BY TROY MACK
I served in the Iraq War and the Global War on Terrorism. The long road home from such experiences has led me, and many fellow Garden State veterans, to embrace an ethos of ongoing service. Whatever our “new normal” might be, after the uniform, it now involves helping make New Jersey a better home for all.
We find or, if need be, create organizations that focus on the well-being of our neighborhoods. Such groups understand that a veteran thinking about helping one’s neighbors, is likely a veteran healing from, reconciling with, and moving beyond the conflicts, contradictions, and scars of war.
The Mission Continues’ community work, Team RWB’s focus on health and wellness, Travis Manion Foundation’s leadership in youth character development, Veterans for American Ideals’ efforts to welcome refugees and counter religious bigotry: all these organizations provide veterans various platforms that nurture critically needed, post-military opportunities for identity, purpose, and service.
While veterans still require resources that address the unique challenges confronting us during transition back to civilian life, none of these benefits will long sustain a veteran, if a veteran’s community cannot sustain itself and the fundamental civics upon which democratic service to our republic is predicated.
Of all such civic virtues, the values expressed in American hospitality remain paramount. Our institutions are given meaning by us being bound together as a constitutional-legal order, in aspiration accessible to persons of any background, over against blasphemous invocations of blood and soil politics.
Anyone who flees oppression, which my brethren-in-arms fought and continue to fight, to partake in that order, lawfully contributing to our country’s free markets and open society… in such a person is potentially an ally, neighbor, and new American.
The democratic principles to which we pledged our service extend beyond our time in uniform, and compel enduring commitments to accountability, due process, and the centrality of families.
This is why I wrote -and fellow veterans backed-the ordinance passed earlier this April that established not only Jersey City’s new Division of Veterans Affairs, but also its Division of Immigrant Affairs.
It is why Garden State veterans serve on New Jersey’s statewide Refugee Wellness Advisory Council. We volunteer alongside resettlement agencies like Church World Service. We introduce neighbors to the interpreters and translators who teamed with us overseas and now live among us here via the Special Immigration Visa program.
It is why this year alone, veterans in New Jersey advocated for universal legal representation, shared in interfaith exchanges, and built bridges between our immigrant, law enforcement, and veterans communities to better care for loved ones who share experiences of traumatic violence.
It is also why I support the Let’s Drive NJ campaign and recent legislation to expand qualified residents’ access to driver’s licenses.
On November 26th, bills A4743/S3229 were introduced in Trenton. These bills address a demonstrable need for such legislative action throughout our state. Passage of A4743/S3229 this year ensures that vulnerable populations, including my fellow veterans, can more fully participate in local economies, civic life, and the success of Garden State communities.
In New Jersey, a state where driving is a necessity, too many residents are limited in their mobility because of unnecessary barriers to getting a driver’s license.
Barriers to accessing driver’s licenses can and should be decreased, in responsible, secure, and sustainable ways. The current law regulating access in our state, with its narrow system for determining eligibility, results in the unnecessary denial of thousands of New Jersey’s most vulnerable — including financially disadvantaged veterans, various categories of immigrants, and survivors of violence.
Our legislators can provide us a way forward towards solutions that support public safety, uphold our democratic principles, and are good for New Jersey.
Passing A4743/S3229 this year is a small, yet substantive step towards realizing the higher aspirations of the Garden State. Passage will improve New Jersey’s capacity to be a place where neighbors can live, work, and care for their families with dignity. Military service convinced me that a free republic must keep sacred the dignity of human life. To care for veterans now is to care for the republic, at its most aspirational, for which we fought.
At the end of it all, I still fight to pursue for others simply that which I seek for myself: a better home.
Dr. Troy Robert Mack, of West New York, is an Iraq War veteran and former Army Chaplain. He is co-chair of the New York-New Jersey chapter of Veterans for American Ideals. He can be reached at the chapter’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/vfaiNYNJ.