More than 18,000 of Minnesota’s volunteer soldiers have been deployed around the world since Sept. 11, 2001. In 2011, we’re likely to see the largest deployment yet–up to 2,700 men and women. Not included in those figures is the unknown number of service members from other branches of the military who have returned home to Minnesota.
Thousands of individuals, families, and employers in Minnesota have been directly impacted by deployments. Yet the effects of those deployments often aren’t visible to the wider community, compounding the sense of isolation veterans and their families may feel. In Minnesota, where veterans are dispersed across the state, it can be difficult to deliver targeted services to them and their families. A widespread lack of familiarity with military service means that communities, institutions of higher education, and employers often miss opportunities to tap the service ethic, experience, and leadership of veterans.
The Warrior to Citizen Campaign–a grassroots effort organized by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship since 2007–allows ordinary people to develop their citizen leadership potential through work to address these and other community challenges.
Coordinated effort. In addition to military and social service programs, a number of Minnesota communities are working to develop sustainable grassroots support for veterans and their families. Since 2007, the Center for Democracy and Citizenship has facilitated monthly meetings that bring together representatives of the Minnesota National Guard, Army Reserves, institutions of higher education, state agencies, state legislators, veterans groups and advocates, businesses, churches, and municipalities for information sharing, networking, and development of special action projects. Coaching by Center for Democracy and Citizenship staff and interaction with other community leaders makes these working group meetings particularly valuable for communities that are seeking to earn the state’s “Yellow Ribbon” recognition.
In 2010, work teams are focusing on three key issues:
- Veterans employment and job creation
- Training facilitators to continue Healing of Memories workshops for veterans
- Access to higher education and support for student veterans
Reduced isolation. Minnesota lacks a visible military community, which has led to isolation for many veterans adn their families during and after deployment. The multimedia exhibit, Warrior to Citizen: Stories of Minnesota’s Recent Veterans, was created by community volunteers including museum studies students and profesional writers who collected the oral histories of 30 veternas of Iraq and Afghanistan. The exhibit was displayed at a dozen college campuses and communtiy centers, allowing Minnesotans across the state to learn more about the impact military service has on individuals, families and communities.
Veterans specialty courts. Veterans have unique and specific needs that are not commonly addressed in traditional courts. With coaching provided by the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, a Minnesota Court of Appeals judge worked with other members of the judiciary to bring veterans specialty courts–modeled on drug courts–to Minnesota starting summer 2010. These courts will connect veterans to services in a cost-effective way.
The campaign also brought together lawmakers, members of the judiciary, and others to change the Power of Attorney form so that service members and others would be better protected from financial abuse. Legislation changing the form was passed in 2009.
Citizen leadership training
The Center for Democracy and Citizenship has led in the field of civic engagement by using proven practices to make democracy a way of life. Through the Warrior to Citizen Campaign, the center brings this expertise to Minnesota communities.
The center’s citizen leadership training focuses on skills essential for public work, including assessing local opportunities and needs, identifying and differentiating between different kinds of power, understanding the role of self-interest in public work, and building and sustaining a core action team. With ongoing coaching by the center, citizen leaders continue to learn as they put their new knowledge and skills into practice.
Currently, the center is coaching teams of professionals, veterans, and other community members working on particular issues such as improved access to higher education, mental health workshops facilitated by veterans for veterans, and veterans employment and job creation.
Our future focus is engaging more military veterans in a new mission: developing their capacity as citizen leaders to address a variety of challenges their communities face.
Campaign history and news coverage
Student journalist embed
Since 2008, the Center for Democracy and Citizenship has partnered with the Minnesota National Guard to place journalism students with National Guard soldiers during summer training exercises to simulate and give both groups exposure to a week-long embed experience. Students have produced high-quality photography, video and written feature stories that become part of their professional portfolio. Soldiers and commanding officers have described the embed as a positive and useful learning opportunity. In 2010, students from Augsburg College, St. Thomas University, Hamline University, and the University of Minnesota were invited to participate.