By Leith Daghistani
Over the Summer, Touchstones revitalized its efforts to expand access to Completing the Odyssey: A Journey Home, a discussion program for veterans on the transition to civilian life. Program development was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and before the onset of the pandemic it had been piloted with several groups of veterans from the greater Baltimore-Annapolis-Washington area and implemented in Baltimore at the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training. The program stands to empower veterans from all service eras to navigate the transition to civilian life through explorations of selections from Homer’s Odyssey and readings on the challenges of service and homecoming from modern conflicts.
Now, Touchstones is planning to broaden the impact of the program by introducing discussion groups into new communities. In August, Touchstones staff and volunteers, including myself, met with veterans who had previously completed the program and who now seek to lead new discussion groups with veterans in their own communities. The group discussed partnership opportunities with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Service Organizations, nonprofits, and local communities to find veterans struggling with the transition to civilian life or who feel disconnected from their community after service and invite them into the dialogue. The group also discussed additional opportunities to include active-duty service members in Touchstones discussions to help prepare them for combat leadership and operating in uncertain environments. We also discussed the Touchstones program, Together, which brings civilians and veterans into dialogues about bridging the social divide between veterans and non-veterans.
The group then transitioned into a Touchstones discussion from Completing the Odyssey on a text from Carl von Clausewitz’s On War. Our discussion focused on preparation for leadership roles and strategies for success, while exploring how we might carry combat experience, tactical uncertainty, and martial courage home with us in ways that affect our daily lives.
In that discussion, I saw how Completing the Odyssey provides a space for veterans to reflect collaboratively on their service to our nation, while supporting fundamental skills necessary to deepen their understanding of themselves and how to speak, listen, and connect with others more authentically. These skills have always been crucial for a successful reintegration, and they are especially urgent for post 9/11 veterans who have often deployed and seen combat at higher rates over the past 20 years than those who served before them. As Touchstones expands this program and increases participation among newer veterans, it offers the chance for veterans across service eras to share their experiences with peers, so they can better navigate their own journeys while helping others to do the same.