Leader Spotlight: Reed Bonadonna
Veterans for American Ideals is recognizing veteran leaders who are continuing their service by building unity and standing up for American values. Through a series of interviews, we’re asking VFAI leaders to share more about how their service shaped them and what responsibility they feel veterans have to speak up on issues that relate to our national ideals.
Today’s interview is with Colonel Reed Bonadonna, a former Marine Corps infantry officer and field historian. His book, Soldiers and Civilization: How the Profession of Arms Thought and Fought the Modern World into Existence, was published this month by the Naval Institute Press.
Tell me about your military service. When and where did you serve? Why did you join the military?
I was in the Marine Corps on active duty from 1979-1988 and in the reserves from 1988-2008. I was an infantry officer and later a field historian. On active duty I was stationed at Quantico, VA, Camp Lejeune, NC, Parris Island, SC, and Worcester, MA. As a reservist I was mostly in New England. I deployed to Lebanon on active duty and to Iraq (OIF-1), as a reservist.
I’d say I had read too much military history as a kid! I also saw the military as strongly linked to character development. When I read the Burke Davis biography of LtGen “Chesty” Puller I decided that the Marine Corps was for me.
How did your service shape the person you are today?
I sometimes wonder what I’d be like if I hadn’t gone into the Marine Corps. Maybe I’d be better in some ways. Maybe I’m a little uptight and rigid, but on balance I think it made me a better person: stronger, more capable, more ethical. I got a sense that behaving in a petty way, treating others poorly, was something that should be beneath someone following an honorable profession where the stakes could be very high.
As a veteran, what sort of responsibility do you feel to speak up on issues that relate to American ideals?
For a long time, I stayed fairly aloof from politics, but now that I’m out of uniform I feel more freedom to speak out. I think vets have an idea of how bad things can get and how good they can be, of people at their worst and at their greatest. We’ve been in places where ideals like justice and liberty are just a dream, both because governments are oppressive and because all order has collapsed under the pressure of armed conflict, and this should give us a heightened sense of how important are these ideals which we often take for granted.
Tell me about one issue related to those ideals that is of particular importance or concern to you right now. What are you doing about it?
I’m concerned about what I recently heard ADM Stavridis call the “inchoate sense,” in the United States and elsewhere, that we have to wall out the world, that the way to prosper and protect yourself is to embrace narrow self-interest. It’s like some people think that we can’t afford our ideals, but the fact is that we can’t afford to go without them.
What would you say to other veterans about the role that they can play in these issues as citizens?
Dare to be idealists. Embrace moral courage as much as physical courage. Have some heroes. Find someone to protect. Stand up for something noble and important.