To celebrate Memorial Day and Veterans Day this year, let’s amplify the voices of veterans who speak truth to power and shed light on the breadth of the American experience. These renowned speakers utilize storytelling, journalistic acumen, and profound leadership to share powerful lessons about bridging the divides in our society.
Elliot Ackerman is a National Book Award finalist, journalist, and a decorated veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. His novels and memoir confront the impact of war on both soldiers and civilians. Ackerman’s latest novel, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, co-authored with Admiral James Stavridis, is a chillingly authentic geopolitical thriller that imagines a naval clash between the US and China in the South China Sea in 2034—and the staggering costs that forever alter the global balance of power. Ackerman uses his platform to speak about his time serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, his perspective on current international relations in the Middle East, and how he turned to writing—both fiction and nonfiction—to chronicle America’s struggles abroad.
In 2014, Phil Klay won over readers and critics with his moving short story collection, Redeployment. The book won the National Book Award and was named one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times. Klay returned to the literary scene with Missionaries, a powerful novel about the globalization of violence, and the personal and political effects of America’s foreign military intervention. Missionaries is a New York Times Notable Book and one of President Obama’s Favorite Books of 2020. In his moving talks, Klay explores the complex feelings of brutality, faith, guilt, and isolation that often accompany a soldier’s experience during and after deployment.
Donovan Campbell is a decorated military officer, Fortune 500 executive, and author of the critically acclaimed books Joker One and The Leader’s Code. Campbell has become a recognizable face among the military officers returning home and entering the business world. A popular speaker with a diverse array of audiences, Campbell’s thoughts on leadership, teamwork, and service have been tested on the battlefield and in the boardroom, and his lectures brim with fresh insights applicable in work, life, and beyond.
When a devastating injury ended James Hatch’s 24-year military career, he wrestled with the lasting mental effects of trauma, even as his physical health improved. With the support of a team of friends and family, Hatch was able to find a renewed sense of purpose, movingly chronicled in his memoir Touching the Dragon. Since his recovery, Hatch has dedicated his life to eradicating the stigma surrounding mental illness for veterans as well as civilians, showing how recovery is a team effort that begins with one person reaching out. His frank honesty inspires people to reframe the way they think about mental illness, recovery, and the true meaning of leadership and teamwork.
Medal of Honor recipient Clinton Romesha took extraordinary risks for his country and his fellow soldiers during the historical Battle of Kamdesh, a landmark battle in the War in Afghanistan. Despite sustaining several injuries, Romesha led the charge on crucial counter operations and helped maintain team morale in battle while ensuring the rescue of fellow wounded soldiers. Romesha has inspired a global audience by telling his story on Netflix’s Medal of Honor, and continues to motivate audiences to find the capacity for heroic leadership within themselves.