When Andrew Brennan returned home from flying Blackhawk Helicopter missions in Afghanistan, he got a job working in logistics for Best Buy. Three months into the job, he knew shepherding electronics wasn’t for him.
“After flying helicopters in Afghanistan and having the scope of leadership I did, watching guys move boxes around a warehouse wasn’t doing it for me,” he says. As a West Point cadet, Brennan heard several veterans lecture about the years they waited to lead the same number of people in the business world they had comfortably managed in the army.
“It took them 10 to 20 years,” Brennan recalls.
So he left a steady job with plenty of potential for advancement to hike out west and find his life’s passion.
“My dad thought I was crazy,” he laughs.
In May of 2014, while backpacking in Albuquerque, N.M., he ran into a small group of bikers riding together as part of Run for the Wall, a commemorative convoy dedicated to prisoners of war and service members missing in action. The nationwide ride culminates in Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day, but many cyclists head out a couple of weeks earlier on the west coast.
GWOT Memorial Foundation - The Idea Phase - June 2014 GWOT Memorial Foundation - The Idea Phase - June 2014
For Brennan, the parallels between the Vietnam-era vets and military men and women who served in the War on Terrorism were immediately tangible. Both had fought in controversial wars civilians didn’t exactly embrace. With Vietnam vets, there was active hostility from anti-war protesters and World War II servicepeople. Alumni of the Global War on Terrorism come home and face a collective shrug.
“Let’s be honest, the American population is pretty worn out over this war,” he says.
As many of the vets who served in Southeast Asia reach retirement age, Brennan wondered who of the younger generation would pick up the baton. Issues like POWs, MIAs and veterans’ rights quickly recede from public consciousness without a rallying cry. Brennan comes from a long lineage of veterans. His grandfather served in the Pacific during World War II. Three of his great uncles fought on D-Day. Creating a memorial for this generation’s veterans would also provide closure and a reason to maintain contact with each other.
The Vietnam Memorial is more than just a 250-foot strip of black granite carved with names. It’s a focus point for veteran energy, a place for communion, and an opportunity to educate younger generations on the reasons to go to war. Nothing like it was in the works for the veterans who have fought America’s longest war, which has 7,000 casualties and more than 50,000 wounded.
Brennan returned home from the hike with a new purpose: Building a memorial for those who fought in the Global War on Terrorism. At first he contacted a handful of people to serve on an advisory board. When Jan Scruggs, who pushed for the creation of the Vietnam Memorial, wrote an op-ed in Military Times asking which veterans would stand up and help honor the service those who’d been lost in the War on Terrorism, Brennan reached out. Scruggs immediately signed on to back the project.
However, creating a national memorial isn’t as easy as picking a spot and drawing up plans.
The 1986 Commemorative Works Act forbids building a celebratory work on D.C.’s National Mall without approval by the National Capital Memorial Advisory Committee. Brennan is actively lobbying representatives and senators to support the work, including several veterans in congress such as Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island). Montana Republican representative Ryan Zinke will introduce the bill for the building of a Global War on Terrorism Memorial, which Brennan hopes will happen either this fall or next spring.
Congressional endorsement is just one step of several toward getting the structure installed. Between legal approval, design, fundraising, and construction, Brennan expects the process will take eight to 10 years. He estimates the cost of the process will fall somewhere between $40 and $100 million. Not all of that money is for building. Years of lobbying, fundraising and project management require a support team to keep the process in motion.
So far the biggest pushback Brennan has received is over the name. The term “Global War on Terrorism” has always seemed a bit vague, and creating a monument comes off a bit confusing to some in Congress. Still, that’s the official name for the war being commemorated.
While there are many years ahead before breaking ground on the National Mall, Brennan realizes he’s already learned a lot in the past two years. Also an MBA student at the University of Pittsburgh, he recently started a class on entrepreneurship. When the lecturer described the challenges of startups, the veteran quickly grinned with recognition. Launching the movement to build a Global War on Terrorism Monument has been much like a startup.
“The best thing that anyone can do is find a job that leverages their skill set to the best of their capacity,” says the onetime Best Buy logistics employee. “I’ve never been the best at any one thing. But I’ve been pretty good at most things. This is such a broad and all-encompassing project that it requires a lot of different capabilities in PR, marketing, fundraising and organizational operations. I’m willing to put in my extra time to see it come together.”
When the memorial is built, Brennan envisions a family visiting it with 10- to 12-year-old kids who are wondering what it’s all about. “This is an opportunity to open up a dialogue.”