Leader Spotlight

"Veterans happen to be one of the very few groups that people from all walks of life seen as honest brokers. Because of that credibility—and because American ideals are under assault internationally and here at home by Americans who are losing sight of what those ideals are—we have a serious responsibility to speak up in defense of them," says Matt Lester, a U.S. Marine veteran and the co-leader of Vets for American Ideals' NY/NJ team.

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Cal

Colonel Cal Hickey served for 30-years in the U.S. Air Force. Though retired, his commitment to service endures: "The oath of service doesn’t come with an expiration date and its conditions are absolute. If you take such an oath seriously it only seems natural that to one extent or another all it entails will become essential defining qualities of your life for the rest of your life."

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"I feel compelled to speak up for equality," says U.S. Air Force veteran Victor Santana. "Anything that helps to drive the point that we're all humans no matter our ideologies, religions or lack of, sexual preference, nationality, race, or anything that sets up dividers among human beings."

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"We have to meet people where they are, and talk about our issues in a way that is applicable to people’s everyday lives. I’ve become a lot more aware of how I discuss issues seen as partisan, and I try to assume the best in the people I talk to," says Mac McEachin is a U.S. Army Reserve veteran who works on issues including refugee protection and the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. 

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Colonel Reed Bonadonna is a former Marine Corps infantry officer, field historian, and author. He says, "Some people think that we can’t afford our ideals, but the fact is that we can’t afford to go without them."

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"When we talk about making America great again, veterans can do that through their service. We have an opportunity to use our sense of duty to improve our community and make our nation a more welcoming and fair place to live," says Chris Purdy, a U.S. Army National Guard veteran who served in Iraq and leader of the VFAI Atlanta team.

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"I’d say to other veterans that the issues that VFAI believes in are the same issues that you believe in. And you can definitely play a role," says Colin Raunig, a U.S. Navy veteran and MFA student of fiction at Colorado State University.

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"I have so much hope for our future when I look at our young people and see the multiracial society they are growing up in today. That’s the America I fell in love with when I was in the military, and that diversity is one of the things that makes our military, and our country, the most powerful in the world." Read more from Arti Walker-Peddakotla, a U.S. Army veteran and the daughter of immigrants from India.

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Shannon Rhein is a former Army Medic who was wounded in action during a mortar attack in Ramadi in 2006. Today she serves by helping homeless families at a nonprofit in Texas. "Just because we came home and took that uniform off doesn’t mean that the United States stopped entrusting us with the responsibility to defend our country—and that includes what is happening here in our own neighborhoods."

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"Veterans, working together, can have significant influence in public policy issues. Select an organization that reflects your values, financially support the organization, and get involved." That's the advice of Gen. Murray Sagsveen is a retired Army Brigadier General and lawyer who currently serves on the board of Lutheran Relief Services in Bismark, MD and is involved in the Human Rights First Coalition of Retired Military Leaders.

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