Leader Spotlight

As veterans, we worked in diverse and dynamic locations. We worked with people from all over the United States, and all over the world, and we did it well. We have the communication and leadership skills to get things accomplished; continue to utilize those skills as you integrate yourself back into civilian life, both in and out of uniform.

If you have an interest or a passion that is important to you, don't wait to be voluntold, seek out opportunities to get involved! Talk about your experiences in the military, and use your story as a way to connect with and remind others how American ideals are still important in your life even after service. Don't think of yourself as another random voice in the crowd; you're a veteran.

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Matthew Deibel is a U.S. Marine veteran and artist. Thematically, Deibel explores his experience and perspective of combat, often focusing on civilian casualties in Iraq, but touching on other urgent humanitarian issues as well, specifically, the global refugee crisis.

“To me, it’s very important,” he says, “and my art is about things I find important…I try to make art that is accessible and sparks a dialogue.”

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One of the last lines of the Soldier's Creed is: "I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life."  We raised our right hands not only to defend the constitution, but to protect the concepts of individual liberty, social equality, the pursuit of happiness, and the protection of lives by our government. 

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"If more veterans speak their minds, people will see the diversity of the military, that we don’t just fit into this one cookie cutter mold of what people think veterans are," says U.S. Coast Guard veteran Atsuko Sakurai.

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"We have forgotten when we were led into a room where the flag of our country and a copy of the Constitution were displayed and we raised our right hand and swore to defend its principles," says VFAI leader Buck Cole. "We have to recapture and reinforce its rightful place in American society, and veterans should play a leading role in that effort."

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In every country, in every culture, there are differences and similarities. Our languages may not sound the same, and we may express ourselves in unique ways, but we are all human. Everyone’s blood is red. Love, fear, sorrow, distress, anger, rejection, joy, and comfort are universal. Just because someone comes from an area where war and destruction are prevalent does not mean that they promote violence. In fact, by their decision to leave, they are demonstrating their disapproval.

Refugees are seeking peace; we want the chance to live and love without fear of pain and bloodshed for traits we have no control over. We have witnessed the deaths of those we love. We have endured the pain and fear of physical and psychological torture. We have faced the paralyzing fright of feeling helpless to protect those we care for or change the circumstances of our homelands. We are not strangers, for we are human also.

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Veterans for American Ideals is recognizing veteran leaders who are continuing their service by building unity and standing up for American values. Through a series of interviews, we’re asking VFAI leaders to share more about how their service shaped them and what responsibility they feel veterans have to speak up on issues that relate to our national ideals.

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Tanika Roy is a Los Angeles-based photographer and artist and a Marine Corps veteran. Her most recent work features veterans alongside refugees in a photo essay entitled #WhatIFoughtFor, created with Veterans for American Ideals, a project of Human Rights First. The project launched on Veterans Day, November 11th, 2017.

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"[Veterans] can show our fellow Americans that even if we disagree, we are all still in this together. And for the time being, in this very divisive moment, this may be the most important American ideal of all: e pluribus unum, out of many, one," writes Erich Almonte, a U.S. Army veteran, Texan, and lawyer.

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"When we signed up to serve, we didn't think about what was going to happen to us after. The one thing on our mind was helping the United States to help us. It’s now the U.S. government’s responsibility to help those people who put their lives on the line for the mission and who left all the people they love behind," says Wisam Al-Baidhani, who served as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Iraq for four years. He came to the United States in 2011 and became a U.S. citizen in February of this year.

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