CableFAX has been covering History’s “Mission to Honor” veterans campaign since its genesis seven years ago. And since then, involvement from cable operators has increased sevenfold, according to its founder, Dr. Libby O’Connell, Chief Historian and SVP of Corporate Outreach for the network. “We started with about 10 different local systems enrolled and now we have close to 70. But that’s just for the big events. A lot of them are doing it on their own, some of them statewide,” she said. Like the Texas Cable Association, which has a total of 10 events across the state. Maine and West Virginia are also very dedicated. "We’ve never had this kind of participation. It’s really amazing what kind of commitment the cable industry has for our veterans," she said.
O’Connell started the program in 2007 when the first group of soldiers were returning from Afghanistan. “There was a lot of debate about the policy,” she said. “And I felt really strongly that we wanted to welcome home all our vets and it didn’t matter how people feel about the policy—our vets should be welcomed.” The campaign’s components include “Take a Veteran to School,” which links veterans to schools and communities. “It also gives us that chance to talk about history in the classroom,” said O’Connell, reinforcing the network’s mission. “It helps give kids a chronology, and part of that oral history is bringing history alive in the classroom.” Additionally, 500 companies across the country are participating in another component, dubbed “Thank a Veteran at Work.” Cable One’s Tom Might, a former vet himself, is particularly dedicated and passionate about the program, according to O’Connell.
The crop of cable operators involved is a mix of longtime participants with newcomers. “We have communities like San Diego that have participated since it began, and then we have new ones like Hayward [CA] that are just hearing of it now. And they still all participate with this enormous enthusiasm,” O’Connell said. One of her favorite events of the campaign comes out of San Diego, near the Coronado Air Force Base, where the vets visiting an area school parachute in to the playground.
Additionally, for the first time the network has partnered with Team Rubicon, an organization that deploys veterans to disaster areas that require emergency relief. It aims to provide veterans with things like purpose, community and self-worth, which they previously benefitted from during military service. Team Rubicon’s mission is to change the way vets may be perceived by society. “These are really confident men and women who have had top notch training on how to deal with a disaster,” O’Connell said. “They’re really an inspiring organization and a whole different take on what veterans can do to help our community when they return…That’s an important part of the lesson we’re teaching this year,” she said. Recent deployments include Hurricane Sandy relief, tornado recovery in Oklahoma, and medical operations in Haiti.
There’s an added social media component as well. History produced two PSAs about Team Rubicon and will donate $1 to the organization and America’s VetDogs, another partner, every time someone tweets #THANKAVET. O’Connell thinks that both Team Rubicon and VetDogs, which trains dogs to help veterans therapeutically, have appeal with young people. And naturally social media is a great way to reach younger generations. “Between the two [programs], somebody will find something to love. And then when you add that as a veterans cause on top, it makes it really important,” she said.