American Sniper Shows Glimpse of Growing Trend Among Today’s Veterans

By Sam Kille, the Bob Woodruff Foundation

When “American Sniper” hits theaters nationwide this week, movie-goers will be introduced to the true story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who deployed to Iraq four times. There, he became one of the most-feared snipers in history with 160 confirmed kills.

As amazing as the film is, it’s the last 10 or so minutes that are truly remarkable. Why? Because it leaves behind the action and drama of Iraq, and turns our attention toward how Kyle, played by Bradley Cooper, channels his invisible wounds of war to effect positive change at home, by helping his fellow veterans.

Veterans helping veterans is an emerging trend with today’s warriors, who look to make a difference in their communities while continuing to serve their fellow troops.

The Pew Research Center, the RAND Corporation, Civic Enterprises, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, and the Institute for Veterans Military Families at Syracuse University, are all reporting that the service commitment does not end when veterans leave the battlefield.

In studies of post 9/11 veterans:

· 92 percent report that serving their community is important to them

· While still on active duty, 70 percent felt motivated to volunteer in their communities

· Of all community based issues, 95 percent wanted to serve wounded veterans

This trend is something the Bob Woodruff Foundation is proud to back — having invested more than $4 million in nonprofits across the country that are being led by veterans, in support of veterans.

Augusta Warrior Project has assisted 164 service members since it opened the doors to its Transition Success Center at Fort Gordon, Georgia, July 21, with funding from the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

“Even when they take off the uniform, veterans want a sense of purpose and meaning,” said Anne Marie Dougherty, executive director of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. “Veterans, regardless of the severity of their injury, will strive to succeed for the betterment of their brothers and sisters in arms.

Because, just as Kyle says in the film while talking with a Veterans Affairs counselor, “We take care of each other, right?”

According to Chris Marvin, managing director of Got Your 6, the film gets it right. Got Your 6 is a coalition of 30 veteran-focused nonprofits, including the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

In a review of the film for Huffington Post, the Army veteran writes, “It is an inspiration for how to properly and thoughtfully showcase veterans and the reintegration process — a model the entertainment industry should adopt more often.”

Sadly there were only a few moments like this in the film. As it is, few Americans can understand the bond formed by those who serve. Only 1 percent of the American public has served in uniform post 9/11.

This disconnect can make the return to civilian life difficult — especially when 1-in-5 suffer from traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress or depression. And even for those who are unscarred, there’s often a feeling of emptiness that comes with no longer having a mission.

Jake Wood served as a Marine sniper in Afghanistan. When his enlistment ended, he looked to pursue graduate studies — yet as he recently wrote in his own take on the film for Military Times, “Kyle eventually left the war, but a scene in the movie revealed an all-too-common truth — war rarely leaves us … When I left the Marines, even while pursuing an MBA, I was deathly afraid of a life void of purpose.”

However, he found his purpose following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, when he cofounded Team Rubicon with fellow Marine Will McNulty. By helping disaster victims, they discovered that they could help themselves. The organization now boasts 22,000 members.

Jake Wood, Team Rubicon, helps treat earthquake victims in Haiti in 2010.

For some organizations, the mission to overcome the challenges of reintegration is relatively simple. Team Red, White and Blue connects veterans to their community through physical and social activity. The Mission Continues has service platoons that work with nonprofits and community leaders to tackle issues in cities across the nation.

Others, like Warrior Canine Connection, use the training of service dogs as canine therapy — helping not only those who will receive the dogs, but the trainers themselves, like Marshall Peters.

Peters was a Navy hospital corpsman, unable to shake the images of those he treated in Afghanistan. Yet the responsibility of working with Lundy, a golden retriever, has helped ease his troubles.

Marshall Peters with Lundy, a service dog at Warrior Canine Connection.

“I found myself no longer relying on the medication I was taking to ‘treat’ my PTSD, depression and insomnia,” said Peters in an interview with Live Science. “I didn’t know at the time that what I was doing with the therapy dogs was therapy for myself as well.”

All of the aforementioned organizations have received grants from the Bob Woodruff Foundation, thanks to the leadership of several corporate partners. However, there is still much work to do.

A study conducted by the Bob Woodruff Foundation and JWT found that 88-percent of Americans do not believe that companies and brands are adequately supporting veterans. Yet 80-percent would applaud those who help, just as much as they would the veterans themselves.

“There is a real opportunity here for companies to attract consumers and elevate their brand while making a difference,” Dougherty said. “Hopefully, more films like ‘American Sniper’ will contribute to a positive conversation about who our veterans are and their potential to make a huge difference upon returning home.”

Learn more about the Bob Woodruff Foundation’s impact online at BobWoodruffFoundation.org.

“American Sniper” opens nationwide Jan. 16, 2015.


Follow Sam Kille on Twitter @samkille