Veterans Day isn't just about putting a flag decal on your car, listening to "God Bless The U.S.A." on a loop or going to a somber school assembly. If you take the time to talk with some of the veterans in your life about their accomplishments, passions and talents, you'll quickly realize they aren't tired archetypes of broken heroes or former-soldiers: They're comedians, poets, musicians, artists and leaders. Most of all, they're an important asset to all our communities.
That's what Veterans Day should be -- a celebration of the diverse crew of badass, compassionate and thoughtful people who have served in the military. And that's a big part of what Got Your 6, a non-profit with the mission to "engage veterans and civilians together to foster understanding," does by gathering an elite squad of storytelling veterans each year.
These individuals stand up to tell their stories -- how they joined the service, what it was like to leave, what they do today -- to grant the rest of us a glimpse at the variety of important things veterans are doing every day in every field.
MTV News talked with four of Got Your 6's storytellers before they hit the stage at HBO's NYC storytelling event on Thursday (Nov. 5). Their stories proves why it's so important to defy those clichéd (and, ultimately, harmful) narratives about what veterans are like when they come back home.
Justine Cabulong, United States Marine Corps
Justine Cabulong sometimes gets tired of her friends asking her to lift heavy things, or of fending off sexist "did you really do that?" comments with her quick wit.
"It's a lot of pressure on you to always be this hero," Cabulong, a former marine who now works at "The Daily Show," told MTV News. "But sometimes you're not." Cabulong wants to make it clear that despite the important legacies and heroic deeds you may have heard about, behind all veterans are people — people who need jobs that match their skills and passions, and people who need compassion and empathy more than one day a year.
Cabulong also says she doesn't want Veterans Day to be like "Black Friday" -- a frenzied scramble to show pity and fair-weather support for people who served in the military, something that's easily forgotten once the day ends. It has to be more than that.
The way to do it? Investing in the individual talents of those people who served in the military. Employers may find (as the crew at "The Daily Show" did with Justine) that the veterans in their ranks are an invaluable part of their team.
BR McDonald, United States Army
BR McDonald once permed his hair to play the leading role of Curly in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma." The son of missionaries, McDonald grew up around the arts and was a theater nerd, through and through. He was even trained classically to use his favorite instrument -- his voice.
McDonald enlisted in the army after college, and though his time in the service didn't leave ample time for the arts, it still remained a part of his life. He remembers sitting in a helicopter hangar, playing a Michael Bublé song on the guitar and befriending Pakistani pilots because the song and its lyrics resonated with them; music had a power to forge those connections.
That's why McDonald started his own non-profit, The Veteran Artist Program, that works to support veterans in the arts and show the importance of the contributions veterans bring to the artistic community.
"Most civilians don’t have a relationship with veterans and don’t understand the experience," McDonald said. "The way to change that? I believe it’s through the arts."
Danielle Greene, United States Army
Danielle Greene was always a baller. Her skills on the court and her left-handed jump shots and layups brought her to play college basketball at Notre Dame.
After a few years of teaching and coaching, she decided she also wanted to "be a part of something bigger" and chose to enlist in the army. Then, four months after she was deployed to Iraq, a rocket grenade explosion took her left hand.
But Greene's story doesn't end there. She said she was left with the choice to "grow or be stagnate," to thrive or just survive. "At some point all of us will experience some kind of triggering event that'll force you to change," Greene said. "What matters most is how you respond."
As she healed, Greene dreamed of finding a way to reintegrate into society and contribute something meaningful. Now, working as a readjustment counseling therapist for veterans, she's found a way to accomplish just that by encouraging others to embrace their "second hand lives."
Maurice Decaul, United States Marine Corps
Maurice Decaul always had a mind for the military; he was a kid with his nose always in a book, memorizing details about military history and wars.
When he first enlisted, not long after 9/11, he said he had a purely "intellectual understanding" of the mechanics of war and how it worked. But actually being there? That was something else.
Since leaving the Marines, Decaul has tried to express those ideas through poems and plays -- working to explore how the human condition plays in to the way veterans and civilians alike conceive the idea of war and, ultimately, how we can all be more empathetic.
Decaul said a writing professor, a fellow Marine, once asked him about a poem he was working on, "Why are you writing in so much distance?" It took a bit of self-reflection (and, naturally, some rewriting) for him to figure out the answer.
The poem was titled "The War Was In Its Infancy Then," and on the day of the Nov. 5 event, he recited it. There was no distance anymore.
If you want to find out more about how you can support veterans, check out Gotyour6.org