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Opinion: Spirit of goodwill, generosity show America at its best

In his address to a divided and warring nation during the height of the Civil War in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln powerfully and concisely explained the relevance of the new Thanksgiving holiday.

He asked that the nation “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” Henceforth, he stated, America would give thanks for all we have been blessed with on the final Thursday of November.

A hundred and fifty eight years later, Lincoln’s words still resonate, providing a template for healing a land fractured by political ideologies.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Scott Mann spent almost 23 years in the Army, 18 of them in special forces, including three tours in Afghanistan as a Green Beret. As an author and playwright today, he is doing his best to put Lincoln’s healing words for the nation into action.

After his time in the service ended, Mann struggled to process the survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder affecting his own life.

Mann says without the help of the Afghan residents he came to know, the United States would not have had any success during 20 years of war in Afghanistan. It was frustrating and heartbreaking for him to see friends with whom he served with on the run, literally running from house to house or trying to flag down airplanes to get out of the nation that disintegrated into chaos and collapse earlier this year.

With help, Mann overcame his struggles by using his talents as an author and playwright. His book called “Game Changers” tells about working with Afghan locals to combat the violent extremists. Two years ago, he also produced a play, “Last Out: Elegy of a Green Beret,” which depicts the struggles veterans face after returning home from combat and leaving the military.

Mann and his crew traveled America with a U-Haul, performing in many cities to show the realities of post-service life. After the show, cast members would talk with members of the audience about their individual successes in dealing with PTSD.

After the tour was put on hold due to the pandemic, Mann was able to reach new audiences online by turning his stage production into a film.

When American troops began to withdraw from Afghanistan over the summer, Mann helped with the Task Force Pineapple rescue effort. Donations from his film will go toward helping veterans overcome trauma from the collapse, as well as helping America’s Afghan partners.

Mann said his movie is not just for veterans. He hopes he can also gain a deeper emotional connection to the service of veterans and their families, going beyond the “thank you for your service” acknowledgment.

Mann, who lives in Florida with his wife and their three children, is also an advisory board member for Spirit of America, a nonprofit company that raises money for U.S. veterans and is helping evacuate Afghans and their families who risked their lives while working with our troops, and who embraced the promise of a free and better life.

The attacks of 9/11 inspired Spirit of America’s founder with a simple idea that private citizens can support the missions of our troops by doing the things government can’t. Since then, the organization has provided resources to address local needs in more than 70 countries. In 2018, Congress recognized Spirit of America for “supporting the missions of deployed United States personnel around the world.”

Evacuation is just the first step in a long and difficult journey for the Afghans, who had to leave behind not only their possessions, but their very way of life that included jobs, friends, family members and schools.

In addition to temporary housing, food, clothing and supplies, Spirit of America works with other nonprofits to provide necessities such as health care, education, and employment opportunities for evacuees, including the children.

The goodwill, generosity and can-do spirit of people like Scott Mann and organizations like Spirit of America are proactive examples of America at its best.

By Jim Zbick | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.