By Joshua M. Patton
Bob Woodruff has spent a lot of time telling veterans’ stories. Despite having never served in the military, our conversation began resembling the type of “where ya been?” conversations commonly had by veterans. He asked if I had served in the military and I told him that I deployed to Iraq at the end of 2004. “But,” I added, “I also deployed to Bosnia in 2000.”
“Yeah. I was in Kosovo then,” he replied. Woodruff has been an international correspondent since his entrance into the world of broadcast journalism during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 as an interpreter for CBS. Later he was Peter Jenning’s successor at ABC World News Tonight. While in Iraq, Woodruff and his cameraman Doug Vogt were seriously wounded in 2006. Since his return to duty as a broadcaster, Woodruff has dedicated himself to telling veterans’ stories.
It began in the ICU and then moved on to long-term rehabilitation, both for soldiers and Woodruff himself. “I did a lot, certainly, on the injured,” he tells me, “because they were the ones that needed the most help in the beginning.” He reported on the invisible injuries of PTSD and TBI. In fact, Woodruff’s first report after his injury documented his own rehabilitation alongside wounded veterans and the effects of TBI. “I lose words sometimes,” he says, but he is always able to make his point clearly. After covering the injured veterans, he turned to another part of the community he felt didn’t get enough attention, military families (Something our own Angela Caban might agree with). Now his attention is focused on uninjured veterans and their professional futures.
Woodruff’s new video series, debuting on ABC’s website July 31, 2012, called “Standing Up for Heroes,” shows a number of veterans paired with mentors who are giants in their respective industries. Folks from Google and LinkedIn – who are partnered with ABC for this series – and individuals like George Lucas and Michael Bloomberg mentor veterans and provide advice for them to break into their desired career fields.
While much of the focus has been on “employment” for veterans, this series takes a different approach. “It’s more about career,” Woodruff says, “It’s two different things. We can come back and ‘be employed,’ but it’s another thing to find your dreams and goals.” There is no pressure on the mentors to actually hire these veterans. “This does not mean they desperately need a job.” Some of these veterans are merely looking to the future while they finish school using the GI Bill. One of the vets actually did land her dream job after filming, but it wasn’t with any of the companies ABC partnered with.
I asked Mr. Woodruff if he thought the pressure to provide jobs for the veterans stopped people from doing this kind of mentoring. “I don’t know,” he replied, “there’s no evidence.” Still, we agreed that more can always be done to help. When I have spoken to hiring managers and workers at temp agencies about veterans’ employment, I always got a sense from them that veterans were like a pregnant woman with a stroller struggling to get on an escalator. There’s a compulsion to help them, even if it’s taking them through the interview process as some sort of consolation prize. “They don’t want pity,” said Woodruff of those veterans he’s spoken to that are out on the job-hunt. What they want is a career. They want to build something for themselves and not simply take the first job they can land. That’s what “Standing Up for Heroes,” is all about.
Since I separated from the Army, I have never gone to the VA Hospital. This is not because I think the VA Hospital is somehow bad or that I wouldn’t get excellent treatment, but more because I felt like they have enough to do. I have spoken to other uninjured veterans about this and many of them feel the same way. I mention this to Mr. Woodruff and ask him if he had seen this too. Ever the lawyer-turned-newsman he replied, “I get the hunch that that is the case, but it’s just hard for me to get any proof of it, you know?”
I do. It’s impossible to quantify intentions and far less people are able to help veterans in a significant way than want to help them. Luckily, Bob Woodruff is still able and willing to tell the stories that are typically only known by the friends and family of the 1% of our population who have served in these wars. With this video series, George Lucas, Michael Bloomberg, and Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, are not just offering this advice to a small number of individual veterans, but are giving it to all who watch. Also, they are setting an example that other successful people can emulate for the thousands of veterans left who need help.
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