Leader Spotlight

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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Because I served my country, I feel a responsibility to care for this nation. With the military force being comprised of less than 20 percent women, when a woman veteran speaks up, her voice bears a certain weight. Being a military spouse and a mother adds another dimension to my identity and what I have to say. It is up to all Americans to speak up when injustice occurs, whether that be using your voice at roundtable discussions, organizing in your own community, or engaging with your members of Congress. Each of these methods plays a part in the fight against hate, prejudice, and inequality.

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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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"By signing the dotted line, veterans risked their lives to defend American ideals during their military service," says U.S. Army veteran Pete Farley. "I feel it is just as important that they stand up for these same ideals out of uniform. We should never lose sight of the fact that many of our brothers and sisters paid the ultimate sacrifice for what America is supposed to stand for. America should be considered a “work in progress.” Our work should not be done when we obtain our DD-214. It should be just beginning."

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"You don’t have to stop serving when you leave. You can still save people’s lives, you can still protect people’s lives, you can still make difference as a leader today without being in uniform," says Lance Sellon, whose 26-year Army career has included both enlisted and commissioned duties, a combat arms deployment to Afghanistan, and a deployment as chaplain to the Horn of Africa.

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