Veterans are exceptional in every way. Overall, Veterans represent about 9% of the total US population. Only .04% of our population is currently serving on active duty. Veterans represent the very best of our nation. Those who served or are currently serving come from every part of the United States and represent every social demographic. No matter where a service member originally comes from, they join a team who will train together, and if called upon to deploy and fight together.
The military has its own unique subculture that most of the US population doesn’t understand. The military has a very disciplined life compared to their civilian counterparts. For those who serve, everything is a mission. Service members have a disciplined code of conduct that they live by. We carry ourselves differently, talk differently, think differently, plan differently and react better to stressful situations in austere environments. We have a broader view of the world we live in and we even have our own unique sense of humor that most don’t understand. No matter which branch of service we serve in we all consider each other brothers and sisters and take immense pride in who we are.
What’s also unique about our veterans today, is that since 1973 the men and woman who have served this nation have been purely volunteers, not a mixture of volunteers and draftees. Even after 16 years of war, a very small but exceptional group of our population join freely to defend this nation fully knowing they may see combat or even give their lives for this great nation. That’s pretty remarkable when you think about it. The average American lives their life never fully realizing that only .04% of our population is actually safeguarding this nation and our way of life. Such a small percentage, but a great responsibility.
However, with being an exceptional subculture within our country, veterans also have some obstacles after completing their service and reintegrating into our society. Reintegration is not always easy, because of our cultural differences as well as some of our experiences. The problem lies with how society perceives us. Society doesn’t understand our culture, our strength, our discipline, our ability to lead, plan and execute the missions we receive, or what we can bring to their business and our communities. The cultural differences are wide and let’s face it, the military doesn’t really do a decent job of preparing its service members for getting out of the military. Especially, enlisted service members who made the military a career and have spent more than half their life in service to this nation.
When I retired ten years ago after twenty-three years of service, whether at a job interview or in contact with society, I was a bit surprised how I was being judged. There is a negative narrative that has haunted many veterans, especially those who have returned from war. That negative narrative is that we are damaged or broken. This negative narrative in our society creates problems for veterans who are trying to reintegrate. It further creates a divide that already exists culturally between those who have served and those who haven’t. The veteran’s issues reported about the VA, our military, or some who have gone off the deep end only contributes to the narrative society has. The negative narrative of damaged veterans creates a larger obstacle for veterans to cross when trying to reintegrate into society. The result is that many veterans, most of them former enlisted, are discriminated from employment. This makes their reintegration into society that much more difficult and depression sets in creating further problems. Another problem that contributes to how veterans are viewed comes from a very small but vocal number of veterans themselves. Some veterans who are disingenuous about their military service or exhibit egotistical, arrogant or entitlement behavior, also contributes to the negative perception of veterans. We as veterans have a responsibility to police our own as well. As veterans, we are held to a higher standard. That’s not always an easy thing to do because we are human and aren’t perfect.
When I retired after the service I couldn’t find work in the community I settled in. So, I resorted to defense contract work that took me further away from my home and family. It wasn’t something I really wanted to do. The whole idea of retiring was to find a job that I enjoyed and spend more time with my family. That didn’t happen initially. In fact, I was gone from my family more than when I was on active duty. I was gone from the support of my family for seven straight years only seeing them intermittently for two days at a time. I also didn’t have the camaraderie or support of those Special Forces Soldiers I served with. I suffered isolation which resulted in depression. Yet, I refused to accept the position I was in. People who know me, know I am not one to accept my current circumstances and will find a way to better my odds to survive and thrive. During that time, I decided to build my own business on the side, wrote a book, wrote articles for several publications which eventually got me noticed. Since building my business, I have moved back home with my family, and continue to build my business full-time. This was not an easy hurdle to get over, I’m still fighting every day to keep my head above water while balancing a family life. I continue to have my bad days as well as good, and that’s part of life. I realized long ago even before I entered the military, that I am a survivor and if I was going to survive, I needed to thrive. Thriving means that we are not just surviving but prospering and enjoying life. A true warrior never surrenders, we fight on. We keep fighting until we are victorious. As veterans, we all have the will to fight and survive, but we also need to thrive. That’s the most important part, thriving.
If a veteran is told enough times they are not normal or have some type of disorder, they will begin to believe there is something wrong with them. So, what’s the fallout if veterans believe what society says? Veterans feel further isolated from their own communities, they begin to believe they are damaged, depression sets in and other problems manifest. None of this is good for the men and women who have sacrificed so much for a country and people they love. The reality is veterans are exceptional in every way, they are resilient and provide a lot to their community and the organizations that hire them.
Today, society likes to focus on the negative rather than the positive. Society sometimes views veterans as a liability, rather than an asset. Regardless of the stigma imposed on Vets, many are overcoming adversity every day and thriving. Veterans starting a new life are building families, attending college and trade schools, building businesses, are productive employees and good citizens within their communities. As veterans, it’s our responsibility to engage the public and educate them. If we don’t, then the only narrative our society will believe, is the negative narrative that some in the entertainment industry and media portray.
For those who did not serve in the military, I want to make this known to you. The Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen who are facing problems need a purpose, they need a mission and have a need to be a part of something larger than themselves. They need you as much as you needed them when they served. There is nothing wrong with these exceptional Americans. They have traits that you will not find in a kid who has just graduated from college. Traits such as honor, duty, discipline, respect, pride, leadership, a no-quit attitude and most of all loyalty. If you invest in them, they will invest in you and your organization. Loyalty is not a common trait in our society today, but veterans possess it.
For my brothers and sisters out there who feel isolated, look inward, remember who you are, and the strength you have. You are a warrior. Humans are social creatures and isolation is never good. You are not alone. Reach out to others if you need too. There is much support that can be tapped into when you reach out to other veterans. I personally have learned that Veterans from different generations have life experiences that can help navigate any problems you have. They have experienced the trials and tribulations you are now going through. You must believe there is nothing wrong with you. The problem is society’s perception. You must change this perception and find a way around the obstacles you face. Don’t feed that monster that brings you to a dark place. Don’t let a few setbacks defeat you, you made it, you’re alive. Get out there and show the world what you’re made of. You are exceptional. This country needs more people like you. Influence them. Stay in the fight and thrive. You deserve a prosperous future.
To all those currently serving, we are proud of you. You have joined a fraternity of the exceptional few who are answering the call of your nation. Never become complacent. The enemy is out there, and he is watching and preparing for the one time you let down your guard so that he can exploit the situation to his benefit and kill you or bring harm to others. Constantly seek self-improvement. Develop a proper mindset, learn skills that make you a deadlier and a well-rounded warrior. Learn tactics and strategy, develop the mental and physical capabilities to do your job and hone these to proficiency. Tough realistic battle focused training gives you greater odds of survival when you finally meet your enemy. Know your enemy. If you’re a leader, share the burden, influence others and be hard, but fair. Your nation expects that from you so that their sons and daughters come home alive. Every one of you are important to us. Survive and thrive.
Lastly, I want to thank all the veterans who came before me and those I served with. Your friendship, mentorship, and camaraderie has been a huge influence in my life. If it wasn’t for you, I would never have joined or been motivated to accomplish what I did while in the service. You provided me critical lessons learned that shaped me into who I am today. I am alive today because the training received, and the critical lessons you passed down to me. You made me a better soldier and leader, and I am forever grateful. I hope I have done you justice by dedicating my life to passing on the critical training and lessons learned to others. I am forever in your debt.
Have a great Veterans Day. Stay strong, stay safe and thrive.
De Oppresso Liber (To free the oppressed)