What the memorial means to me

Approximately two years ago my long-time friend and classmate from West Point, Andrew Brennan, gave me a call while I was wandering the grocery store. He said he had an idea for a non-profit and wanted to know if I was interested in getting involved. His vision was to build a memorial on the National Mall in Washington D.C., honoring the U.S. service members who have fought and sacrificed during the conflicts of the last fifteen years.

In the two years since that initial phone call, that single, powerful goal has not changed and remains the sole purpose of our organization. Our board is made up of veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom, along with civilian board members who are deeply committed to veteran issues.

For me, working on a volunteer basis with this group of people has been incredibly rewarding. I left the U.S. Army in mid-2013 after spending five years as a Military Intelligence officer, with one deployment to Iraq. The single hardest thing about the transition was leaving the sense of community and mission that the military provides. Finding that community again, and working towards a cause, even with all of the board members spread across the country, is what this organization is all about.

In my mind, the memorial that we are working to build on the National Mall will have a similar outcome: bring together service members from across the country at a physical location that recognizes the often-silent sacrifices that they and their families have endured, building a sense of community and giving people someplace to gather.

The other, equally important outcome of this memorial is to bring awareness to veteran causes in the United States. As I have entered the corporate world, I increasingly run into people who have never had any interaction with the military or with a recent veteran. They often tell me “you don’t look like a veteran” because their view of a veteran is of their grandfather or father who fought in WWII, Korea or Vietnam. They have very little perception of what it means to be in the modern day U.S. military. People want to support the troops and it is always a popular cause, but finding ways to do that meaningfully and in an impactful way can be difficult for people. Our organization wants to partner with responsible veteran’s groups in the U.S. to highlight the struggles that some veterans face with unemployment, mental health issues and the transition back into civilian society. We also want to highlight the amazing contributions veterans bring to their communities and their workplaces as they leave the service.

We have a number of challenges ahead of us before the memorial is built, but imagining being able to walk onto the National Mall and see a representation of what my friends and fellow service members have sacrificed and contributed will make it entirely worth it.

By Katharine Tripp

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