Leader Spotlight

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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"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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"I see having served and being a veteran as a privilege. And with privilege comes responsibility. It is my responsibility to speak up and defend American values whenever they come under threat," says Ibrahim Hashi, a U.S. Marine veteran and the son of immigrants from Somalia.

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"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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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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