Traveling on Airstream’s #EndlessCaravan over the past several weeks was a game-changer for our nonprofit, American Dream U. From the beginning, our overarching mission for the journey was to bring awareness to the many incredible stories that exist across this great country.
Although we didn’t capture every story in the entire country, we certainly covered a lot of ground. It was amazing to go beyond the walls of ADU and meet veterans where they already were—in their hometowns, at their businesses, on their bases. Nothing compares to sitting down next to someone and hearing their story, face to face.
I knew that setting out on the road with an iconic Airstream in tow was going to get attention from those we passed and in the places we stopped. What I didn’t know? Traveling in the Airstream—covered on the outside with the ADU mission statements—would grab my attention in an entirely new way, as well. With the Airstream in tow and our next destination to meet veterans only a drive away at all times, our mission was my mindful presence on every waking moment of the entire trip.
I was captivated by our daily routine on the trip—meeting Veterans where they live and work and learning about the communities they support. Before the trip, all of our ADU events have asked veterans to come to a certain military base or our Academy here in Las Vegas. It was priceless to see these veterans and their families in their own environment and the pride they held for their accomplishments—whether that meant a self-started business or a purposeful new career.
We completed 27 interviews on this Endless Caravan adventure, gaining insight and advice to compile and share with our ADU tribe for years to come.
We may have been in the United States, but the stories we heard took us around the world and magnetized us to the presence and dedication of the veteran story teller. Their trials, triumphs, set-backs and side roads cannot be expressed by anyone other than themselves, so we are turning their video interviews into informal mentor sessions on our YouTube channel.
We will launch one full-length interview every week to share with our tribe. This collection is powerful and a necessary part of capturing the American Dream through a veteran’s own words.
The Airstream was a catalyst for veterans to share their stories. It was an amazing conversation starter and created a comfortable space that felt like “home.” There wasn’t anyone who didn’t take a peek inside and smile with excitement over the experience.
We covered 4,585 miles, 5 military bases and 7 veteran-owned businesses over these 6 weeks. Even though we could not have done all these interviews without traveling so many miles, in hindsight, I would have liked to stay more than 2 days in each city; more down time and enjoying the outdoors. I mean, really, who doesn’t want to spend more time on a great American road trip—especially with the freedom to have your home towing right behind you?
And, not to dwell on my shortcomings but, man, with all those miles you would think I would be able to brag about my new skills backing up. Not the case! Thank goodness for pull-through RV spots at every RV park we visited.
One of my favorite moments of the trip was my interview with the Revive Energy founder Jon Gensler. He took a year to head to the outdoors of New Zealand, with the goal of discovering his soul purpose and how to incorporate that into his career.
Talking with Jon led me to wonder—if life is a constant evolution and change is part of the game—could I walk down the same path and discover my next soul purpose? He's doing what he loves every day, and who doesn’t want that in their life?
Transitions from the military are hard, however. I heard this repeatedly. But, we will transition many times in our lives, always longing to find a new community and tribe to feel close to. One veteran I interviewed told me that it is a 10 year process to leave military life. Five years of that are needed to fully feel like they were transitioned out of the military and a civilian again. With the right support and community, the transition can be made easier.
I spent more time with Gigi on this trip than I usually do. But on this trip it was 24/7 and she did it with such grace. She was a super-star and a show-stopper everywhere we went. Humble and inquisitive she met every person at their own level; sometimes serious, sometimes excited, but always well-behaved and sensitive to the people around her.
She put smiles on everyone’s faces at Brooke Army Medical Center; and in some cases I wondered how long it had been since that wounded soldier had cracked a smile. She slept at the foot of the Airstream bed and I caught myself wondering how she transitioned through this trip so easily; so many people and places? It probably helped to be so loved and accepted —to have everyone stop and notice her, pet her, take their picture with her.
I feel as if I had several interpersonal accomplishments on the road, but I think sharing veteran stories—some that may not have been shared before—and on a national level is the big win here.
Going forward, I am planning to take several weeks each year on the road collecting more veteran stories. We belong to a nation full of amazing veterans and families, and they undoubtedly have stories that deserve to be heard. It’s our mission to listen and tell those stories to the world!
Thank you to everyone who followed along for this ride; we’ll be doing more great things in the future (but none of them have anything to do with backing up an Airstream). Follow along with us at AmericanDreamU.org!