Greetings. I hope you’ll permit me to discuss service and how it relates to this crisis we face.
After the defeat of the British Army, General Washington submitted his resignation and returned here to fulfill his dream of a quiet agrarian life. When the Second Continental Congress later called on Mr. Washington to return to serve his country in a new mission, he again answered the call, and led our new republic out of crisis and onto the path of greatness.
When I arrived in Iraq in the summer of 2006, I was an Air Force officer assigned to the Army for a year and handed a rifle—very much a fish out of water. I was put in charge of a team of ten soldiers and my orders were, “Go figure out who’s blowing up the electrical infrastructure, and figure out how to stop it.”
I quickly realized that if you want to get something done in the military, you empower your soldiers with the right tools, as well as a sense of mission. Those soldiers figured out how to solve that seemingly insurmountable problem.
Abraham Lincoln once said we have a sacred duty to care for our Veterans. However, in the last few months we have had more veterans commit suicide than die in combat; while PTSD and traumatic brain injury are reaching epidemic proportions.
As a nation, we continue to experience the consequences of not adequately caring for our Vietnam Veterans. One in three of our homeless population is a veteran, most from the Vietnam era.
As the unemployment rate of our Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans approaches 12%, nearly 4% higher than that of their non-Veteran peers, we are repeating our past mistakes and failing in our sacred duty.
Though not to Mount Vernon, many of our young Veterans have returned to their homes, but like Washington, their sense of service remains intact.
As we have discussed here today, we have a monumental task ahead to solve this climate crisis, but we also have a group of idealistic young leaders who are accustomed to dealing with ill-defined and seemingly insurmountable problems.
By giving our veterans a new mission, training and a new set of tools, we can fulfill our sacred duty and empower a workforce to lead America out of this epic environmental crisis.
It’s time to call them again to service.
Presentation by Chris Finan at Mount Vernon (President Washington’s home) to America’s New Energy Forum (3/20/09) sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts: http://www.pewtrusts.org/events_detail.aspx?id=50032