Why am I running the NYC Marathon?
Because, it’s the least I can do for our veterans
By Charlie Cook, Bob Woodruff Foundation
During my childhood, I remember always being picked up from school by my mother; always having my father taking me to 5 a.m. hockey practice. Every night we would have dinner together with my sister. Every night my mom would tuck me in and give me a kiss goodnight.
I remember the continuity of their presence, the continuity of their unconditional love, the continuity of their physical and mental state.
What a child in a military family experiences can differ. They sacrifice the daily school pick-ups from their parents, the sports practices, the daily dinners. They sacrifice the nightly tucking in and the nightly kiss goodnight. They often go several months to a year without seeing their parent.
When the service member returns home, many times their young children do not recognize them. While they are away the family is forced to take on different roles and move on with their lives. This makes it incredibly hard for the service member once they return home to find their place in the family.
And sometimes they, as well as their parents, pay an even higher sacrifice. Sometimes their parents come back from deployment missing a limb, or with hidden injuries neither them nor their children quite fully understand. Sometimes, they don't come back at all.
I remember my college experience as a pleasant one. Playing on a lacrosse team, being part of a fraternity, and having teachers and the administration have a seemingly clear idea of who I was and where I came from.
What a student veteran experiences can differ. Their experiences are not fully understood by their teachers and the administration. Their peers have trouble relating, and in turn, can leave the student veteran feeling isolated.
Student veterans are often older and have very different experiences of responsibility and accountability than their peers. A 25-year-old former soldier, now a freshman in college with a class of mostly 18-year-old peers, can have significant difficulty relating to what they feel is important.
The veteran has spent the previous years with significant demands and responsibilities. If deployed, he had to learn the dynamics of a foreign culture, distinguish those who appreciated his presence from those who intended to use him as a target.
In his new peer group, he must contend with the trivial drama of college life. His or her perception of their inability to associate with his or her experiences often fuels feelings of isolation. Veterans are not looking for recognition, simply a reassurance that their time, sacrifices, and efforts were well placed.
I remember my first time entering the job market. I had help from my networks; I was seen as a desirable candidate. I was able to navigate the market with ease due to mentors from my networks. After gaining employment, I never missed being in a different country. I never missed having a mission or being with my unit. I felt like I had a purpose and I felt like I was relevant, because I did not know anything different.
Many times a veteran entering the civilian job market experiences something much different. In most cases they lack proper guidance and have an ineffective network. However, what is most polarizing is redefining their purpose and their relevance.
They are also very humble in their service and sacrifice to our country and sometimes are not able to convey just how great of an asset they would be to a company.
Veterans are trained to be creative, leaders, passionate, and demonstrate poise under extremely intense situations. Returning to a desk job can be incomprehensibly hard, and in many cases impossible.
I remember and still experience having low days. Sometimes I am not my best self and am unhappy. But I never have, nor still experience shame or guilt — because of that I am always willing to share my feelings with others and seek help. I have been taught that asking for help is okay.
Our veteran’s success in uniform often generates from their extreme independence, their ability to create success from the most austere situations, where the consequences of failure often serve as the principal motivation to succeed.
They are built to be self-reliant and to not show weakness, especially as leaders. Many of them thrive in this environment, but some may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS).
The very things that made them succeed in uniform often affect their ability to ask for help, especially if they can't identify the problem. If they do not seek help that burden encapsulates them.
The Bob Woodruff Foundation’s purpose is to address these challenges for post-9/11 injured service members, veterans and their families — to find, fund, and shape the best programs in our country that will enable these heroes to find independence, drive, and success.
I am running this marathon because I have found, that my purpose and relevance is to ensure that our nation’s greatest assets can regain their independent spirit, and find their new purpose, and relevance through organizations like Team Rubicon.
So their children can have a sense of normalcy and recognize the person that walks through the door, after being away for six months, with help from organizations like Military Child Education Coalition.
So that the veteran going to school integrates just how I did, and gains the skills needed to transition into the workforce with help from organizations like Four Block, which also help corporations and companies understand that many veterans are most likely a better asset than someone like myself.
So that veterans looking to start their own businesses have the proper mentorship and means to solicit investors and capital with help from organizations like Bunker Labs.
So that the veteran feeling guilt for being depressed has an outlet, someone who's been through the same struggles to turn to for help, with organizations like Vets4Warriors.
And most importantly so our veterans know that we are so proud and thankful for the lives their sacrifices allow us to lead — and that we will serve and protect them at home, as they have served us.
That is why I am running the TCS New York City Marathon — to raise awareness and funds for the Bob Woodruff Foundation. I hope you will help.
Charlie Cook is the Charitable Investments Program Coordinator for the Bob Woodruff Foundation.