There are two experiences in my life that essentially made me the man I am today: growing up with an older sibling with special needs and serving my beloved country in the Marine Corps.
Recently, I was reflecting on my time in service and how it shaped my character. But while it’s part of who I am, it doesn’t tell the whole story. I share this on Veterans Day because I believe every American has something to offer, and all it takes is one small act of service to make an everlasting difference.
My older brother Dennis was born with significant intellectual disabilities. I owe much to him for teaching me what it means to be a humble, patient and kind person. Some of my fondest memories are of accompanying him to the Special Olympics. It’s a place where people gather to laugh, love and have fun, to encourage and challenge each other, to include, not exclude. We can all carry that spirit with us, especially as we think about those with whom we disagree.
In my time in the Marine Corps, I developed two qualities that have shaped me: compassion and leadership. Compassion for those who are hurting and in need. Compassion for those who may have lost their families and friends, those who are away from home or those who just want to be heard and loved. As a Marine, I learned how to embrace the challenge of working with those who are different from me.
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I took immense pride in serving with people from all walks of life, of various races, religions, ethnicities and political persuasions. Our group became greatly empowered as everyone brought to the table an array of different talents and abilities. Through the many hardships and challenges we faced, we gained a substantial love and respect for each other as our differences made us stronger, because we were united in greater purpose.
As a leader in the Corps, you are responsible for welfare of those in your command. You learn that everyone should be treated with dignity, no matter where they came from. You learn to sacrifice your own selfish interests for the greater good. You are your brother’s keeper.
But these days I turn on the news and I’m disheartened. Our political discourse tends to exclude, not include. This is a country I proudly defended, that I love deeply — and I’m concerned it’s coming apart at the seams.
Recently in Kansas City, I’ve joined colleagues to work with Harvesters — The Community Food Network, picking greens for a local shelter. We’ve also volunteered at the local Ronald McDonald House, supporting their mission to keep families with sick children together and near the care and resources they need. Although these seem like small acts, they have a lasting impact on the community and our neighbors.
We veterans have a unique opportunity to remind our fellow citizens that we’re all in this together. It always feels a bit weird to hear, “Thank you for your service.” That’s because I don’t feel I sacrificed that much. But I have come to appreciate the gratitude. Serving my community and country has given me the opportunity to be a mediator and a bridge-builder for so many different groups and individuals.
This Veterans Day, I’ll be serving by writing letters and creating gift packages for our current military service members fighting for the civil rights and freedoms for all people here and abroad. I would ask everyone else reading this to take a moment and think about how you, too, can serve.
To all you veterans out there, I encourage you to find a way to use your platform to be a unifying voice. Be compassionate. Be a leader. Be a listener. We can all do our part to show up for our fellow neighbor. All it takes is one small humble gesture to change a life forever.
Kevin W. Jones is a Missouri native who lives in Olathe with his wife and daughter. He served in the United States Marine Corps from 2001 to 2006 and is a member of Veterans for American Ideals. He is graduate of the University of Missouri and works as a manager in the IT field.