By Bill Asdal
The citizens of our great country know little about the military, even less about what military members do, and scarcely are informed about the issues of the day. I did not serve in the military, but my kids do. All have served our country, whether in Teach for America or in the Navy. As I see it, most of my neighbors understand and appreciate service. Our volunteer fire companies are generally well manned. The Parent-Teacher Association and local service groups may have an ebb and flow, but they maintain a public presence, and my neighbors understand what they do. I don’t think that this awareness is so prevalent about contemporary military service. My neighbors’ understanding of training, deployment, geography, or mission might be generously described as “foggy”.
Being community minded (and an educator by trade), I propose a simple outreach program to alter the nation’s understanding of military service. To get us started, some math might help. There are 1.4 million in current service, and nearly 22 million veterans. We all have personal and community networks. These networks leverage from dozens to hundreds of contacts for each military person. If even a small percentage of those with military experience were to work their networks, the entire country could be exposed to this new information several times over. A local community will relish a short overview of veterans’ military perspectives. This overview might include a post-deployment discussion of what it means to be deployed, what you did, how important is it to get care packages, or what it means to trust your shipmates. I am not advocating lobbying or any persuasive posturing here, simply bridging the gap from those who have knowledge and experience to those who do not. The chasm is currently deep. It need not be. Like a mountaineer setting some pins for a safer traverse, are not we all better informed with enlightenment?
Against such a concept, I have asked our kids to share some of their thoughts with local audiences. Each time, they have graciously responded and prepared some thoughts for delivery and fielded questions. A local restaurant has donated their back room on a weeknight for the event, and I have made some postcards for hand delivery to the librarian, butcher, UPS deliveryman, teachers, neighbors, local government folks, and friends of all stripes. I buy a few trays for appetizers and leave the cash bar to the audience for drinks. The topics have been fascinating: “How the Navy prepares future leaders,” “Deployment 2013 – Who, What, Where, When and Why,” and “ The Rise of China’s Naval Power”. Every time, the question and answer periods have been wide-ranging and penetrating. Neighbors look at former school kids in a whole new light of respect, and the local business community gains confidence in our local citizens in service.
I have five daughters, four of whom have attended the Unites States Naval Academy. The fifth is a Duke grad who worked two years in Teach for America. LT Ashley O’Keefe is our eldest. Upon her return from her first deployment, she spoke to a gathering of more than 40 people about her experience on her destroyer. She made a map of the port stops, clarified her role on the ship, and talked about enlisted and officer roles. Her perspective was very helpful to the uninitiated and veterans in the audience alike. She also found it personally helpful to put her thoughts together in a logical sequence – to make sense of the major milestones and accomplishments that she had just achieved. LT Lindsey Asdal just returned from her second deployment, and will put together a similar program on her next trip home.
Sharing our insights to interested audiences can take many forms. Annie Asdal is a smart senior staffer for a regional real estate investment firm, and has spoken several times to a local hometown audience about return on investment, financial analysis, and investment models.
Finally, LTJG Kirsten Asdal recently reported to her first ship at Pearl Harbor. Before she reported, she completed a Masters’ in Contemporary China Studies, so she chose to mesmerize 50 or so attendees with a talk on “The Rise of China’s Naval Power”. She is well versed in the subject matter and her graphics and maps made sense to all in attendance. They were rapt with the implications of these global policies at work. Our youngest, MIDN 2/C Charlotte Asdal, is still a student at the US Naval Academy, yet she held the audience in crisp attention telling how the Navy trains future officers. She detailed leadership lessons, the mission of the Academy and how some of her many experiences shaped her ability to lead.
The French call these local discussion groups “salons” – they have existed for several hundred years. It would be my hope that a simple outline template could be circulated, perhaps by local public affairs offices, so that everyone in the military might utilize their existing community networks to chat about our military. The immediate benefits include keeping the community tight, a fun night in town with a strong speaker, and some national and international perspectives. Longer term benefits might include enhanced support for the military and a softening of the distance between military and civilian sectors. What topic would spark your community’s interest? I hope you can join us.