My father is a WWII veteran. We did not talk about it much when I was growing up. He is part of that “Greatest Generation,” a term coined by journalist Tom Brokaw to describe the generation of Americans who grew up in the Great Depression and then went on to fight in World War II, as well as those whose productivity within the war’s home front made a decisive material contribution to the war’s effort. My father’s generation is sometimes also referred to as the G.I. Generation, a term coined by authors William Strauss and Neil Howe who are known for their generational theory.
With the first Gulf War and now Afghanistan and Iraq wars, we have a new GI Generation. I meet them in my community. I meet them at colleges and universities. I meet them in the work place. These young men and woman have served their country and served it well. And now they are slowly coming home.
Given my age, I remember those who came home from Vietnam. I have listened to their challenges and their difficulties over the years. Once, a long time ago, I was teaching an evening stress management seminar to emergency personnel and first responders in northwest Iowa when an older man me asked if we could visit after the class.
So, after my presentation was over, we sat down and he shared how one day he was in the jungles in Vietnam and some one came up to him and told him it was his time to go home. He had completed his tour of duty. Shortly, a helicopter came and picked him up in this remote location. A couple of days later, he was home in northwest Iowa feeding pigs with his Dad. He still did not know how to process this transition and he still, some 20+ years later, could not handle stress very well. We talked about PTSD that evening and I encouraged him to seek out qualified and experienced professionals who could help him and his loved ones through what he was experiencing. Before we parted, he shared with me that “war changes people. It is not good or bad. It just changes people.”
With all those who are serving now and with all those who have served and are back home now, we as leaders need to remember that it will and it has changed them. For some, there will be no outward signs. For others, there will be many signs and significant differences.
I was lecturing at a hospital in far western Iowa when the first Gulf War ended. I remembering saying to all of the mangers and executives in the room that all of the veterans will come home. Some will be whole; some will be broken. Some will come home having paid the ultimate sacrifice. All of them, their families and their communities, will be changed by this experience.
As winter moves toward spring, we as leaders need to learn more about these changes and this new GI Generation. We must be more aware and be more understanding as they re-enter society. We must be prepared because, like the first GI Generation, this new generation will change our society in many ways.
Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257