Thursday, February 4, 2016

Nick Swaggert - Bridging the Civilian-Military Divide

Nick Swaggert is a Veteran of the Marine Corps who served since 1999 as an infantryman and was deployed twice to Iraq. Nick is the VP Corporate and Government Affairs for Occam Group Ltd – an IT organization owned by Veterans and dedicated to transitioning our nation’s heroes. His work has helped both Veterans and companies by bridging a gap between Veterans seeking employment and companies who want to hire Veterans. Nick is a Pat Tillman Military Scholar and currently serves as a company commander in the Marine Corps Reserve. He is also a 2015 Veterans’ Voices Awardee.

Last week I was sporting a U.S.M.C. t-shirt and someone walked up to me and said, “What does U.S.M.C. stand for?” Of course it’s well known that the number of Veterans in the population is on the decline – from 23 million in 2015 to less than 14 million by 2043. This means that fewer and fewer people will have that very important personal connection to the military and will increasingly rely on the sensationalized modern media for their understanding of what it means to serve. I’m sure many Veterans have heard the oft-stated comment, “I’ve seen American Sniper (or pick a movie) and I have a good idea what it’s like over there.”

So with this separation of influence, what is the military doing to remain “known” by the civilian population? Some wonderful things, like Fleet Week in which the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard open their proverbial gates to citizens in order to improve relations. This was actually the brainchild of President Franklin Roosevelt who felt the need to improve relations and understanding between civilians and the military. During Fleet Week, New York City gets inundated for a full week by military flair, but here in Minnesota we do not get to experience that. There is, however, a pretty terrific Minnesota experience during which the National Guard, in partnership with ESGR, brings prospective employers up to Camp Ripley via air transport and they are given a tour of its wonderful facilities.

While I was in the Netherlands this summer as part of Exercise Western Accord, I experienced a very different landscape apparent in European civilian-military interactions. Not only were there numerous monuments and cemeteries dedicated to those American/Canadian/British soldiers from World War II, but we were able to take part in an event in which the Dutch and German soldiers made a literal link across a canal using their pontoons. Following their live pontoon demonstration, the soldiers marched onto a stage and were freed to go into town and interact with the local populace during the festival. This kind of interaction dramatically changes the way service members are viewed by the populace.

As the civilian population of our nation and the military move further and further apart due to the diminishing numbers of service members, we all need to keep sharing our stories, continue to make our voices heard, and strive to keep the dialogue open using creative methods of engagement.

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