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0000017b-35e5-df5e-a97b-35edaf770000Over 70,000 people in Michigan served in the U.S. armed services during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.Michigan Radio’s Beyond the Battlefield series takes a look at how post-9/11 veterans are faring. Beyond the Battlefield features, interviews and online video profiles, exploring issues like employment, entrepreneurship, and reintegration into civilian life. The series also looks at how Michiganders think state and federal governments are doing at addressing veterans' care, as well as the particular struggles female veterans encounter when returning home.

Vet to media: We're not all broken

The Next Idea

I am a veteran of two wars – one in Iraq, the other in Afghanistan.  Joining the military has been the best decision of my life.  But if you spend any time watching the news or scrolling through social media, you might wonder why I would say that. 

Every day the media bombards us with sad stories of homeless veterans, horrible care at the VA, persistent PTSD problems, and service members who are struggling or even suicidal after returning from war.  It’s not that these sad stories don’t exist, or shouldn’t be addressed, but those aren’t the only stories that come from war.

To put it bluntly, the way soldiers are portrayed in the news isn’t helping us in this next chapter of our lives. 

Recently, the L.A. Times did a story on my unit.  The article could have focused on all of the good we did over there, including earning the Valorous Unit Award, 10 Purple Hearts and numerous Bronze Stars. Or, it could have highlighted the soldiers in my unit who have come home and started businesses, gone back to college, earned promotions, or gotten married. 

Instead, the piece focused on a soldier who struggles with PTSD, another who wants to go back to war, and a third who tragically lost his arms during our deployment.  This lazy, agenda-driven journalism that tries to sensationalize the rough side of war completely leaves out the majority of us who turned it into a positive experience and are using it to propel us through the rest of our lives.

When I returned from Afghanistan and was preparing my resume, I put down all the things I’ve done in the civilian world for the last 20 years, but I also included what I’d done in the National Guard, including my two tours and serving as a sniper in Afghanistan. I decided to have a professional review my resume and was shocked when her primary advice to me was: “Take off all that stuff about the military.” I asked why, and she said, “Best case scenario is that 50 percent of employers will appreciate your service, but even in that 50 percent, most may be scared to hire you for fear of what baggage you may bring.”

To put it bluntly, the way soldiers are portrayed in the news isn't helping us in this next chapter of our lives.

It was as if I had been punched in the stomach.  Everything I’ve done and accomplished these past nine years in the military not only counted for nothing, but it was going to hurt my chances for getting a job.  Was I really hearing this right? 

It took me a day or two of letting those words sink in and realizing that yes, there was a huge disconnect between the 99 percent of Americans who live in the safety and security that our military provides, and the one percent of Americans who have voluntarily raised their hands to wear the uniform in service to our country.  It also gave me a greater determination to do everything that I can to tell the other side of the story for our war veterans.

So what’s the Next Idea?

I am in the process of starting a veterans’ speaker’s bureau to offer a platform for former soldiers to tell their inspiring stories. 

The speaker’s bureau would be a resource for Michigan journalists to find more varied stories of what it’s like to serve in our military.

Businesses and other organizations could find veterans who have stories of triumph and personal growth that match the goals and missions of their work.

A great example is the soldier from my unit who lost his arms in Afghanistan.  The L.A. Times left out the fact that not only is it a miracle that he’s alive and that there were true displays of heroism and bravery to rescue him, but that since his return home, he has learned how to surf, he’s competed in a Tough Mudder competition, and he finished the Bataan Death March in New Mexico. 

To help with his transition in life, his hometown, a non-profit and a construction company rallied together to build him a “smart home” close to his family, in a wonderful display of patriotism. His life is an inspiration to everyone who knows him, and yet the public didn’t learn about that story.

In addition to building the speakers bureau, I want to personally challenge every veteran out there who has an inspiring story to write it down and submit it to a newspaper, a magazine, a television studio, or a radio station.  Let your story be heard.  If journalists today want to write articles based on how many “likes” or “shares” they can get -- instead of telling the whole story -- then it’s up to us to stand together and let the country know that we aren’t all broken because of war. 

Am I different because I served in Iraq and Afghanistan? Yes, absolutely. 

I’m more thankful to be alive.  I’m disciplined and focused on accomplishing whatever mission is set before me.  I know how to handle stress and to operate under pressure.  I know how to make plans and contingency plans and emergency plans.  I’m a more selfless person, as I know what it means to make sure those around you are taken care of and to put the needs of those you work with above your own.  I’ve lived in other cultures and learned how to communicate in other languages and have seen how important personal relationships and diplomacy are to accomplishing things together.

All this stuff doesn’t just look great on my resume.  This is who I am now – a citizen and a soldier. Being good at the one makes me better at the other.  And there are a lot of other veterans in Michigan like me, who have been tested on the battlefield and are now ready to take those skills to the boardroom.  As a veteran, I don’t need special treatment or handouts.  All I need you to know is that I’m not broken because of war, I’m better because of it. 

Jason Hale is a veteran liaison at Oakland University, an Army Reservist and a former Michigan National Guard member who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Join the conversation in the comments section below, on Twitter or Facebook, or let us know your Next Idea here.