USF master’s student Blake Hackett was tired of seeing veterans politicized by media outlets and hard-lined ideologues. A veteran himself, Hackett wanted veterans to have the power to control their own image. So, last November, he started a nonprofit called More Than War to highlight creative veterans. “More Than War is saying veterans are more than their military service,” Hackett said. “They’re individuals, too. And at some point we need to connect with them on that level as a society.”
More Than War seeks to discover and promote veterans in creative fields like music, theater, comedy and activism. One highlighted veteran was stand-up comedian and writer, Mike Cella. Cella was a linguist in the Air Force until 2011 and now works as a substitute teacher in the Sacramento area. Boasting over 66,000 Twitter followers, Cella’s feed bounces between sports satire and humor inspired by the mundane aspects of American life. One popular tweet: “Jay-Z getting tweeted at by Trump means that for the first time ever, a bitch is one of his problems.”
Another veteran More Than War spotlighted is motivational speaker and writer, Kevin Flike. Flike served as a Green Beret (Special Forces) in the U.S. Army, but was shot in the lower abdomen during his second deployment to Afghanistan. Flike struggled with adjusting to civilian life after being forced to medically retire. His exhausting journey inspired him to start his own nonprofit to speak to other veterans facing similar pains. Flike has spoken to organizations that span from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s ROTC unit to church and charity groups.
More Than War is still in its early days — Hackett started the nonprofit in November, in between a full time job at a executive search and advisory services firm and his second year in USF’s M.A. in Asia Pacific Studies program. But, he already has big plans for what More Than War could become. “One goal is to have an annual cornerstone event, similar to a Ted Talk or tech conference, where it’s a combo of fundraising, but also a forum for creative veterans to exhibit their work and have public discussions,” he said. Hackett additionally hopes to fundraise to give veterans access to pinnacle festivals like Sundance and Art Basel. Lastly, Hackett would like to see scholarship opportunities for veterans who want to pursue academic programs in their artistic fields.
Above all else, Hackett hopes that More Than War can showcase veterans as individuals able to create their personal, unique voice. He said, “One of the problems for veterans is you join the military and you conform out of necessity, right? That’s how, operationally, the military works. And I think that conformity stays with people a long time, especially when the media or people that don’t share your same ideology are telling you kind of who you are. ‘You should be patriotic, or you should be upset when Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem.’”
You can visit More Than War at www.morethanwar.org.
This article has been corrected from it’s print version to reflect the following changes. Instead of “consulting firm,” it is “”executive search and advisory services firm.” Instead of “form,” it is “forum.” Instead of “people that do share,” it is “don’t share.”