Friday, November 16, 2012
The Marine Corps’ first living Medal of Honor recipient from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars told a gathering of U.S. business leaders here yesterday that hiring veterans is a mutually beneficial practice.
Dakota Meyer was a keynote speaker at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s fifth annual “Business Steps Up: Hiring Our Heroes” event.
"If you want to thank a veteran," Meyer told the audience, "I can tell you how: Hire him."
Meyer said companies that hire veterans are taking advantage of "an opportunity for both," not performing an act of charity.
"I want to tell you you're not giving these guys anything,” he told the employers. “You're providing them an opportunity that will also help you out. And once you give them an opportunity and hold them accountable, I can guarantee you these men and women have been in way worse circumstances than your company will ever be in. And they're going to be the ones that make a difference and stand out."
Meyer acknowledged that young veterans fresh out of the military often find it difficult to talk to employers.
"Military guys are a team," he said. "There's no 'I' -- they don't talk about themselves. It's teamwork. It's a team effort. So how can they pitch themselves to you and tell what they're good at? It's hard."
Meyer used his own background as a Marine Corps sniper to illustrate his point.
"Give me a show of hands of how many employers need a sniper," he said. When no hands were raised, he tried again.
"How many employers are looking for teamwork, promptness, accountability, and managing personnel in stressful environments?” he asked. “I'd say quite a few. And that's what every single veteran who raises his right hand to serve our military can bring to the table. They've proven it."
Meyer also suggested that employers look at an honorable discharge after four years in the military as equivalent to a college degree. "It's just a different skill set," he said. "[Service members] are going out making a difference and being held accountable every single day."
He used his own story as an example of a young veteran who needed a job when he returned home.
"How did I get here? As a 24-year-old with a high-school education and sergeant in the Marine Corps, this is not what I expected my life would be about a year ago," he said.
A recruiter who challenged him in high school led him to sign up with the Marine Corps, he said. After basic training and a tour in Iraq, Meyer said his gunnery sergeant needed five volunteers to go to Afghanistan. He said he'd go.
"I remembered what happened on Sept. 11, and Afghanistan is where I wanted to go. It's personal," he said. "So I went over there and met my team. Everything was going good -- we were a team. We went into a village on Sept. 8, 2009, and that's where I lost my team that day."
Published accounts describe a Taliban ambush that trapped local villagers and U.S. service members in a valley in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. Reportedly against orders, Meyer manned the turret while another service member drove a Humvee into the firefight, searching for Meyer's teammates.
Along the way, Meyer and the driver drove into the valley, continually rescuing Afghan villagers and American service members, and returning in five trips, saving more than 30 lives. Once he found his teammates deep in the valley, Meyer recovered the remains of all of them except for one, who reportedly was never found.
When Meyer got a phone call two years later from President Barack Obama notifying him that he'd receive the Medal of Honor, Meyer told his commander in chief he didn't want it.
"You take the worst day of my life and now I'm getting recognized for it, and I'm getting a call from the president telling me I'm going to receive the highest medal the country can give," he said. "I told him, 'I'm not accepting this for being a failure.' And the president said, 'Dakota, it's bigger than you.'
"But now I realize it is bigger than me,” he continued. “So I decided I would accept the medal on behalf of all the men and women who served, on behalf of all the men and women and their families who have sacrificed so much for our country's freedom, and the men and women who are still out there doing it every single day."
Meyer said he knew that if he could take that opportunity and make a difference, he would have to do it.
"This is where the perfect fit came in," he said of his veteran-meets-employer experience. He signed on with the Chamber of Commerce and a car manufacturer, both of which also wanted to make a difference and help veterans find work.
"Greatness is a conscious choice," Meyer told the audience, referencing the book "Good to be Great" by Jim Collins. "To all the employers, every man, woman and their families who signed up to go fight for our country and volunteer to be in the military said they were going to be great for all of you all,” he said. “To accept anything less than being great, and helping provide them an opportunity, is not OK with me. So the question is, 'Is it OK with you?'"