Veterans Day is a celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
First celebrated as Armistice Day in 1918, this year marks the 99th observance of Veterans Day. As we pause to honor and pay tribute to our veterans this year, it is worth thinking deeply about those that chose to serve, and their reasons for doing so. The department of Veterans Affairs estimates that there are close to 22 million veterans in the United States. Including the current active duty force, nearly 7.5 percent of all living Americans have served in the military at some point in their lives.
What drives someone, fully aware of the inherent risks, to put his or her life on the line? Why do the mothers, fathers, family, and friends of future service members encourage them to join?
The answer to this question lies in understanding the social contract.
The social contract between the mothers, fathers, families, and communities of America and the military is an unwritten one. You will not find this in the national archives. It cannot be found in history books. It lives in the hearts and souls of American families and the American military, and it has been passed down from generation to generation. The social contract holds that the military will take in America’s young adults, treat them fairly, train them to defend our nation and our way of life, challenge them mentally and physically, and return them to society as veterans – strong, productive, ethical, and moral people of integrity.
However, for the social contract to continue to exist, the fabric of our society must be strong. Young people must witness civic institutions and community leaders that embody the values of our country. Americans must demonstrate that when they work hard, they can accomplish incredible things for themselves and for the benefit of others. We must remind one another that serving in defense of our great nation and in defense of our way of life so that society can prosper and thrive – it’s a good thing.
The social contract does not persist on its own, however. It persists because even though it’s unwritten, it’s understood. We work hard to keep it alive. Look closely at our schools, social clubs, community groups, places of worship, and civic institutions, and you will find respect for military service woven through the tapestry of American institutions.
I can speak to this from personal experience. Growing up, I was taught very early on that when needed, my family answered the call of military service. My grandfathers were both Marines in World War II. My father served in the Army. I learned that their service was noble, it was necessary, and it was expected. When it was my turn to serve and I had the opportunity to do so, family, friends, and mentors supported my decision. I am one small example of the social contract in practice.
Today, though, I find myself asking: How do we make sure that the social contract continues to endure—that families, friends and communities honor the service of our veterans and encourage the next generation to serve and sacrifice?
It is a responsibility that we all share.
After seven years of active duty in the Marine Corps, I currently serve in the Marine Corps Reserve. I’m also fortunate to be part of team that is addressing that responsibility in a very unique way. At Stand Together, we support organizations that are helping people transform their lives, improving the strength of their families, and building strong communities that will ensure the endurance of the social contract. The organizations we work with – we call them Catalysts – are reweaving the social fabric of our country by helping individuals and families break the cycle of poverty to pursue their own potential.
We are partnering with social entrepreneurs like Pastor Buster Soaries, who started dfree®, to financially empower our communities to live a life free of debt. And Scott Strode, who founded The Phoenix, which builds community by helping people in long term recovery from substance use disorders through the power of fitness. Pastor Soaries and Scott Strode represent two organizations out of hundreds that are changing the trajectory of the country. Leaders like Pastor Soaries and Scott Strode are bravely serving their communities, helping individuals transform their lives and become members of society that can carry on the importance of the social contract.
When I celebrate Veterans Day this year, I will take a moment to remember those that paid the ultimate sacrifice. I will thank fellow veterans for their service. I will thank my parents for teaching me the importance of service to our country. I will also thank people like Pastor Soaries and Scott Strode for helping to ensure that the social contract will remain strong for generations to come.
Dana Sanford is an engagement manager at Stand Together and works with partner organizations to identify resources and solutions to their challenges. Dana attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he majored in political science. He then went on to earn a Master’s of Science in Business Administration at Boston University. Prior to coming to Stand Together, he served as a Marine officer for seven years and as a civil servant for the Marine Corps the last four years. Dana is married with two young daughters.