By Louis J. Finkle
Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Clinical Psychology
The number one problem of nearly all military-oriented groups is trying to determine how to attract younger veterans to participate in activities with older ones. For years I have been trying to determine its effects on the RV lifestyle we enjoy. No matter the age of people I question, the answers to my questions come down to “social” differences between older and younger-minded veterans. There are more factors expanding the chasm than connecting the parties.
Separation of age groups is a phenomenon that most military veteran organizations are facing. Whether it be lodges, NGOs, campgrounds or RV groups, we have been wrestling with this problem for years. There are many issues that need to be addressed when recruiting younger veterans to join military-oriented organizations. As a retired Clinical Psychologist, when interacting with veterans and in reading studies, I am learning why so many differences exist between generations.
Here are a few differences that come to mind
Older veterans’ post-service life included decades of opportunities to develop one’s civilian persona. They had decades to experiment with social norms and adopt habits that feel comfortable to them. Those 50-plus years lack early exposure to social-media experiences that are currently multiplying at an exponential rate. Using skills taught to us in the last quarter century, the leap to “immediate access to unlimited data” throws many into panic mode. Even today, as I type this, a retired Colonel came into the senior center so that I could teach him “How to send a message using his email account.” He assumed it was set up for him to just “read” what his family was saying!
Younger veterans, however, deal with current transitioning issues of children, liberal beliefs, greater energy, different interests and fresh ideas. Most were born after it was necessary to program one’s own software. Even within the internet universe, younger folks are on different platforms and engage in abbreviated speech (LOL, BTW, SYL, NRN…). Younger veterans are found in places that are not frequented by older veterans. Better to fish than to play “Fish!” More exciting to pedal a bike than to push a lever on a scooter. Riding a horse beats pitching horseshoes. Discussing videos on TikTok beats discussing Bogart’s performance in “Casablanca.” After discussing these differences with older and younger veterans, I find both groups living in different milieus. Been there!
How do we integrate our vets?
After the military, I went on to study at universities. As president of the veterans’ fraternity, I wrote a “VETS VIEW” column in the newspaper for two years. Representing hundreds of young veterans, I visited local lodges of veterans for news items. I was brushed off as a “student,” not a fellow veteran. Was I “too young” at age 26? Did they not have similar problems of integrating young and older veterans? I believe not! Having been on both sides of the age chasm, I understand the differences now. What I still don’t know is “How do we integrate both age groups?” When my SMART brothers and sisters help me create a list of “Ways to Integrate Old and Young Veterans,” I will let you know. If you want to help, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Louis J. Finkle, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Clinical Psychology, U.S. Navy veteran and a member of the national organization of RVing veterans S*M*A*R*T.
ABOUT S.M.A.R.T. — The club brings military veterans, and their families together to share camaraderie, travel, camping, and support to our veterans. All active, retired, and honorably discharged veterans from U.S. and Canadian Armed Forces, interested in recreational travel, and sharing the camaraderie developed in the military are welcome. This includes: Reserve, National Guard, Air National Guard, Coast Guard, and also USPHS, and NOAA. Learn more or join.