The Unpopular Veteran

To get this blog started right, I will slap the core value of political correctness in America directly in the face. All of you need to stop thanking veterans and active duty military. I say this as a veteran, and someone tired of hearing you say it. Every time I hear the obligatory words, “Thank you for your service,” I cringe. I cringe because for every disingenuous thank you that you dispense, I have to say an equally meaningless and politically correct thank you. Although, as of late I have adopted a sarcastic, “thank you for paying your taxes,” response. The credit for that goes to an old friend named Christopher. Thank you itself only becomes useless because of the numerous times it is used. I will tell you now, I have never done a thing for this country, and patriotism was one of the least motivating factors to joining the military, as it is with many other veterans. Don’t get me wrong I love my country and I love the men I served with. I, however, refuse to lie to myself about the reasons for my service or act as if I deserve any thanks in the first place. There are plenty of military men and women in this country who deserve it, but the majority of the time you wouldn’t know who these individuals are. The fact of the matter is; we have allowed the pop-culture patriotic bandwagon to tumble out of control. We have effectively become the polar opposite society of the Vietnam era. We have retained the ability to distance ourselves from what service members have done and are going through, but instead of spitting in their face we hide behind a smile and a public courtesy.

I want to explain my position; I was a Navy Corpsman for 5 years. I served in clinical settings as well as operational settings. My first operation technically was and wasn’t a deployment, and my second was 8 months of movement from one country to another with no combat, some training, and some binge drinking. The biggest sacrifice I ever made for this country was my time, which is the standard minimum for anyone who serves. I was never shot at and no IEDs exploded even remotely close to me. I look back on my time in the military with a very confused euphoria. The service members I knew ran the gambit from angels to manipulative deviants. I knew some men worth every bit of a thank you and others I am ashamed wear the same cloth. This is indicative of the fact that this organization is made up of people, not robots, and not heroes. We are human and by association fallible.

We have a myriad of problems that arise with the broad use of the word hero. I want to make one thing perfectly clear; the term hero is a relative term and consequently involves a level of opinion, so feel free to tell me I’m wrong. When we blanket the entire military populace with the label hero we blindly state that everyone is noble and courageous within that institution. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics states that enlisted personnel as of June 2013 totals up to 1,162,185. Just from a probability standpoint we can obviously say that not everyone within the institution could embody characteristics that are meant to be a rarity and something to celebrate. This doesn’t mean we should disregard all members or label them useless, but rather tame the way in which we approach them, which I will go into more detail on later.

Of the many problems that arise from under the hero blanket is stolen valor. We so often have people who never served a day in the military claiming high honors and wearing the uniform improperly out in public for the hopes of a thank you and a free meal, or many other offers. This has become such an issue that we now have groups dedicated to the exposure of these frauds. One such group, Guardian of Valor, is starting to gain a large level of notoriety. Their “Hall of Shame” boasts 47 cases of proven stolen valor cases. This doesn’t include pending cases, and others they have yet to start. If we turn back the clock again to the Vietnam era I don’t see it being a popular decision to line up and make false claims of service.

On the flip side, I fear the potential that more and more of the younger generations entering our military are looking for nothing more than the prestige and a handshake for serving. The fear that the ones capable of entering the military doing it for no other reason than to appear to be a celebrity in small towns, and have a free meal when they wear their dress uniform. This from a personal perspective degrades the culture and professionalism I have come to love and respect about the military. It also concerns me from a commitment point of view. As I mentioned earlier we don’t always join the military with a sense of patriotic duty, but when our motivation is for limelight I fear this is a fleeting and diminishing ideal. Leaving those who join for this reason less committed and a bad apple in the basket. I have, unfortunately, witnessed two marines, one sergeant and one corporal, at a breakfast establishment late at night displeased and belligerently complaining about their meal not being free, while wearing their dress blues. This is exactly the kind of rude unprofessional behavior I fear will be an increasing trend with the continuation of such labeling.

I will reiterate the fact that heroes do exist in our military. They become that hero by their actions, whether that be in a singular instance or over an entire career. These men and women embody the very definition of a hero by those actions. This does not, however, make them perfect. Veterans and active duty military come from all walks of life and some are not even citizens. Many are escaping poverty, bad lifestyle, and the like. We are not infallible and may have done terrible things in our past. We can be called hero one minute then we can be destroyed by even the slightest mistake the next. Many of us did not join for a thank you or limelight, but rather a means of escape or maybe adventure.  We are human and merely ask to be allotted our mistakes just as many others are.

So you may or may not be onboard with me, but either way you’re done hearing me complain. I understand, however, don’t leave me just yet, I have a proposed solution. What if instead of saying, “thank you for your service,” ask something meaningful, such as; Whats your best story? Why did you join? Do you miss anything about it? Things you shouldn’t ask include; Did you kill anyone? Did you go to Afghanistan or Iraq (or any other combat zone)? Did any of your friends die? These questions can be painful and only illustrates a lack of caring for the individual. The individual you talk to will bring up these subjects if they deem it worthy or acceptable. I suggest engaging in a conversation with them. I must remind you that if you hear the same thing over and over again it loses its meaning, and the same goes for the person who vocalizes it. I understand that this sounds petty, and I should really let it go, but there is much more than a compliment that creates the issue. We hear, “thank you,” but so often are discriminated against or misunderstood. What if you, the employer, were to see past your misconceptions of post-traumatic stress disorder and realize our leadership skills? What if you, the anti-war guy, asked him about his thoughts on the war? What if you, the fellow drinker at the bar, just bought him a beer and talked about useless things? The biggest problem with being singled out is that no matter what your words say we are not considered to be a part of your society, we are an outsider. Whether it be good or bad, we have been isolated. Please see us as human beings, not a uniform, a hero, a killer, or a soldier.

Note: Everything I write is an opinion, and I in no way wish to discredit those who truly care. This is merely the rantings of a veteran offering a different perspective to the popular thought. I love my country, her people as a whole, and the veterans I have served with.

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