We’re just coming off of a great Veterans week with IAVA-Connecticut! Between the Hartford Veterans Day Parade and IAVA-CT after-party, the Vets Rock veterans expo and concert, and the NYC parade with IAVA, we had about 80 CT post-9/11 veterans join us for some great times with fellow vets. For me, the Hartford parade was particularly special this year. Last year’s parade was actually the first that we planned with our whole team, and seeing the growth of the organization since then and celebrating our community together made for a really special day. It was also a great validation of our approach to community building. We’ve spent the last year working to rebuild the camaraderie of the military back home in CT, holding 22 events across the state, with varied activities so there’s something for everyone, and including families whenever possible since they are such a vital part of our experience. We also try to regularly stay in touch with our CT members, whether they’re coming out for events or not, so they know that they’re a part of the family and they can always reach out if they need anything.
At the Hartford parade, we had about 25 people join us, and everyone had a story. A large part of our leadership was there, connecting with the new people, making everyone feel welcome, and learning what we can do for them. We had some of our regulars coming back and telling us how much this has meant to them over the last year and how great it is to see it continuing to grow. We had some people who have been hearing about us through our mailing list and staying in contact but hadn’t been able to come out yet who are now going to be coming all the time. And we had some people who had never even heard about IAVA but who now want to get more involved after spending the day with us. Like at all of our events, the energy at the parade and even more so at the after-party, was incredible. Even with the people you don’t know, it’s like a family reunion. We’ve had older organizations tell us that we can’t build a real community using an event-driven program, but what I see every day is that this community already exists– we all just need to find each other. These events are the only place that a lot of us feel like we can be ourselves, and I can’t wait for the next one.
We had a great demonstration of a side benefit to bringing the community together as well. As we’ve gotten bigger and more visible in the state, we’ve had more government agencies and politicians reaching out wanting to hear from post-9/11 veterans. There are actually a huge number of resources available to veterans in CT, but when the community is fractured they have no way of finding us, and we have no way of telling them what we need. At the Hartford parade, we had a number of guests over the course of the day that showed the influence that we can have. CT Department of Veterans Affairs Commissionner (and new IAVA veteran member!) Sean Connolly joined us at our staging area to hear from our members, continuing an ongoing collaboration with the DVA to educate post-9/11 veterans about their services and helping DVA to better meet our needs. Commissioner Connolly has clearly made our generation a priority for his office, and now that we are united through IAVA we can help him in that effort. We were also contacted by both the Democratic and Republican US Senate campaigns in the lead-up to the parade wanting to link up with us. We were pleasantly surprised to hear from them, and we really appreciated that they both took a significant amount of time to hear from our members, with Dan Carter joining us at the parade and Senator Richard Blumenthal coming for the after-party. To me it was a great example that when we come together as a community, we can draw support across party lines and make our voices heard. Local veterans resources and politicians ask me all the time how they can reach more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and now they know they can find us with IAVA-CT.
As awesome as the last week has been, there’s a lot more to come. I’m really proud of our work over the last year. We’ve reached hundreds of veterans, but there are thousands more still out there! We’ve got events every month, and as I hope we’re demonstrating, there is incredible power in our community. I’ve seen how much we can help ourselves and each other by coming together and rebuilding our military family, and now I’ve seen our potential to influence the state and federal policies that affect us and our brothers and sisters. So join us! It took me way too long to get involved after I got out of the Army, and believe me, the hardest part is coming out for your first event. You really don’t know what you’re missing, and almost everyone comes back! I hope that we’ve made that easier for some people already and that we’ll see the rest of you soon. If you want to learn more, check out IAVA.org/join, and any CT veterans can always reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to hear about what we’ve got coming up. Thanks a lot, and Happy Veterans Day!