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Entries in military (2)


Fighting For Rights and Breaking Down Barriers

 War is vicious, brutal and traumatizing, and never is there a true “winner.”  Everyone loses to some degree – one just needs to look at the growing number of wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, the killed in action, the suicide rates and the broken families to see that.  Or a short walk past the Vietnam Wall Memorial, which will certainly reduce anyone to tears, is perhaps the most poignant reminder of loss from war.


Veterans from all wars have seen their share of atrocities, but at least today’s warriors have been welcomed home with open arms.  As we all (hopefully) know, that wasn’t the case forty years ago.  Those veterans had nowhere near the resources we have today, although there are still many individuals and families falling through the cracks.   There have been, however, a number of very significant medical and legislative advancements after the wars in Vietnam, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, which have benefited individual service members and our society as a whole. 


It is no secret that disabled veterans coming home from Vietnam played a significant role in the passage of the groundbreaking U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973.   This critical legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors.  Certainly the disability movement did not start with the Vietnam veterans, but they were young, fresh off the battlefield and much more demanding and visible than civilians who had been born with their conditions and more prone to seeking privacy.   Then, as now, veterans and veterans groups were active and effective in lobbying for help. Ultimately, governmental and private assistance to our veterans has influenced subsequent public policy toward civilian welfare measures and toward the disabled in general.


Similarly, today’s generation of warfighters have truly helped shine a spotlight on the issue of behavioral health, an issue relevant to civilians as well as members of the military.  A 2008 RAND study of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars concluded that nearly 1 in every 5 veterans is suffering from one or more behavioral health disorders, and that many of those afflicted do not receive adequate care. The study shows that mental disorders are both prevalent and long-lasting, and that often they do not surface until well after the initial trauma has passed.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) are commonly referred to as the “signature wounds” of today’s wars.  In fact, the American public seems so aware of this phenomenon that any number of popular television shows feature story lines of veterans facing these injuries, including Law and Order, Person of Interest, Army Wives and Grey’s Anatomy.  Thus, this generation has played an integral role in raising the national dialogue on mental and behavioral health – if we can continue to reduce the stigma of these issues within the military culture, this will certainly benefit our society as a whole. This is especially critical because closely linked with these maladies are the issues of drug and alcohol addiction, depressive disorders and suicide, all of which exist (as do PTSD and TBI) throughout society.

The veterans from the Vietnam War have pledged that never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.  They have paved the way for today’s warriors with regard to many of the rights we now enjoy, and in so doing they have also benefited our society as a whole.  Our service members who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families as well, have also contributed significantly to medical advancements as more and more of us survive catastrophic injuries.  Within the military community, we need to continue to be open about injuries and treatments – not only with this help those on the front lines, but many more so throughout our society.


Leading From the Front

How many of you have met someone and been truly inspired?  I don’t mean just thinking something like, “Wow – that person really has accomplished a lot and overcome a lot of obstacles along the way.   I wonder if I can do that.”  I mean something more along the lines of, “This person is amazing.  I love his attitude, his philosophy, and everything he is doing for those around him.  I am a better person just for talking with him.”


Well, I was lucky enough to meet such a person, and although he definitely doesn’t want any attention or credit for what he has done and continues to do, I would be crazy not to talk about Don Weber.  I met Don earlier this year at the annual gala for the Give An Hour Foundation (an amazing/well-needed/heartfelt organization in its own right), and he gave a speech about talking with his father after he returned from fighting in the Pacific campaign during World War II.  You could have heard a pin drop in that ballroom as we all hung on each of Don’s compelling and vivid words.


More recently, my wife and I had the honor of visiting Don and his family out in La Crosse, Wisconsin, for the annual Freedom Fest Concert, this year featuring Foreigner and the Steve Miller Band.  The first such concert was five years ago with approximately 1,200 in attendance.  This year there were over 7,000 attendees.  I have never spoken to an audience that large, and as nervous as I was, their obvious support and pride made me feel right at home instantly.



The focus of the concert was to pay tribute to the 172 service members from Wisconsin who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their nation in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also included a well-attended motorcycle run which even the light rain couldn't damper.


This whole concert is Don’s brainchild, because Don truly understands the importance of community support for those who sacrifice on behalf of others.  Don did not have an easy childhood.  He dropped out of high school to work on the family farm, and then joined the Marine Corps and deployed to Vietnam.   He earned two Purple Hearts there and came back a different person.  A true entrepreneur, Don has over the years started a number of businesses, and his impact on the town of La Cross is obvious.  He helped redevelop a blighted portion of the downtown area, which is now the home of Logistics Health Incorporated, Don’s thriving company.  The area also includes a first-class restaurant run by his daughter and a popular coffee shop run by his son.  And in that headquarters building is the primary care facility for Don’s employees, because he provides free primary health care to each and every one of them.  That’s right – free health care.  As Don told me, “It’s all about giving back.”


Their local airport is too small for a USO, but there is a dedicated Veteran’s Corner.  Guess who designed that and makes sure it is always squared away?  The same person who periodically drives around with a few friends and family members to invite homeless veterans to their restaurant for a full dinner and personal dining experience where they are treated with the dignity they deserve.  And the same person who spearheaded the extraordinary memorial inside the University of Wisconsin La Crosse Veterans Memorial Sports Complex, called the Hall of Honor.

Each year thousands of visitors show their respect and pay tribute at this special memorial.  In fact, veterans are encouraged to enter information and leave a message in their data bank there for public viewing.


But you won’t hear Don telling you about any of this, because in his mind that would detract from the work itself, which is the important piece.  Did I mention that the Freedom Fest has raised $300,000 for veterans’ causes, including $60,000 in scholarships for returning Service members pursuing an education at a University of Wisconsin System institution?


And you know the best part of that weekend?  On Sunday morning before he gave us a ride to the airport, Don gave Dahlia and me a quick tour of his office building and the restaurant (which is beautiful, sophisticated and the type of place you want to spend a lot of time in) and then spent about 30 minutes with us in his office.  Although I had my mind made up that I had truly met a living legend, it was that short time together that really cemented it for me.  By listening to Don and seeing what he has been capable of, all the while focusing on taking care of others and making his little corner of the world a better place, I couldn’t wait to get out and do the same. 


Do I want to be successful?  Of course I do, just like everyone else.  But just as much as that, I want to help make everyone around me successful too, whatever that definition is.  Like Don, I want to be a leader in my community – as someone who keeps pushing in the right direction and lends a helping hand to those in need.   Don could teach a whole course in personal motivation, entrepreneurship, charity, community and paying it forward.  And it would only take 30 minutes, but I don’t know how often he sits still for that long.


Don Weber, as a returning Service member and just someone who wants to be a good person, thank you for your guidance and inspiration!