Tom Bergeron/ROI New Jersey
Ryan Peters, an assemblyman from Burlington County, summed up what it means to be a veteran in one powerful statement:
“When I go and explain to civilians what it means to be a veteran, I often say something like: ‘A veteran, or someone enlisted in the military, signs a blank check made payable to United States government for the amount up to and including my life.’ ”
On Veterans Day weekend, when all of us are bombarded by messages and images of the military, and perhaps feel a greater sense of support for the men and women who serve, it’s easy to hear this, nod in acknowledgement and then move on.
Especially when we return to the workplace.
The workplace, however, is where that message needs to resonate all year long.
Peters, speaking at the launch of the NJ State Veterans Chamber of Commerce last week, explained how giving that service not only benefits the country, but it sets back those doing it when it comes time to rejoin civilian life and re-enter the workforce.
“What people don’t appreciate is the other sacrifice, which is time,” he said. “And I don’t mean time served. I mean time outside of the business world.
“I spent seven years on active duty and came back, went to law school, joined the law firm, and my (law firm) peers were eight years, nine years younger than me. My (chronological) peers were the partners in the law firm.
“We sort of sacrifice that period of time that we spent in the service and essentially come back at zero."
Peters said more employers need to understand that.
And, he said, they need to understand the lessons veterans have learned in the service will end up being far more valuable than the lessons they missed back home. More so, he said, veterans will quickly move up through the corporate ladder.
“Exponentially, we come back pretty quickly,” he said. “For the companies that hire us, we look to them and say, ‘Give us a shot, give us a little bit of understanding, give us a little bit of help and you’ll see exponential growth from us.’ We just need to get to that point where we can professionally grow.
“I think hiring veterans sort of bridges that gap, which is what we desperately need. So, those of you who are here doing that, we very much appreciate that.”
Peters acknowledged the challenge can be difficult.
“That time sacrificed, where you’re making other people comfortable, you’re protecting the country, it’s really hard when you get home,” he said.
“You’re used to that network, those people, who you can go around and say, ‘What do I do next? How do I do it?’ You know they have your back, you know they’re not setting up for failure, so they can jump over you.
“We do a great job now of creating networks and people, so we can build a community and talk to folks and say: ‘How do I raise capital?’ We need to continue on with that. We also need to do a better job promoting our veteran-owned businesses once they’re established, once they’re running.
“I’m a little biased, but I’m sure (whatever) service they’re providing is just going to be a little bit better.”
They certainly will run with a better spirit.
Peters said veterans make the best employees due not only to the skills they learn, but the mindset they acquire.
He humbly pointed to his own roots.
“I was a punk kid from southern New Jersey who somehow was accepted into the Naval Academy,” he said. “That experience changed me and taught me about service and about sacrifice, and giving to others.”
It helped lead him to spot in the Legislature — one, he said, he serves with a military mindset.
Peters, who remains a member of the reserves, said he still feels an obligation to serve his country, joking that when people thank him for his service, he thanks them for paying for it.
“I continued to try to pay that back with my service and in the Legislature,” he said. “So, if you have any ideas? Anything, please contact me. It doesn’t have to be in my district. I’ll go all over and advocate.
“I think this applies to everything.”
Peters joked throughout about Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak — mostly because he was a veteran of the U.S. Army.
But he told the crowd the way the two of them get along in the Legislature is the way other veterans will get along with their co-workers: Putting the mission first.
“He’s a Democrat; I’m a Republican; it doesn’t seem to matter,” Peters said. “We look to support each other. Because, when we were in the military, we didn’t walk around and go, ‘You Democrat, you Republican, you Jewish, you Catholic, you Christian. What do you believe in? Are you gay or straight?’
“We didn’t care, we all wear the same uniform, we were all on the same team. We all carried the same mission. I don’t see the connection with somehow coming home and going, I got my red shirt on, Bob, get your blue shirt on, let’s fight about everything. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It doesn’t make any sense for the state.
“And so, what Bob and I say, is we’re not on the red team, we’re not on the blue team, we are, and will always remain, on the red, white and blue team.”