Michael Coates is the founder of the Declassified Podcast, which documents military stories. He is also an advocate of veteran employment and has a military-first policy for recruitment in his own business. Michael shares what he’s learned as a former Royal Engineer, and part of the ‘Growth Generation’ of veterans.
The ‘Growth Generation’ is a phrase I coined to describe those who served on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2016.
During this time, an intense period of war took place. Those who fought endured prolonged spells of heavy fighting in risk areas, resulting in stress, pressure, and trauma. But that’s not the whole story. These experiences have also spurred this generation to develop in ways that have had a profound effect on the people around them and the organisations they lead.
In the mainstream media, we often hear about the negatives of war and conflict. We rarely hear about the positives. But if you look carefully, there are inspirational stories of ‘post traumatic growth’ and ‘post conflict growth’ growth to be shared. It is true that Iraq and Afghanistan have made a permanent dent on our society. It will be spoken, written and debated about for many decades and centuries to come. But what I also feel confident about is what the Growth Generation (those who served in conflict and grew as a result) can teach the rest of us. They relate to six key topics: world view, strength, ability, acceptance, relationships and wellness. Let me explain:
An individual’s world view can be influenced by many factors including the country you were born in, religion, culture and also conflict. I see it time and time again: those who have experienced trauma, life-threatening risk and situations of prolonged stress, have developed a more relaxed and accepting world view. As long as individuals or organisations aren’t impacting the happiness of others, their view is: live and let live.
Many talk about finding strength that just wasn’t there before the trauma. Maybe it’s physical strength, which is often found in participants of the Invictus Games. Or mental resilience, which comes from facing huge and previously daunting challenges like scaling mountains, public speaking or setting up a business. This ‘I can survive’ attitude makes other endeavours somewhat more attainable.
Others find new abilities and skills through trauma and conflict. New situations demand new solutions and innovation takes place. For example, the medical advancement in blood transfusions, plastic surgery and prosthetics have been incredible. Looked at from another angle, the ability to seek help (and encourage others to do the same) means this generation are publicising issues, breaking down stigma and changing society for the better.
Recently, a friend told me he had accepted the traumatic experiences that have happened to him. And how his acceptance was encouraging others to do the same. What I have found is that this Growth Generation is taking acceptance to another level. They are using it to positively impact others affected by conflict. Whether that is providing education to children, training local medics, fundraising or advocating peace, this community is achieving great things.
Spending time away from loved ones can naturally create issues and problems. Returning can be equally turbulent, especially when it comes to understanding what both parties have been through. But, those that have been through adversity, are showing signs of closer bonds with siblings, partners, children, and friends. They also develop closer relationships with teammates in civilian life, which can result in happier and more productive departments and organisations. I personally have experienced this with several of the podcast guests. A close friendship has developed as a result of our conversations.
Understanding and managing your own body and mind is key to long-term wellness. I have learned some remarkable lessons from those around me. The most important of those is the need to have a metaphorical toolkit to help look after yourself. Everyone is different. And different people need different things. But it could be: physical exercise, avoiding alcohol, using breathing techniques, yoga, spending time in nature, reconnecting with family and understanding the importance of meaningful
...and really making your mark doing something you love. Many of my friends who have served on many operational tours are now seeking purpose and meaning to aid in their own longterm happiness and wellbeing. Here’s my take. The Growth Generation teaches us how to become a better, stronger, more accepting individual who seeks meaning, purpose and holds values above everything else. The ability to grow because of your traumatic experiences isn’t limited to members of the military but extends to members of our emergency services, survivors of sexual abuse, PTSD sufferers and those who have overcome a plethora of traumatic experiences. However, our military community is a shining example and role model to all walks of life that the trauma isn’t the end. It can be the beginning.
Michael Coates is the founder of the Declassified Podcast and Network, which aims to change the conversation around military and veteran life.