How to Celebrate Veterans Day — If You Aren’t a Veteran

ByEric Greitens

 The "Pass the Mic" series showcases voices, perspectives and ideas that spark interesting conversations. 

Post-9/11 veterans have served in a smaller military force and been asked to deploy multiple times, including in the Afghan war that is now the longest war in American history. However, as only 1% of the American population has served since 9/11, there is a gap between civilian and military worlds that has made the transition home particularly difficult for veterans.

Eric Greitens is a former Navy SEAL who founded the non-profit The Mission Continues to empower veterans facing the challenge of adjusting to life at home to find new missions through continued service. Here’s his advice on how to do your part, however small or large, to celebrate Veterans Day.

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

Nov. 11 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 their 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 Franklin Project that calls for all young Americans to have the opportunity to do a service year. Learn more about this effort.

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:

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow

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 1% of Americans have served in the military since Sept. 11, 2001.

And yet, odds are, that there is a veteran 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. (Full disclosure, I’m the founder of The Mission Continues).  

Check out these organizations, and think about making a contribution:

7. Be Grateful

Everything we enjoy is possible 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.