What Veterans Day means for a two-star Army Reserve major general

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Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: How's this for Veterans Day? We're going to speak now with a two star Army Reserve general, who commands 20,000 soldiers in 19 states. Major General Megan Tatu has spent thirty years on active and reserve duty. She's commanded at every level, from platoon to division leadership. During the cold war, she was the first woman in an air defense battalion in west Germany. She also commanded more than 2,000 soldiers at Joint Base Balad in Iraq. Today, I ask Major General Tatu what Veterans Day means to her, both personally and professionally.

Megan Tatu: From the professional perspective, you know, I think of how for nearly a century, we've celebrated our veterans on this day, and I think about the sacrifice that comes with service. Because I know firsthand that it includes, for many, missing the birth of a child or the graduation of a loved one, that can never be replaced in their lives. You know, these are the very personal reflections of this day for me.

Schachter: Are you frustrated at all that people spend the day going shopping, likely, instead of remembering the service of others?

Tatu: In the Army, one of our core values is selfless service, which by its very nature it's hard for many veterans to accept a thank you, because we don't serve for the recognition. But when it does come, during reflective times like Veterans Day, it's important.

Schachter: Now you say serving in the military is a selfless act, but when service men and women come back from serving now in Iraq and Afghanistan, they do need some special care. What advice would you give those returning troops and soldiers?

Tatu: I think, most importantly, is that they take advantage of the services that are provided if they are having difficulty with the transition. We have, through all the generation, over 700,000 veterans who are unemployed. And there have been... the Heroes to Hire program, in the Army Reserve specifically, the employee partnership office designed to help veterans transition into employment. And so these programs are discussed and made available during the transition from military service into the civilian communities. Those that might be having a difficult transition, with behavioral health issues, there are again a number of opportunities to be able to seek help and services, and so we highly encourage that they take advantage of those, and to not be afraid to ask for that support.

Schachter: We asked some of our listeners, who are veterans, the question I just asked you. "What advice do you have for those who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan?" And we have a gentleman, Ian Blake from Huntsville, Alabama, said, "Don't expect anything more than lip service, if you get more, it's a bonus, but your experience doesn't translate to civilians." Another from a listener from Louisville, Kentucky. He said, "The general public and even your friends don't really care that you deployed, life still went on without you." Would you say that this is a common experience that vets have? You commanded a few thousand in Iraq.

Tatu: You know, the expression 'band of brothers' is applicable in this in that, you can't relate to the experiences unless you have experienced them yourself. I've raised a child with a disability. I can't expect those that don't have those trials to understand what we've had to work through in the school system to get services and that type of thing. So, in that sense, the shared experiences, whether it has been through a contingency operation or in a peace time, the experiences are unique, and are best shared amongst those who have been through similar experiences.

Schachter: Right. We have another note from a listener, veteran Jonathan Tailor from Austin, Texas, and he said, "Just accept that people can love you without understanding you."

Tatu: The American people now, as opposed to the Vietnam War era, they make the distinction between those who make policy versus the men and women in uniform. But I will tell you that unbeknownst to me, when I headed out for my initial train-up before deployment to Iraq, that my entire neighborhood hung out American flags and they stood outside their houses and they applauded as I drove off.

Schachter: General, can I just ask you... personally, is there someone you remember specially on Veterans Day, someone you hold in your heart, a mentor, perhaps?

Tatu: Well, I’ll tell you. I didn't know my grandfather, he passed away shortly after I was born. But I still have his service ribbon, his medal, from service in France during World War I. And I always pull that medal out on this day, and I think in terms of the sacrifices he made to leave his family. And he was an artilleryman, and we also carried with us... we had his doughboy helmet. He had an expended artillery shell. But I always reflect, when I look at that medal, the fact that we have men and women who voluntarily take that step to obligate themselves to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Every one of them, I have tremendous admiration for.

Schachter: Major General Tatu, thank you so much for speaking with us and for your service, and happy Veterans Day.

Tatu: Thank you very much, you take care.

Schachter: For more on veterans returning home after life on the battle field, including five pieces of advice from vets, check out PRI.org. You're listening to PRI.