By Donna Vojvodich

Without personal experience, it’s hard to really step into somebody else’s shoes. Dog Tag opened my eyes to the veteran experience––though as a spouse, I will never fully know it. In 1918, the year construction was complete on my daughter’s architecturally rich college dormitory, a photographer came to record images of the building and the dorm dwellers. There are no males in the photo. The six young women, all dressed in navy middy sailor blouses, are either reading or playing musical instruments. Nobody is smiling or even looking at the camera. Here is my take-away from that photo: Sailor clothing was in fashion, and perhaps their beaus were away at war. More than four million “doughboys” were fighting the war, accounting for over 25% of the entire male population of the country between the ages of 18 and 31. Now the percentage people serving is less than 0.5%.

What does this mean? At my daughter’s graduation, the president of the university called for the assemblage to honor those who are serving and those who have served. Everyone clapped for those who stood. Do the people sitting truly understand what the people standing really experienced? I doubt it, because prior to my Dog Tag Fellowship, I didn’t know that I didn’t understand.

Back to those ladies in the dorm a century ago––we can be reasonably certain they heard stories about the horrors of the battlefield when the soldiers returned from the “war to end all wars.” Those stories from people they actually knew became part of a nationally shared experience; one that few of us have today. Hearing a veteran describe his or her battlefield action brings a verbal vividness to the war not replicated by a movie.

Dog Tag offers its Fellows an elite experience. We study business and entrepreneurship in classes taught by highly knowledgeable and interesting professors. Experienced entrepreneurs and leaders in the private and public sector present “Learning Labs” to expose us to available opportunities. We leave the Fellowship with a strategic plan for the future.

What I never expected from the Fellowship was enlightenment. In “Finding Your Voice,” many of the veteran Fellows expressed in graphic language the sights and sounds of their wartime experience. Their stories impacted me; I can sense the awfulness of it all, but I know that I cannot really ever comprehend the experience. For what they endured, I respect them.

Donna is a Coast Guard Spouse who graduated from the Dog Tag Fellowship program in June 2018. To learn more about Donna and other Winter 2018 Dog Tag Fellows, click here!