Defense Policy

How to Celebrate Veterans Day (Especially if You Aren’t a Veteran)

November 10, 2014  • Eric Greitens, Guest Blogger

*This article originally appeared on Mic.

As a Navy SEAL, I deployed four times in the Global War on Terrorism. Come Veterans Day, I often have good friends who call and write to say, “Happy Veterans Day,” or “Thinking of you today.” These are great messages, and it’s always good to hear from friends. The veterans in your life will enjoy hearing from you as well.

I also have friends who ask, “Is there more I can do,” or “How should a non-veteran celebrate Veterans Day?”

Here are a few ideas:

1. Serve

November 11th is set aside every year to honor those who have served our country through military service. What better way to recognize their service than by deploying in your community in their honor? Find a way to serve in your local community. Let a veteran know that you are serving in his or her honor.

Find opportunities here:

If service is your calling, consider taking on a more extended service opportunity. Programs like AmeriCorps and Teach for America offer incredible opportunities to begin or continue a life of service. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is leading a new initiative called the Aspen Institute Franklin Project, which calls for all young Americans to have the opportunity to do a service year.

2. Learn

Words like bravery and sacrifice can sound abstract. They become real when we learn about people who have lived those values. Read a great book about what veterans have done for this country. Here are a few that I recommend:

3. Support

President John F. Kennedy once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” It’s very likely that your city, county, school, or workplace hosts some kind of Veterans Day celebration. Make your way there. Show the veterans in your community that you support them.

4. Connect

As each day passes and more World War II and Korean War veterans leave us, we live in a country with fewer and fewer veterans. Today, many people don’t know a veteran who served overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan — less than one percent of Americans have served in the military since September 11, 2001.

And yet the odds are that you do have veterans at your school, on the job, and in the community. Veterans are your neighbors, coworkers, and classmates. Veterans Day is a great day to thank them for their service, and even better, to learn more about them. Start by saying, “Happy Veterans Day; can you tell me about your service?”

5. Welcome

Many people are unsure about what to say to veterans — especially to those who have recently returned.  One of the best things that you can say is simply, “welcome home.”

6. Invest

When veterans come home, they have a tremendous amount to offer the country. These men and women are assets, and there are a number of organizations that work with them to see that they can use their talents to build stronger communities here at home.

Check out these organizations and think about making a contribution:

7. Be Grateful

Everything we enjoy is possible only because those before us have served and sacrificed. Spend time with family and friends, and as you celebrate Veterans Day, reflect on the legacy of service that has ensured our freedom as Americans.

Eric Greitens is a Navy SEAL, award-winning author, Rhodes Scholar, and founder of The Mission Continues. He is also a member of the Franklin Project Leadership Council at the Aspen Institute. He speaks on living with resilience and leading with strength and compassion through adverse circumstances. His work as a social entrepreneur is transforming how America views our veterans.