Luck, Gratitude and a Calling by a Non-Vet

By Matt Gannon

So why is a lobbyist for an insurance company contributing a blog post for the GWOT Memorial Foundation?  In short, luck, gratitude and a calling.  I could go on all day about how lucky I am. Lucky to live in the greatest nation on earth, to have my health, for the abundant opportunities I’ve had in life, for a happy childhood, and of course for the best wife and children I could have ever imagined.   For all that luck and more, I am grateful to those who made it happen, although to be honest I have a spotty record of showing it at times.  So this (probably too lengthy) blog post and my overall work with the foundation are an attempt to show gratitude to those who greatly deserve it.

To start, I consider myself extremely lucky to have met Andrew Brennan and the foundation early in 2016, and for the ensuing opportunity to serve on the foundation’s Board of Directors.  This intro came by way of Jake Wood, co-founder and CEO of Team Rubicon, with whom my employer Farmers Insurance partners on disaster response and recovery initiatives.  Jake gave a moving speech at a corporate event in January, and in speaking with him that day I asked what, if anything, can a federal lobbyist do to help his team or veterans in general.  Wisely recognizing Washington, D.C. as one disaster zone (metaphorically at least) that he didn’t need to enter, Jake referred me to his friend Andrew, whose mission could use some lobbying help.  Much gratitude to Jake Wood – both for the introduction to Andrew and of course for the amazing work of Team Rubicon.

Stepping back a moment, I’m lucky to have the career I have, working as Head of Federal Affairs for Farmers Insurance.  Farmers is a great company that shines for its customers when the unexpected or tragic has happened.  Founded by two World War I veterans, Farmers has a rich history of supporting active duty and veteran service members through many initiatives. So when I was presented with the opportunity to contribute my skills and network to such a great cause, leadership was fully supportive.  My sincerest gratitude to Farmers for being a great corporate citizen who empowers its employees to do good in the world.

In my day job, I navigate the legislative and regulatory waters in Washington, D.C., though I started my career as a campaign fundraiser.  I’m by no means the most connected guy in town, but over time I have built a pretty solid network of influencers that helps get the job done.  Thanks to Andrew’s skills and the incredible team he has assembled at the foundation, we have collaborated to make some tremendous progress in achieving our goal of amending the law to allow the GWOT memorial to be built.  The Global War on Terror Memorial Act (H.R. 5999), the bill to allow a memorial to be built for this one ongoing war since no end is in sight, has received strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate.  Perhaps our best allies to date have been our lead House sponsors Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), the first Navy SEAL to serve in Congress, and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), a former Marine who served four tours in the War on Terror.  In 2016, 77 House Members sponsored our bill, and countless other staffers on key committees have been meeting with Andrew and his team to discuss the best path forward in 2017.  This December, Congressman Zinke was nominated by President-Elect Trump to serve as Secretary of the Interior, the exact department with jurisdiction over the National Parks Service, including the National Mall.  There are no sure things in politics, and much work remains to get the bill across the goal line in 2017.  But we are in good position to start next year, so Thank You to Reps. Zinke and Moulton, as well as the other 75 House co-sponsors, for all the help so far.  

I’ll close with a word or two on how small and futile a response this is by me to the great calling to serve.  In short, I never answered the call that those who this memorial seeks to honor answered.  Of all the members of the GWOT Memorial Foundation’s Board of Directors, I am truly out of my league in that I am not a veteran.  They are the heroes, though they are all too humble to admit it.  I did hear the call many times throughout my life though.  Two of my personal heroes – my dad and grandfather – served in the Army, and I still aspire to be like them in life.  I was working on Capitol Hill on 9/11 and drove by the black smoke pouring out of the Pentagon on the way home from work that morning.  I was glad we had a strong military to go defend us then, but I never seriously considered signing up myself.  Years later, on May 29, 2004, I recall watching the dedication of the World War II Memorial in the comfort of some rented beach condo as I was resting between the beach and the bars later that night.  So there I was, an able-bodied 26-year-old man admiring the Greatest Generation and wondering which Band of Brothers character I would most resemble.  But the thought passed and I went on my way, not thinking too much more about that calling in the following days and years.  

That’s not to beat up on myself too much.  I was, after all, among the 99% of Americans who did not sign up to defend the nation in the Global War on Terror.  It’s too late to change that now, and the years that have ensued since 9/11 have been very good to me.  The WWII Memorial has become my single favorite place in Washington, D.C., and I even proposed to my wife Audra next to the reflecting pool immediately adjacent to the memorial. (The photo above is us showing our twin daughters Scarlett and Estella the exact spot for the first time in November.)  My opportunities in life are due to many factors, not the least of which is this great country of ours.  I never did put on the uniform, risk my personal safety, experience the loss, or go through any of the various other complicated emotional trials endured by our service members.  I will never really be able to imagine the depth of their sacrifice, and my family never had to spend months and years worrying about me in a warzone as they raise my little girls.  Yet it is quite clear to me that one thing I can certainly do now is to express my gratitude.

This generation of service members and their families deserve this memorial for all the reasons that Andrew, the Board, Jan Scruggs, and many others have so eloquently stated.  Since it all starts with lobbying the federal government, I consider this my calling to help the nation show its eternal gratitude to our brave men and women who have fallen, and all those who have contributed to the nation’s longest war.

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