As the "Veterans for American Power" buses traveled the United States over the course of the past few weeks, it was as though these returned veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan were on their next tour of duty. They had already volunteered to serve our country during a time of war, but the tour they are on now is to fight for American energy independence - another great challenge facing their generation and generations to come.
Yesterday, in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech
in Oslo, President Obama stressed the importance of confronting climate change. The President said, "there is little scientific dispute that if we do nothing, we will face more drought, more famine, more mass displacement – all of which will fuel more conflict for decades." But, then he took it a step further by connecting the question of national security to the climate problem. "It is not merely scientists and environmental activists who call for swift and forceful action – it's military leaders in my own country and others who understand that our common security hangs in the balance."
That’s exactly the message that individuals behind Operation Free
hope the President will carry forward when he joins world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen next week. Operation Free, a project of the Truman National Security Project
, is leading a coalition of (largely Millennial) Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans who are working to broaden the debate over energy legislation. They are building a movement to make it clear that it’s not just environmentalists who care about or are talking about Mother Earth.
By enlisting the support of groups not traditionally associated with green issues, Operation Free has garnered the attention of everyone from local leaders to Members of Congress, and even the President himself. They have leveraged all of the tools at their disposal including Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube and their group blog to share their message, and with a dozen people off to Copenhagen this week, they will carry that message to world leaders who are gathered for the conference.
Last month, the Case Foundation released “All Volunteer Force: From Military to Civilian Service” a paper focused on the importance of engaging veterans in civilian service once they return home from duty. The report found that 92 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans agreed that serving their community is important to them, and their volunteerism rate is nearly double that of the adult population overall. Operation Free is an excellent example of how the unique skills, talents and perspectives of our newest veterans can be harnessed to tackle our nation's problems and lead the way to lasting solutions.
Although they have given much, veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan maintained that they have a great deal left to give. They are ready to continue to honor our country through service, this time as civilians - and we need to ensure there are new opportunities for this generation of veterans to use their unique talents and skills here at home.