100 Questions & Answers about (our millions of) Veterans

ACROSS America, May is a special time for honoring our American veterans and their families. Already, Americans have marked VE (Victory in Europe) Day on May 8, Military Spouse Appreciation Day on May 8, Armed Forces Day on May 16 and soon the month will culminate in one of the biggest national observances: Memorial Day, covered by Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton.

At ReadTheSpirit magazine, we are celebrating the students from Michigan State University’s School of Journalism who have just released 100 Questions & Answers about Veterans—which includes videos of veterans produced by Detroit Public Television.

Detroit News columnist Neal Rubin already has reported on the book’s release. Neal wrote, in part, that such a book is helpful to “to correct misconceptions, connect cultures and make potentially awkward conversations more comfortable and more frequent.” Neal continued:

America’s 21 million veterans “are a cultural group all by themselves,” with customs and terminology frequently unfamiliar to outsiders. “Ask us questions,” wrote actor, Army veteran and Dancing With the Stars winner J.R. Martinez in the book’s foreword. “Listen and try not to judge or to let your perceptions get in the way of our answers.”

ReadTheSpirit magazine invited the director of this MSU journalism project, Joe Grimm, to tell us more …


Americans like to recognize veterans, but don’t always see them for who they are.

The fog of stereotypes and the knowledge gap between veterans and civilians can obscure our view.

A new guide clears some of the fog.

100 Questions and Answers About Veterans: A Guide for Civilians answers basic questions that former service men and women say they hear all the time. With a little basic knowledge, civilians will understand how much there is to learn. This start gives us the confidence we need to talk without worrying that we will embarrass ourselves or offend a veteran.

This is the basic premise behind the series of cultural guides to which this veterans guide belongs. It is the eighth in the series, which ReadTheSpirit helps the Michigan State University School of Journalism publish. The guide, in print form and digital, includes video interviews with veterans recorded by partner Detroit Public Television.

Ron Capps, who wrote the guide’s preface, served in the Army and Army Reserve for 25 years. He is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and of other conflicts. His passion is the Veterans Writing Project VeteransWriting.org, which he founded. For this new book, Capps wrote in part:

Soldiers come home and get lots of “Thank you for your service” and recognition at baseball games, but rarely have the chance to tell their story. This lack of communication leads to a lack of understanding.

Veterans can become isolated, and keep to themselves. And this is wrong. We all have a responsibility to share the experience of our military even if only vicariously, through a telling or a reading.

Army veteran J.R. Martinez wrote in his foreword, “Let yourself learn from us. Ask us questions. Listen and try not to judge or to let your perceptions get in the way of our answers. And in turn, we will allow ourselves to understand that it is our duty to teach. It’s a partnership we will all have to agree on to shorten the distance between our two worlds.”

Martinez was in a Humvee that hit an improvised explosive device in Iraq, burning him over more than 34 percent of his body. He is an actor, motivational speaker and the author of Full of Heart: My Story of Survival, Strength, and Spirit. You might have seen him on Dancing with the Stars. He wound up winning Season 13 of that series on Nov. 22, 2011.

The messages from Capps and Martinez are similar and echo many heard by the Michigan State students who interviewed veterans for the guide. These are some of the 100 questions the guide answers:

* Why do some veterans prefer not to have people thank them for their service?
* How are commissioned and noncommissioned officers different?
* How common is it for veterans to be homeless?
* What is the GI Bill?
* What are the meanings of Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

Of course, we all know there is a difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. But how do veterans see that difference? If you’re a civilian who is not sure, you have time to go into this year’s Memorial Day more informed. Get this helpful new book in paperback or as an ebook. Read it and watch the DPTV videos. It won’t take long for you to be able to have better conversations with veterans, confident that the baseline knowledge you have will lead to a better understanding.

Joe Grimm is series editor for this series of guides published by the Michigan State University School of Journalism.

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