Written by Shannon P. Meehan, IVMF Media Relations and Communications Specialist
Today, more and more injured military veterans, or wounded warriors, are finding success in the public speaking realm after their military service. For a multitude of reasons, these veterans are received quite well by audiences across the country, and their ability to strike a rapport with the audiences seems unmatched by most other public speaking genres.
Combat-injured veterans like J.R. Martinez, burned on over 40% of his body when his Humvee hit a landmine in 2003, have not only worked to overcome their given injuries from the wars, but also create an amazing positive from them. Others, like former U.S. Army Soldier Bryan Anderson, now a double- leg and left arm amputee, as a result of an injury sustained in Iraq, have helped themselves heal by relating their challenges to the struggles of the common person in our society.
So what, exactly, makes these injured war veterans so exceptionally successful in the public speaking arena? There are a few reasons for this. These veterans are mostly down to earth, normal people that have been put into extraordinary circumstances. As people, they are very relatable to most in the audience; just regular folk who have dealt with extreme challenges in life. People are able to “put themselves in the veteran’s shoes” quite easily because they are, for the most part, everyday, working-class people.
But the main reason that such veterans have found success here, I believe, is not only because they can tell a story of a past struggle they overcame, but more so because theirs is a struggle they must continue to overcome every day. And this is something that the onlookers see. Their physical injuries are apparent to everyone in the audience, and they are ones that present challenges constantly.
Take the double-leg and left arm amputee Anderson: the audience not only hears the story of his struggles, and his overcoming them, but they also see it. They see it as he impressively moves about the stage or classroom, pops himself up on a desk while speaking to the audience, unfazed by the challenges such a task presents. Such actions are as powerful as the words he is speaking.
J.R. Martinez wears his struggles on his skin, as he demonstrates through his words how he overcame his injuries, which included almost three years of rehabilitation. We see, through the burns and scars on his body, that recovery remains a struggle he overcomes daily. And overcome it he has. A graduate of Syracuse University’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), and the winner of last season’s Dancing With the Stars, J.R. has become the most sought after veteran public speaker in the industry. And following his time playing the role of an injured, Iraq War veteran on ABC’s All My Children, he has landed another role on Lifetime’s Army Wives. Martinez has shared a great lesson, that is: not how to avoid allowing an injury to affect one’s life or slow one down, but rather, how to live with it and accept it as part of one’s new life. How to create the absolute best positive out of it possible while working daily to overcome the challenges it presents.
These wounded warrior messengers are not only inspiring America, but they are helping shape the picture of today’s post 9/11 veteran: ordinary people who have overcome great challenges and continue to each day. They do not hide behind their injuries or burned skin; they share them with us, allow us to see the struggles they present, and how they must overcome them, and how they leverage them into positives. They relate their experiences to everyone in the audience, and consider doing so part of their healing and overcoming.
Shannon P. Meehan is a communications and media relations specialist for Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). He is also the co-author of “Beyond Duty: Life on the Frontline in Iraq” (Polity Press).