People often ask me what it was like to be a soldier, but I don’t know that I’ve ever given a straight answer.
I don’t talk about what it was like to go to war, nor do I talk about the mundane details of rifle cleaning “parties.” I tell them stories that will make them smile, like getting lost in Germany (which somehow turned into France), or how too much alcohol led to a new tattoo.
In the past, I’ve given the same crowd-pleasing response when asked about Veterans Day, and I did this for two reasons: I didn’t want to seem unpatriotic and because I didn’t figure they’d understand anyway. One of the great caveats of being a military police officer in the Army is that you don’t ever actually get to enjoy these holidays like other service members. These “days off” for some service members became subtle reminders that while I was hard at work, someone else was at home playing video games. Not a very glamorous answer, right?
But times have changed since then. I’ve grown older and wiser — but if you ask my kids, just older. I also have a job where I get the chance to help veterans year round. I’m happy to report that my perspective has changed substantially in the last few years.
I can say, in all honesty, that serving in the armed forces was a daunting, but empowering, course of action. There is nothing like deploying, especially to a hostile zone, that pushes you to grow up quickly and face your fears. But I, like many others, realized that there are stipulations to this growth. You often come home a different person than when you left, finding that the simplicity of life is no longer simple. Family dynamics change, emotions run high and you start to wonder if you’ll ever fit in with the world again. Then, just when you think it can’t possibly get harder, you leave the service and you realize your support system is gone.
But it’s not. Unlike Vietnam veterans, today’s troops aren’t living in an era where people despise you for the sacrifices you made.
The friends and families that you have so graciously volunteered to defend now want to find you and thank you. They want to help you overcome your post-traumatic stress and your injuries, and they want to honor you in any way that they can on Veterans Day.They are right there beside you every step of the way, waiting for their chance to make a difference in your life.
This Veterans Day I want you to take a page out of our civilian counterpart’s book and do something special for a veteran.
Don’t just tell a veteran buddy that there’s free food at Applebee’s — go there together and share those war stories you’ve told hundreds of times. Don’t just nod your head at a passing Vietnam veteran in his black ball cap — shake his hand and tell them thanks. Don’t just pass by the Veterans of Foreign Wars building — go inside and be appreciative to those that came before you. Above all, do something for a fellow veteran whether it’s a simple handshake and thank you, or a warm blanket and a hot meal.
If a civilian is willing to say thank you and make a difference in a veteran’s life, if even for a day, then we can do better. After all, we should set the standard.
Photo courtesy davidcharns