Jewish War Veterans of the USA Member Profile: Dan Helmer

The Jewish Veteran, Vol. 71, No. 2
June 2017

Member: Dan Helmer
Post: 95 Current
Residence: Fairfax, Virginia
Military Service:  Army 2003-2014
Member since year: 2017 

1.  What was a special moment for you, as a Jew, serving in the military?
One was at West Point. Our Rabbi, Carlos Huerta, had deployed to Iraq. My fellow cadets and I often ran Friday night services for the community while he was away. It was an honor to help bring the community together at such a critical time, with our standard bearer away leading the charge, providing ecumenical services down range. I felt a special connection with my faith and with the members of the congregation. 

2.  Can you tell us a bit about your military service? 
I served in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Korea, and in a broad range of domestic postings.  Each deployment was different, but everywhere I went I learned about courage, honor, and the art of building coalitions. When people ask about my service, I usually talk about Afghanistan [where] I was given a chance to found and run the COIN Academy – a school to train coalition forces in counterinsurgency efforts.  The academy trained 2,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coalition and Afghan forces in a year.  Collaborating across traditional divides really does yield the best results —it’s an age-old, but often-forgotten, truth. 

3.  What is one of your fondest JWV memories?
I have very fond memories of connecting with JWV members when I was a cadet at West Point. JWV members attended services every Friday on campus, many of whom were veterans of World War II, and some had liberated concentration camps.  I remember listening to their stories and being inspired by their courage.  It was a beautiful thing to have multiple generations of servicemen and women gathered together in one place, one community.

4.  If you could improve, or completely invent, a JWV program to improve our service to veterans, what would you do and why? 
JWV already runs many excellent and commendable service projects, and I believe we should challenge ourselves to do even more to mobilize and engage the younger generation of Jewish veterans. I would like to see us 20- and 30-somethings be involved not only in JWV, but also in making our communities better. We can apply the leadership skills we honed on the battlefield to the task of bettering our neighborhoods and our country. Civilian service can take a lot of forms—running for office, engaging in volunteer work, and so on—but if we each find our own way of making our communities stronger, it’ll do a world of good.

5.  What display of patriotism, in your community or otherwise, makes you most proud?
For me, true patriotism is demonstrated by actions—actions rooted in the values that have always made this country great. My favorite example is a broad one. I live in a community of dedicated public servants—teachers, health care professionals, Federal workers, and military personnel—all of whom go to work every day to make our country smarter, healthier, better-run, and safer.  What prouder display of patriotism could there be than that? 

6.  What is your favorite Shavuot tradition or memory?
My father and I love cheesecake, and we’ll take any excuse to eat it. We spent many hours of my childhood trying to find the best one in town. I think it’s a genetic issue. So when it comes to Shavuot, I really have to start with dessert.

7.  Favorite Mel Brooks film?
Tough to choose! But I think I’d have to say Robin Hood: Men in Tights.