Q&A: Philly Resident and Veteran Chris Marvin Talks His Role in ‘National Conversations on American Unity’

Philadelphia resident Chris Marvin

Philadelphia resident Chris Marvin

Chris Marvin spent four years recovering from wounds he suffered as a U.S. Army officer and Blackhawk helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. During that time, he began volunteering as an advocate for other wounded veterans and would eventually begin the “Got Your 6” campaign, dedicated to raising awareness between the military-civilian divide. Now the Fairmount resident has joined the Commission on Political Reform, alongside former senators Tom Daschle, Olympia Snowe, Trent Lott and Dirk Kempthorne, a group dedicated to finding bipartisan solutions in Washington politics.

Marvin and the rest of his posse will begin a nationwide speaking tour tomorrow, dubbed “National Conversations on American Unity,” at the Ronald Reagan Library in California. We caught up with him to figure out what his goals are with both his Got Your 6 campaign and on the CPR.

Tell us about the Got Your 6 Campaign.

The campaign itself took hold on other work that was going on in and around military families. The reason the campaign came together was because we found a unique time and place and set of organizations that wanted to collaborate. It’s made up of more than 60 organizations: 25 from the entertainment industry, 30-plus nonprofits and about a dozen that are government-based. It’s that idea that if we all bring our resources together, we can do more.

Our goal, at the highest level, is to bridge the civilian-military divide. We want to do that by creating a new conversation in America where veterans are perceived as leaders in civic assets. And when they return home, they can reinvigorate our communities. It’s beneficial for the veterans, of course, who are all looking for a new challenge, and it’s great for communities and civilians, because they are bringing people — trained leaders, team-builders and problem-solvers — back into their communities, and whether that’s a neighborhood or a workplace or a church or a classroom, we know that our veterans can have a strong and positive impact.

What’s the reception been like?

It’s been pretty phenomenal. We, of course, working with every major studio and guild in the entertainment industry, have a significant reach and a platform from which to spread a message that people will listen to. We’re coming up on our one-year anniversary; we became public last May … All of our awareness-building goals have been significantly exceeded, and it’s really exciting now, because we’re getting to the point where if I’m wearing my Got Your 6 lapel pin on the Amtrak train down to DC, I might have someone come up to me and say, “Hey, that’s the Got Your 6 thing, right?” and that always makes me feel humble, and makes me excited about the awareness that we’re building on the ground level in communities across the country.

When you got from Afghanistan, there were a lot of things you could have done. Why did you choose to take on this sort of project?

I was wounded in Afghanistan and had a long recovery, a four-year recovery and 10 major surgeries. But I had a lot of time to process. And in that process, lots of nonprofits came and offered me things — money or trips or backpacks full of trinkets — and each time I was encountered like that, I thought in my head: Why do I need this? I’m not a charity case. And even beyond the way the wounded service members and veterans are treated, many service members are looked upon as charity cases: the “poor veterans” syndrome. That struck me personally.

So I’ve been working with a number of different nonprofits that really focus on the idea that veterans can do great things, and if they are challenged, or expected to do great things when they return home, they will. But maybe right now our country isn’t hearing that message as much as they’re hearing the “poor veteran” message. We just want to be the healthy counterbalance, and point out that the vast majority of veterans, like myself, have a lot to give and want to be contributing members of their community.

A lot of guys I know who’ve served seem to try to stay away from politics — both in being involved and sort of just in conversation. You’ve sort of gone the opposite direction with the Commission on Political Reform. What are your goals there?

The commission itself has two simple goals: It wants to understand the causes and consequences of the partisan divide that we see in American politics today. And at the end of all the work, we want to be able to advocate for specific reforms… that can try to help our government function better. For me, my goal is to bring up the point of view that isn’t inherently political, because many people on the commission have an incredible background in politics, in government, Senators and Congressmen, former secretaries and Cabinet members… I want to bring sort of an outside perspective and the veteran’s perspective.

And I do believe that the decline in veterans in Congress — it’s been declining for something like 40 years — is directly correlated to the increase in partisanship. Especially in the last few cycles. And really, the more veterans we have in Congress, the more likely Congress is to be bipartisan, or, to act bipartisan. So, I hope that that’s some of the insight that I can bring to a group of people that are much more experienced and thoughtful on these things that I tend to be.

That’s a pretty interesting point I hadn’t considered.

It’s not the only cause of partisanship, of course … Veterans working with veterans in Congress is maybe the first step in getting some true bipartisan solutions.

I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds here, but this week and last week, especially, has sort of shown that deterioration. Congress, ironically, had actually passed the sequester bill in the first place in order to force themselves to work together in the future. And now they can’t even do that. So — are you worried at all, as you launch this unity campaign, that people will be way too cynical?

I think cynicism is always a concern. Of course, there’s healthy cynicism and unhealthy cynicism, but I believe that the first step is to see that we do have people, either currently serving or who have formerly served in Congress, who served at a high level in the government, who are publicly voicing concern about the problem, about the partisan divide. And as the cliché goes, the first step to solving a problem is to admit that you have a problem. So, just the fact that we are going through the Bipartisan Policy Center, we’re talking about it and, more importantly, we’re engaging the public about it. I think that’s ultimately what might drive change.

One of the things I like most about the Commission on Political Reform is that we are engaging the public. And I think we’re not only going to explore the partisanship on Capitol Hill, but also the partisanship on Main Street. And, how that reflects on two neighbors and their differing political opinion, ultimately contributes to the lack of bipartisan progress across the country. And, so, I think engaging the public will be a really powerful way to find some solutions.

Yeah, well, I hope so.

Your sentiment right there is what everybody says. Everyone is exasperated with partisanship, but we have to let that be known to everybody. To the voters and the representatives, that, hey we’re kind of fed up with some of this stuff so let’s see how we can work together.

The other thing is that this commission does not want anyone to abandon their political identity: Republican, Democrat or Independent. It’s more: Maintain who you are and what you believe in, but let’s get some work done together. Let’s find where we overlap and find ways to get work done while maintaining our strong views in opposition of one another.

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