March With Us



My first Veterans Day was two years ago.

I’d technically been a Veteran since 2005, when I got back from my tour in Iraq, but I certainly never felt like one. It was a label that I hid from and avoided, except when occasionally convenient for me – like when I needed to apply late for financial aid because of my deployment. Even when, on very rare occasions, I called myself a Veteran, I never self-identified as one.

It’s interesting that I didn’t have this feeling when I went to the VA hospital for the first time or when I applied for education benefits. And it didn’t happen when I presented my experiences in Iraq a half dozen times to professors and fellow classmates. Even when talking with my father, who is also a Vet, about my experiences in Iraq, I didn’t feel it. Instead this overwhelming feeling occurred thousands of miles from my then home in Seattle – away from friends, family and most everything I knew.

I came to New York City just a couple weeks before Veterans Day in 2009 to begin work with the nonprofit organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. It was on that Veteran’s Day, the first time I had been around so many fellow vets since my time in Iraq four years earlier, that I finally felt the pride associated with being a veteran. Marching downFifth Avenue with my brothers and sisters in arms to a cheering and supportive crowd will be ingrained inside me forever.

There was always a certain discomfort about being referred to as a vet. For a long time when I got back, especially while I was going to college, I felt very uncomfortable with referring or even considering myself such a term. Being around other Veterans on that first Veterans Day gave me comfort and put me at ease, not only with the term, but with my own experiences.

This is now my third year participating in the New York City Parade.  Serving this year as IAVA’s Membership Director, Veterans Day is my opportunity to not just help create a sense of identity for our organization, but help to create a nationwide sense of community amongst our generation of Veterans as a whole.  As less then 1% of the population, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are far more isolated than their predecessors.  They need to know there are others like them out there and they are not alone.

Each year, we see veterans go through this transformative experience.  Some have just gotten back from Iraq or Afghanistan, while some have been back for years.  Others travel from just across the Hudson River to take part, and still others take overnight trains from Ohio to be part of the experience of this community.  There is something uniquely powerful being surrounded by your fellow Veterans and walking up Fifth Avenue surrounded by supporters, be them family, friends, or complete strangers.

It is the experience of my first Veterans Day that I’m trying to build for IAVA members, whether they’re new to the Parade or returnees. With the upcoming end to the war in Iraq, this Veterans Day is an opportunity for many new Vets to move on to the next step of their life without forgetting where they came from. This should be a powerful and empowering realization.  I would encourage everyone in NYC to join us on Friday out on Fifth Avenue to take part in this moving day.

Jason Hansman is IAVA’s Acting Membership Director and responsible for maintaining and growing Community of Veterans, the first and largest social network exclusively for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. A native of Seattle Washington, he deployed to Iraq from 2004-05 with the Army Reserves as a Civil Affairs Sergeant.

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Jason Hansman

Comments

  1. Michael J. Hennessey    

    Your Blog reminded me of my welcome home 4th of July 1981.
    As Vietnam vet, I have to say my worst time was here not there. As the put downs happened and the discrimination happened I tried to close off the experience. Then Vet Centers happened my wife got me there under pretense to help other guys and America views started to change.
    The JCs came up with a welcome home celebration. We lined up in the Sears parking lot to start the parade down Norther lights blvd. In Anchorage Alaska. There was a small group of us vets and the other parts of a typical parade. We decided if we got booed we would take them out.
    We came out of the parking lot and headed down the street. The first intersection the Police stepped out of their cars and saluted us. People started clapping and as we continued vets came out of the crowd to join the march.

    Everything climaxed at the stadium when they asked us to come down from the stands as they played Neal Diamond’s “Coming to America”. The funny part is that is when they set off fire works. I think a lot of us had palpitations and more at that moment, Ha Ha.

    My wife and I will always cherish that time.

  2. Tim Scarbrough (Veteran Rep)    

    Jason, can you call me? I’d like to look into starting a local IAVA group in my area. 618-687-2341 ext 387

  3. Jim Brier    

    Jason, I never really felt like a Veteran until I had to take advantage of VA Medical Services
    at the East Orange HCS in NJ. There as in most all Vet Centers, everyone fly’s their colors.
    I was always proud to call myself a “Marine”. My service time was 1976 to 1982.
    As you get older and settled, be proud of your service to our Country. And take advantage of
    what the US Dept. of Veteran Affairs has to offer.

    Jim Brier

  4. dave    

    i see what u r saying but i’m a viet nam vet i served in country and we didn’t get the welcome home u guys got. when we went 2 join the vfw’s american legions they didn’t want us until all their older members were dieing off. some still don’t want us now. we have our own veterans day with our brothers and sisters in arms much like u guys do. we don’t have 2 march down 5th ave we can just get 2gether at our WALL in D.C.

  5. Sharon    

    What time? Where on 5th Ave is the meet up???

Comments are closed.