How Can We Support Our Troops?

Your Voice Contributor 

For the overwhelming majority of Americans, if they did not read or watch the news, the fact that our nation has been at war for over a decade would come as a surprise. That is one of our nation’s greatest blessings and challenges.

Members of the United States Armed Forces represent only about one half of one percent of the U.S. population. I consider myself extremely fortunate to live in a country where men and women CHOOSE to put themselves in harm’s way defending our country, and do it so courageously and professionally. While these soldiers and their families make huge personal sacrifices, my family and I enjoy the benefits of the peace they assure. However, that dichotomy gnawed at me in the early 2000’s as war in the Middle East escalated and endured. My father and father-in-law both served in the military. What kind of example was I setting for my kids? Can citizens of a democratic society make and influence good public policy decisions if they are so detached from such a significant an instrument (our armed forces) of that policy?

For our country to remain strong and our democracy vibrant, our citizenry need not all actively serve in the armed forces, but we all need to engage, appreciate and offer service to those that do. We all have time, talent and treasure we can direct toward supporting our troops.

As I made my commitment to provide support for our soldiers, it was apparent that many people felt the same way, but like me, they struggled to identify how to match their benevolence with beneficence. How does one tackle what appears to be an overwhelming amount of need? The answer lies in scale. That may start with something as simple as thanking soldiers they pass on the street for their service. It might mean donating whatever they can to a great organization like USA Cares or the USO. It might mean a school “adopting” a battalion of soldiers and their families. This is what I did with my friends at Kentucky Country Day. The relationship with 1st Bn, 5th Special Forces Group at Ft. Campbell continues to this day. Whether it is care packages to soldiers overseas, birthday cards to the children of soldiers, or having soldiers and their families visit Louisville for a Bats game, all of these little things are deeply appreciated by the soldiers and their families.

In reality, civilians get back far more than they give in these relationships. They are inspired and awed by the integrity and humility of these soldiers. I have also found that our soldiers and their families are not looking for help; what they value most is the feeling that they are appreciated and connected to civilians. One of the best ways to do this is invite them to share their professional talents with your organization. Soldiers have done everything from reading stories to kindergarteners to discussing geopolitics with AP students at KCD.

For adults, I have seen no organization better tap the talents of our soldiers than Leadership Louisville. Experienced soldiers possess exceptional skills in leadership, management and team-building. These are extremely talented people, deeply trained and literally battle-tested. For the past two years, Northwestern Mutual has sponsored programming for Leadership Louisville’s Ignite program to spend a day at Ft. Knox to receive a crash course in leadership and teaming from some of the best and brightest officers in the country. Both the Ignite members and the officers benefit from the exchange and sometimes even form enduring friendships.

Leadership Louisville recognizes the value of this type of programming and is committed to facilitating more interaction between our friends at Ft. Knox and the Louisville community. As our military begins a formal downsizing, it is more critical than ever for Americans to embrace our soldiers. Now is the ideal time to encourage veterans to apply for jobs at your company and for all of us to give veteran-owned/operated companies special consideration when buying products and services. By recognizing the unique value proposition that veterans offer, you can do some good for this special group of Americans and for our country; you will do well for yourself and your organization, too.

Christopher Brice is chief marketing officer, Northwestern Mutual. A native New Yorker and young teacher back in 1992, Chris moved to Louisville after graduate school at Duke University to teach and coach at Kentucky Country Day School for what he anticipated at the time would be a brief tenure in the city. Meeting the former Sarah Wilder changed all of his plans. In 1994, Chris began working in the private sector in sales and marketing positions. In 2000, he returned to KCD as Assistant Head of School.  Chris joined Northwestern Mutual – The Kentucky & Southern Indiana Group as Chief Marketing Officer in 2009. Chris has volunteered extensively in the youth services sector of the Louisville community. Chris’s volunteer efforts are now focused on supporting the soldiers and families of our Armed Forces. Chris, his wife, Sarah, and their two children – Lilly and Wilder – are all proud Louisvillians.