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I was recently asked to be the guest speaker at the 2017 Run4Troops event this year, and I am very grateful (though I felt very unworthy) to be a part of it. The video was taken by my wife and below are the notes I read from for the speech (I didn’t read verbatim, but pretty close anyway). Thank you all for checking it out–I hope you appreciate my attempt at delivering what I think is an important message, and I hope the words are useful to at least a few!
My name is Phil Gothard. As a small business owner and military veteran, I am very humbled and honored to have been asked to represent the veteran community this year at Run4Troops. I’d like to use this platform to further the Run4Troops mission statement and acknowledge the great work they do in supporting the tri-state military families by offering what insight I can to help civilians and transitioning veterans work together for mutual benefit.
First, I would like to speak to all of the supportive civilians. As many of you probably know or can imagine, I would ask that you take into consideration that vets can bear many scars from their time in service, and the worst of these scars in many cases are invisible. To experience fighting in a war and to witness some of the atrocities that go along with that, especially in most cases at such young ages, changes a person indefinitely. Survivor’s guilt is something that many of us struggle with every day, and often these wounds don’t fully heal with time. I ask that you show us patience and give us the opportunity to adapt to our new environment. With your help, we absolutely can, and we can be great citizens as we were servicemen and women.
Next, I would like to direct some of my thoughts towards active military who are looking to transition, as well as those who may have long since transitioned into the civilian world. Anyone who ever told you that since you accomplished great things in the military, succeeding in the civilian world will be a piece of cake is offering you terrible advice that has set so many men and women up for failure in the past. You should absolutely be proud of what you accomplished. But, remember what got you through those trials; it was talent, training, hard work, perseverance, and a team mentality. Nothing changes AFTER the military in that regard. Your rank in service, unit patch, being a combat veteran or having a Ranger tab may very well help facilitate opportunities for you in the civilian world, but it’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card to be played the rest of your life when you make a mistake, lose your temper, or fail to perform a task to standard, and your accomplishments definitely don’t excuse you from continuing to perform; in fact, if anything, your peers, bosses, or employees will expect MORE from you.
What is commonly overlooked during this transition is that there is so much more opportunity to fail in the civilian world than there was in the military. Hitting the snooze button, calling in sick, having a screwed up uniform, showing up late, leaving early, or performing a task not to standard were either not even an option or handled immediately and usually harshly in the military. Here in the civilian world, it’s so easy to start establishing bad habits. You have so much more rope to potentially hang yourself with—you also have so much more opportunity for success if you are willing and able to work for it. Your standard and purpose was handed to you in the military; here you have the liberty to seek it out and define it for yourself. Find something you’re proud to be a part of, or CREATE something. That is what we have here in the US that makes this country so great—the freedom and opportunity to do what we want with our lives. Set that example for others to follow and live up to a standard you are proud of.
Lastly, and most importantly of all, we need to remember that nobody can do it alone. There are varying statistics out there that claim between 15 to 22 veterans are killing themselves on average every day. I’ve known a few personally. Refuse to be a victim. We veterans are quick and selfless when it comes to rendering aid, but in many cases terrible at accepting help ourselves. The transition isn’t easy and there will be struggles; don’t struggle alone. Nobody, with absolutely zero exceptions, no matter how successful they are, got anywhere without the help of others, so establish those networks and don’t be too proud to accept help. You deserve it, and you know that if the tables were turned, you’d be happy to be the person lending the help. In virtually all cases with very few exceptions, we have a CHOICE when we are faced with a stressor: To adapt, overcome, and thus become stronger versions of ourselves, or to allow it to chip away at us, break us down, or, worst of all, DEFINE us. Together, we can dispel the stigma of the broken veteran and use the skills we developed to better any environment we find ourselves in post-service.
Thank you to the Hodge family and everyone who is responsible for putting this on today. I hope that we’re all able to take something useful out of my point of view not only today, but throughout the rest of our journeys together. With your help, let’s continue to make our community a better place to live and thrive together. Thank you all for your time.