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The civilian-military divide and what's being done about it

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Posted at 3:35 PM, Nov 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-19 20:09:15-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — Take a drive in El Paso County and within minutes you're bound to find some sort of military presence.

Whether it's the acres of forest land surrounding the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) driving south on I-25 into Colorado Springs, or the numerous organizations dedicated to helping active duty and veteran service members.

With four military installations between USAFA, Fort Carson, Schriever Space Force Base, and Peterson Space Force Base, the military makes up a large portion of the local workforce.

El Paso County may be in the minority of the large connections to military communities, there's a call nationwide to close the civilian-military divide. With national leaders and local organizations calling on changes for opinions toward the military and how they interact with the general population.

It's something groups like the United Service Organizations (USO) are working to address through the outreach of the general community and active duty service members.

"A lot of people want to be involved in the military, they want to be involved with the military, they want to give back to their service members," Linda Mays, Executive Director of USO Colorado said, "they don't always know how, so I think that's what creates this little divide that we have."

USO Colorado holds numerous events throughout the year connecting active duty service members with the community. Mays, a veteran who served a dozen years in the army, experienced some challenges in connecting with civilians.

In part, as a service member's wife during her service, she says she didn't always spend time with her fellow military spouses.

"I figured I had nothing in common with the other spouses because I was a soldier, and so I never did anything on that side so just kind of interacting," Mays said. As a veteran, and now mother to a service member it's given her a new perspective on interacting with the general community.

"It changes quite a bit of my thought process that I might've had 15 years ago," Mays said.

During her time overseeing USO Colorado, she's seen a new side of the community, one that wants to get behind service members and help out.

"I think the more people we talk to and the more people that become aware of the military and what does in the community and the USO, I think more people want to get involved," Mays said.

Other organizations such as Team Red White and Blue (RWB) are focusing on making sure veterans and military members have that strong connection to the local community.

Multiple times throughout the week, John Reyes and his fellow Team RWB members are at some sort of event. Whether it be a brewery, hiking the Manitou Incline, or a CrossFit workout event.

"Once you get that brotherhood, camaraderie in RWB, now you have that sense of purpose again, that feeling that you had while serving in the military," Reyes said.

Reyes, who will be retiring from the military in a couple of months admits he didn't always have the best opinion of the general population.

"I just avoided that interaction, if I wanted to hang out it would be with my buddies in the Army," Reyes said, "they may not understand where we're coming from or what we've gone through but it helps bridge the gap between the civilian community and the military community."

Now Reyes is leading one of the largest RWB chapters in the country, with hundreds of community members and military members joining together to understand each other and develop a sense of community.