Tuesday, November 10, 2015

For Veterans Day: A New Generation of Veterans


Charlie Mike: A True Story of Heroes Who Brought Their Mission Home,
by Joe Klein





Joe Klein has written an account of two important public service organizations that were founded by returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans: The Mission Continues, and Team Rubicon. Both of these groups were started by veterans who recognized that, as they attempted to return to civilian society, it would be helpful to many veterans to have a transitional bridge, one that gave them the chance to sustain the camaraderie and sense of mission that their military service had provided by involving them in projects of public service. The Mission Continues has provided fellowships to veterans involved in countless projects of assistance both to fellow veterans and to Americans in need. Team Rubicon has taken a military mission approach to organizing veterans into teams that join with first responders in national and international emergency and health disasters. They are on the ground before the large relief organizations get geared up and are finally able to arrive. Team Rubicon grew out of its first “deployment,” an impulsive and hastily arranged trip by some veterans to help victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

Left to right: Brother Jim Boynton, Jake Wood, Clay Hunt,
Dr. Dave Griswell, and Mark Hayward on
Team Rubicon's first mission in Haiti.

Klein’s major focus in Charlie Mike is on the two veterans who developed these organizations: Jake Wood of Team Rubicon, and Eric Greitens of The Mission Continues. (Jake Wood was living here in Burbank at the time he found Team Rubicon.) In the course of telling their stories, we meet a large cast of individuals who contributed to the philosophy and operational development of both groups. Klein tells us many stories within stories that give us a feel for our most recent generation of veterans--how they think, and the problems they face.

Both Wood and Greitens joined the military because they thought serving their country in this way was part of what it meant to be a good citizen. For them, this attitude of public service was what made their military experience have purpose and meaning, and made it personally rewarding. This idea of citizenship is what they hoped their organizations might foster and sustain among veterans. How to actualize that was something they learned about as they went along, and Klein is very good at tracing this evolution for the reader. It became apparent to those leading these nascent programs how a sense of service in a shared cause was related to a family of operative and intense emotional virtues--selflessness, discipline, teamwork, and bonding among comrades in war--and that these values were sorely missed by returning soldiers who were cut loose and were experiencing the anomie of trying to adjust to civilian life. They discovered that providing a framework for service in which a number of those virtues were reprised in the company of other veterans was helpful and healing to so many who participated in their programs.



Eric Greitens leading orientation for The Mission Continues
at the Dream Center in Los Angeles, in January, 2013.

Klein has artfully structured this story. It has development and movement, but it is also intimate and deeply moving. One troubled veteran serves with both of these organizations, and becomes a link between them as Klein’s story unfolds. He emerges as the emotional focus of the story, and his fate is heartbreaking. The portraits of the principal actors, of their friends, and their families, are also remarkably intimate. Klein has listened, and must have talked deeply and at length with so many of these people. He is able to give us an account of their thoughts and feelings that feels plausible and authentic. He places himself at scenes we know he did not personally witness, and still makes them real and immediate to us.

Charlie Mike is not just a story about a soldier’s idea of citizenship and service, nor of how that notion might be healing to veterans returning from war. Ultimately, it is a challenge to our own idea of citizenship and civic leadership, of how we should act if we want to make our country stronger, and of what we should expect from our leaders and from ourselves. It is a tribute to soldiers who knew their mission from the start,in the deepest sense, and believed it was essential to the nation that it should continue.


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