With Windell Middlebrooks, the Miller High Life Delivery Guy, at an IAVA event in Baltimore

With Windell Middlebrooks, the Miller High Life Delivery Guy, at an IAVA event in Baltimore

I have always considered myself a team player. Growing up in Virginia, I started playing full-contact football in the Greater Manassas Football League (GMFL) when I was 7 years old. I learned the importance of teamwork, but I also learned the benefits of being part of something larger than myself. I played football all the way through college with my greatest moment being part of Augsburg College’s first, and to date only, MIAC championship team in 1997, and being part of the first Augsburg football team to make it into the NCAA Division III playoffs. Transitioning to the Army reminded me a lot of playing football. At bootcamp I used to have dreams where I would call my Drill Sergeants ‘coach.’ It was very easy for me to rely on others and to help others with no regard to my own personal time or convenience. I was also very inclined to treat my unit like my team and to this day feel like my former units are always a part of me.

It was this same type of emotion that led me to want to be involved with Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) after separating from the Army. I knew about the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (and will review both organizations on this blog at a later date), but was also very interested in joining more specific groups like the 506th Association (an association for members of the unit I deployed to Iraq with in 2005-2006) and others that focused on the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It did not take me long to discover the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). I became a member in January of 2009 as I followed along with the progress of IAVA’s Storm the Hill. Registration was free and only involved an email with my DD-214 (official military discharge paperwork) showing that I was an Iraq war veteran (If you are not an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran, you can still sign up as an ‘IAVA Supporter‘).

There are a few reasons that I’ve really come to love IAVA.

  • I really feel like this is my new ‘team.’
    • As a recent veteran of the war in Iraq, I really feel like this is a group of soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines that have been there and done that. There’s nothing better as a combat veteran than being around other combat veterans… they just get it without even having to talk about it.
  • They have dedicated staff members in Washington, D.C. lobbying on our behalf.
    • I keep my opinion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan mostly to myself. The fact is that our President and lawmakers sent us to combat, and so we went. What I respect the most about IAVA is that they are demonstrating their commitment to the troops that have served by putting appropriate pressure on Congress to take care of us. They are not protesting the wars, they are simply honoring their tagline, “We’ve Got Your Back.”
    • Along with many other Veterans Service Organizations, IAVA was a key player in helping to form and promote the new Post 9/11 GI Bill.
    • IAVA is on the front lines in DC pushing legislation to improve veterans’ health care, to streamline the Department of Veterans Affairs claims process, to eliminate the stigma of combat stress, and to help veterans find employment.
  • They’ve made a significant effort to inform veterans and provide opportunities for veterans to connect with one another.
    • They founded “Community of Veterans,” (now MyIAVA) a fully functioning social networking site limited to verified Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
    • They’ve partnered with Miller High LifeJC PennyNational Geographic and other sponsors to provide tangible rewards to veterans including event tickets (usually involving free food and beer) and even items such as a new suit through “The Rucksack.” (now VetTogether)
    • They are active on Facebook and Twitter, successfully using both popular social networking sites to keep veterans and the general public informed.
  • The organization is led by staff of veterans who are not much different from me.
    • The founder and executive director of IAVA, Paul Rieckhoff, is a commissioned Army officer who is only a few years older than me and served in the same area of Baghdad as I did in my second tour.
    • The deputy executive director of IAVA, Todd Bowers, is a Marine Corps Staff Sergeant, a rank that I (although fairly biased) think is the most important in the military. But on top of that, it is not often these days to see non-commissioned officers leading the VSOs, and it is refreshing to know that the organization is led by somebody who has worked from the bottom like a majority of the vets it represents.
    • Paul, Todd, and all of the other staff members of IAVA are very approachable in person (as I witnessed in Baltimore and D.C. during MLB Baseball games provided by the Rucksack) but also on Twitter and Facebook.

If you are a veteran of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, I highly encourage you to join IAVA today. I also encourage those that support the troops or have served in the military but did not deploy to sign up as a supporter. Your service and support means so much. To learn more about the organization or to follow its various feeds, see the links below: