Service After Soldiering: Thoughts on Why I’m Here

By John Toth

Why am I here?

My three-year-old son, Emerson, looked at me last night as I was putting him to bed and asked, “Papa, why are you here?”

Such a simple question.
Such a complex answer.

I remember my first platoon sergeant, SFC Niles, and I visiting our soldiers who had guard duty on Christmas Eve at Fort Bragg in 1991.

“It’s our responsibility to ensure they are taken care of on nights like tonight. Great leaders are always where the soldiering is the hardest,” he said.

Seven years later, I was stationed on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula as my unit from the 101st sat on the Israeli border. Our battalion commander visited every guard tower that Christmas Eve, checking on his soldiers, ensuring they had what they needed to complete the mission on that cold December night.

John 2And in 2005, we spent a long Christmas Eve as combat logistics patrols moved through our sector and small groups of Leader Rakkasans from our unit of the 101st patrolled the towns and villages in our AO, hoping for a long, silent and peaceful night.

This time of year, it’s hard not to reflect on those times when I spent long nights with my soldiers in far away places. The commitment we had to each other, the dedication and concern leaders showed for their soldiers created a bond and developed memories I often return to.

Which brings me back to my original thought.  Why am I here? Why No Barriers?  Simply put — to take care of veterans and service members, and to make a difference in their lives.

Having been through many of the same issues our transitioning service members have experienced, I know how difficult the change from military to veteran can be.

Going from a career where you had purpose, a committed team, and significant responsibility to a place where your biggest responsibility is finding a job, leading the kids to the park, and cleaning up the boys room can be very tough.

It can make you question your self-worth.

The bonds we created in the military are not easy to replicate. The shared hardships of war, and even in training, helped forge friendships that last a lifetime.  Finding someone you can lean on and trust, like you do your battle buddy, can take time.

And it’s hard to make those connections when you can’t communicate easily with those around you. Your life’s seminal experience up to this point isn’t exactly the stuff of polite conversation for the office holiday social, your kid’s soccer game, or your in-law’s Christmas party.

It’s difficult to find others who understand why you don’t like that small, cramped neighborhood grocery store everyone else loves because its makes you feel nervous.

But we’re not in this alone.

No Barriers is a rally point. We get it. We can be that first step.

We give veterans opportunities to break through the barriers of isolation and feelings of low self-worth to reigniting that sense of purpose.

I want to help lead that. It’s why I’m here.

Maybe it’s not that complex after all.