In the opening of his new book, Charlie Mike, journalist and author Joe Klein notes that, “in the U.S. Military, ‘Charlie Mike’ is shorthand for ‘continue the mission.’” Klein profiles a few of the foremost veterans organizations – Team Rubicon, The Mission Continues and IAVA – that are doing just that every day; rebuilding neighborhoods, serving their communities and advocating for their fellow veterans. We spoke with Klein about Charlie Mike and the legacy of these empowering organizations.
Many of the men and women you profile in the book show an immense resilience both during and after their service. What struck you about their common experiences that might underscore this capacity to persevere?
I think the resilience comes from the act of serving others, which can really lift you out of your personal problems. Our veterans have been trained to serve, then they’re plopped into civilian society, where the most important military values—service, sacrifice, duty, honor and country (the importance of being part of something larger than yourself)–are not as important. I think the most striking part of what groups like IAVA, The Mission Continues and Team Rubicon do—which I saw first-hand during community service and disaster relief projects in Oklahoma and elsewhere—is the utter joy that comes from doing good things, hard things, exhausting things, together with your brothers and sisters.
At the crux of many post-9/11 veterans organizations is a focus on community, and they’ve also forged their own brotherhood. As you examined these varied organizations, how did collaboration strengthen their work?
The focus on community is crucial. It is something that veterans have and many—most—civilians seem to have lost. I’ve come to believe that post-traumatic stress isn’t just about what you did and saw downrange, but the emptiness that comes with the loss of community—the loss of purpose, the loss of being an active part of something important back home.
What do you hope readers–both military and civilian–learn from the book?
First, for my military readers—and all the friends I’ve made along the way (including those who protected my sorry old civilian butt downrange)—I just hope that I’ve presented you as you are. Some of us POGs do get it. For civilians, I want them to know that there’s a lot to learn from our veterans…about leadership, about community and about the importance of serving others. It has been a great privilege to write Charlie Mike. I’ll try to Charlie Mike the message of this book for the rest of my days.