A new campaign invites veterans to become active citizens.
Minnesota, where 2,600 National Guard troops and their families endured a record 22-month deployment in the war in Iraq, is also a state that lacks a major military base within its borders.
Minnesota National Guard Lt. Col. Eric Ahlness made that observation last week as he praised Warrior to Citizen, an initiative by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at the Univeristy of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute.
"There's no place here to get the services the military delivers" to returning veterans, Ahlness noted. "That means we have to provide those services ourselves, in our communities."
That's part of the idea behind the Warrior to Citizen Campaign. Minnesota communities and civic institutions can do much to help returning veterans make a healthy transition to civilian life. The Warrior to Citizen campaign promotes a variety of such activities, from simply offering thanks or a listening ear to veterans, to hosting job fairs and convening support groups.
That aspect of the new campaign is not unique. Many groups are offering a helping hand to returning vets. Indeed, the Minnesota Guard's own reintegration program, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, is receiving national acclaim for its systematic 30-, 60- and 90-day support seminars for Iraq war Guard veterans and their families.
But Warrior to Citizen is making a special contribution, highlighted last week by the Citizens League as part of its Civic Minds series. Its emphasis is not only on communities helping veterans, but also on veterans helping communities. It takes seriously a message Ahlness said needs saying just now: "We can expect great things of these veterans."
Warrior to Citizen maintains that a citizen's public work ought not end when a military uniform is packed away. It invites veterans who think the skills they acquired in Iraq aren't relevant to life in Minnesota to think again. Veterans' appreciation of group dynamics alone has wide application in civilian life -- not to mention the specialized skills many of them acquired in water quality improvement, construction, supply management and the like. Their stories of public service also have great value.
"All of our communities stand to benefit from the tremendous leadership skills these folks come back with," said Jessie Ostlund, a campaign developer. That idea should catch on. It can expand the way Minnesotans see returning vets -- and maybe the way they see themselves.
For more information, see www.publicwork.org, or call 612-625-0142.