Truman National Security Project

Veterans and Millennials Leading the Way

By Aaron Scheinberg | 1.31.13

As the nation prepared to swear in our re-elected President this weekend and hundreds of thousands of young people from across the country met in Washington, D.C. for the festivities, a group of Millennial leaders created their own gathering to inspire the Millennial Generation to citizen service.

At the Millennial Ideas Forum, a day-long series of panel discussions hosted by the Millennial Trains Project, the New America Foundation and the Consumer Electronics Association, we at The Mission Continues had the chance to kick off a nationwide conversation exploring the mission of the Millennial generation and exploring how we are answering the now mythic challenge posed by President Kennedy during the 44th presidential inauguration: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

Taking place on the Saturday before inauguration, leaders with diverse backgrounds in art, government, business, tech, social enterprise, entrepreneurship gathered in a retrofitted warehouse in D.C.’s historic H street district. All were forward-looking, most were Millennials, and all are pioneers and leaders in their fields. The commitment of the panelists to innovation, service, and solving our greatest challenges should serve as a guidepost for every Millennial across the country.

Based on my own experience as a panelist, anyone concerned about the trajectory of our country and its future leaders should be confident that our generation is headed in the right direction. While it has been said that Millennials are more selfish than previous generation, there is plenty of evidence to prove otherwise. Through this event and my work with the national veterans non-profit, The Mission Continues, I have seen a common desire amongst Millennials to be part of service and involved in something purposeful and bigger than themselves.

At the Mission Continues, we challenge veterans to serve and inspire in communities across America. Through our Fellowship program, over 500 post-9/11 veterans, most of whom are Millennials with combat experience, have chosen to continue their service at home by partnering with non-profit and community based organizations in 41 states.

A former Marine Gunnery Sergeant uses his skills to partner with Habitat for Humanity in Houston. An Army Tank Platoon leader joins The Boys and Girls club to mentor youth in San Diego. Through these interactions, they are inspiring our generation to lead a fulfilling life through service to the community. We are also challenging the Millennial generation of non-veterans to serve alongside veterans through service projects. If an Iraq War Veteran can come home and continue to serve our country, so can you. Since our inception, we have brought together over 20,000 volunteers to join in our national days of service across the country.

What I saw through the Millennial Ideas Forum is that we are not alone in our efforts. In addition to other service focused organizations like Ashoka and Groundswell, we heard from young entrepreneurs, artists, and government policy makers who are all community and service-minded and who realize that collaboration across these different sectors will be essential in amplifying our impact in the world. Our generation seems less concerned with party politics and siloed industries and more with how we can work together to change our communities for the better. Perhaps this is borne out of our constant connection to each other online or our frustrations with the current state of politics, but it is clear that Millennials will find ways to work together and lead.

Through the discussions fostered at the Millennial Ideas Forum, we began to answer the call President Obama delivered to our nation this inauguration when he said, “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas.”

Aaron Scheinberg is the Director of Strategy & Research at The Mission Continues. He is a graduate of West Point, an Iraq War veteran and Bronze Star Medal Winner, and holds a dual-degree from Harvard Kennedy School and Columbia Business School. Aaron is a Truman National Security Fellow and New Leaders Council Fellow in New York City.