59.5 percent of young veterans "sometimes" or "often" vote in local elections, compared to 48.7 percent of their non-veteran counterparts.
In 2013 alone, more than 27,000 veterans served in service programs run by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) such as AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.
Our veterans are some of our most valuable civic assets and continue to prove so even beyond their term of military service. We look to them as exemplars of citizenship. They have an incredible propensity to give, which they continue to demonstrate after the uniform comes off as leaders and problem solvers in their communities.
As Koby Langley, U.S. Army veteran and Senior Vice President of the American Red Cross, said, "Our veterans have a soul of service that endures forever, for all, and for all time."
On this Memorial Day, let us come together in honor of our fallen soldiers and their surviving family members by carrying forth their enduring spirit of service.
As we pay tribute to the fallen, let us draw upon the legacy of generations of veterans past and of those who continue to serve our country -- both in and out of uniform.
Let us empower each other to do more, to give more, and to serve more to strengthen our communities and our country.
Let us carry on the legacy of service.