By Nate Burke, Senior Trainer
Veterans Day is designated as a day to thank all who have served honorably in the military, in wartime and peacetime, both living and dead. Veterans and their families sacrifice so much each day to help protect our freedoms and create a safer world. This Veterans Day, I wanted to take a moment to not only honor the official work they do, but also the incredible efforts so many of them have voluntarily taken on to work toward the creation of communities free from interpersonal violence.
As a senior trainer with Alteristic, I’ve spent the past two years working primarily with the United States Air Force and its implementation of the Green Dot program. I’ll never forget my first day working on a military base. We were facilitating six focus groups that were organized by age and rank, starting first with some of the youngest Airmen on base. I remember being taken aback by just how young they looked to me when they first walked in and by the realization of how much they had already sacrificed for me and the life I get to live. The day ended with a group of senior leaders, who – at the other end of the spectrum – had already dedicated their lives and careers to those same ideals the first group was just on the cusp of venturing into. Over two years later and the feeling of gratitude and awe I felt then has only deepened.
The Air Force has teams of dedicated professionals who work full-time on addressing interpersonal violence. However, if the only people who contribute to prevention are those of us whose full-time job is to do so, we simply aren’t mobilizing enough of our community to make the impact we need. So, part of our prevention program implementation has been to engage “unexpected messengers” from across the installation to serve as instructors. They represent all career fields, ages, ranks, and backgrounds. They are active duty, civilians, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve. And each of these instructors has volunteered to take this on as an additional duty on top of the regular responsibilities of their full-time job. They agreed to attend a 4-day prevention training; master up to 7 hours of curriculum content; and to conduct workshops on a weekly or monthly basis for a year. Some of these volunteers have now extended their support of these efforts for a second year, and are planning to extend a third year.
They believe so strongly in preventing sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, and suicide that they agree to stand in front of their peers and colleagues – who are also busy doing the work of keeping us safe – and help make the prevention training real and meaningful for them. They remind them of the urgency of the problem and inspire them to believe things can be different. They share personal stories and real experiences. They strip down the walls of formality and reveal an authentic messenger who has an honest message to share. That even the smallest choices we make can add up to have a transformative impact on the lives of those around us. Bottom line, they help us see the humanity of these issues and the faces behind the statistics. They sacrifice their time and their comfort (it’s not easy to be vulnerable around your peers or to do public speaking when that’s not your job). On top of all the other sacrifices they make as heroes protecting their mission. And just how many of them have volunteered to do this so far? More than 4,500. They are unwilling to sit on the sidelines when they have an opportunity to be a driving force for prevention. Each week I hear their stories, and each week I am humbled. Each day I get to work with them, and each day I am thankful. Just as I was that first day two years ago, I continue to be in awe. To all veterans, for all you do: Thank you.