More than a federal holiday

Today is Veterans Day in the U.S. For some, it means no mail, free parking at meters, and doubts about whether the bank will be open.

That's how I used to view the holiday. I'm not a veteran, and until a few years ago the only veteran in my family was my grandpa, who was drafted to serve in World War II.

Now I'm like a growing number of people: I have a personal connection to a recent veteran (my 30-something cousin, who was attached to an Army finance unit in Tikrit, Iraq, from 2003 to 2004). It's made me more aware of something called "reintegration," which is the readjustment process military service members go through when they return home.

Reintegration is something that all of us - friends, family members, neighbors, coworkers, and veterans - can participate in. Although my grandpa didn't talk much about his military service with his family, looking back I believe that his involvement as a Shriner, Sunday school teacher, and volunteer fire fighter were extensions of the service he'd begun while deployed in the Philippines. Marching in parades as part of the VFW/American Legion color guard was more than a civic contribution - it was a way to publicly show pride in his wartime service without having to talk about it with people who probably wouldn't understand.

From what I've learned in talking with officers in the Minnesota National Guard and with recent veterans, the men and women who are coming home today seek and would benefit from similar opportunities to reconnect with their communities by making contributions like my grandpa and many other veterans did and continue to do.

Non-veterans like me can make today more than a federal holiday by recognizing the sacrifices of veterans and their families as well as the many ways they contribute to building strong and healthy communities.

Read about the Warrior to Citizen Campaign, a grassroots reintegration effort in Minnesota.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs