Thank you for your service: the effort behind the words

"Thank you for your service." We've all heard the words — we might have even said them ourselves.

While thanking a service member for his or her service to our country is a nice gesture, many individuals and organizations do not understand or know how to provide meaningful thanks beyond kind words or a military discount. Alaska has the highest veteran population per capita in the country, with five active
duty military installations and dozens of Alaska National Guard armories throughout the state. How can we work together to provide more than just a thank-you?

The Alaska Forget Me Not Coalition strives to fill this gap. The coalition's mission is to support service members, veterans and their families in their communities.
The coalition was developed in 2012 through a partnership between the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the Alaska National Guard and Army OneSource. Through collaboration, these groups are making huge strides to unite veteran service organizations throughout the state. More than 150 organizations have been mobilized in an effort to share information and resources, with the ultimate goal of streamlining the ability to serve military affiliates and their families throughout the state. To date, more than 100 veterans have received free legal assistance, more than 500 continuing education credits in Military Cultural Competency have been awarded to service providers and outreach has been conducted in all major communities in Alaska, including Bethel, Utqiaġvik, Sitka, Juneau, Delta Junction, Kenai, Soldotna, Ketchikan, Wasilla, Palmer, Fairbanks, North Pole and Anchorage.

Based on the studies and surveys conducted by the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and outreach conducted by multiple partner organizations, it is clear that although Alaska has the highest veteran population per capita, the ability to provide services to these veterans remains inadequate. This can be attributed to a variety of factors. As residents of Alaska, we all know the challenges of traveling in our great state. Besides weather issues, many communities are inaccessible by roads and can only be reached through air or water travel. The coalition realized they needed to realign themselves in order to better meet the needs of service members, veterans and families in Alaska. Coalition members work together to travel to village hubs as well as larger communities to provide services in person, so that the people they serve don't have to travel to Anchorage, Fairbanks or Juneau for services.

In addition to providing services closer to home, the coalition works with local service providers to educate them on the unique needs and challenges of service members, veterans and their families. Continuing education is provided through a network of service providers and offers the opportunity to earn continuing education credits that can be applied towards state licensing requirements in a variety of fields. The coalition works with multiple partners to ensure military-focused topics are free for providers.

Finally, the coalition works with state legislators and state departments to provide information on how regulations affect the people it serves, and to facilitate information sharing and act as subject matter experts on Alaska's service members, veterans and their families.

The coalition organizes its mission and goals around five focus areas: behavioral health, employment and finance, legal, faith-based services and child and youth services. Each focus area hosts its own meetings and determines goals and objectives based on quantitative and qualitative data provided by members.

Magen James is the executive director of the Alaska Forget Me Not Coalition. Organizations that are interested in getting involved should visit www.forgetmenotcoalition.org to learn more and contact the coalition at admin@forgetmenotcoalition.org.