What It Means to be a Veteran

marines-3695500_1280Being a military veteran means you sacrificed a number of years of your life for the privilege of obeying orders from those of higher rank than you. It meant performing seemingly endless numbers of push-ups and sit-ups or hiking countless miles while wearing a too heavy rucksack. It meant drills (and/or grass drills); shooting ranges, GI parties (party favors for those were sponges, brooms and mops), and of course field trips (more times than not, in the rain or cold). It meant mind-numbing hours on guard duty or kitchen patrol. If you had managed to earn yourself extra duty; by breaking one or more of the numerous regulations, then you had up to 22 hours a day of the same mind numbing work, followed by a ‘generous’ 2 hours of sleep. Then you did it all again the next day.

Being a U.S. military veteran also means you were willing to fight and die in service to this country. It meant being separated from friends, family and loved ones. It meant giving up control of your life to others and having to trust your well-being to them. It meant risking life and limb and potential (permanent) injury, either to complete a mission, help your buddies fighting alongside you or just in doing what you were supposed to do. It meant you took an oath to ‘Support and Defend the Constitution of the United States’… and lived up to your part of the bargain. Since there is no longer a military draft in this country, it meant you voluntarily signed up.

Why in the hell would you or anyone volunteer for this?

Was it a deep desire to serve your country? Or was it for the benefits you were promised such as furthering or continuing your education? Maybe it was learning something new, that sounded interesting to you? Or maybe (like me) you saw no better options in your life at the time. Possibly you were done with school, or dropped out; maybe you were unemployed and the idea of free food, housing and a steady paycheck were too tempting? Probably it was all or most of these along with the promises from your recruiter which made it sound even better. Were you talked into becoming a technician, plotting safe routes or supply lines in and out for the troops? Or a pilot? Maybe you were a combat cook, figuring out how to feed your troops with dwindling supplies? Maybe you were ‘just’ a grunt. Or any one of the hundreds of other jobs, thinking you would be better off after your service, when you discharged.

Were you thinking the same way as you huddled down in your foxhole with your head between your knees, hearing the impact of bullets, or the explosions going off all around? When the overwhelming smells of blood, piss, smoke and yes fear almost knocked you out. Were your thoughts still on what you were going to do when you got out, or were they closer to if you got out of there alive? What were you thinking as you heard screams and prayers coming from the foxholes around you?
It doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter, as long as you served and served with honor. Every military job has it’s risks. What ever the reason; whatever military job you had and whether or not you served on active duty or as a reservist, whether or not you saw or were involved in any actual combat, you could have and that is what counts. As a Vietnam veteran once said, “you had your ass on the line”. Again, that is what counts. You are a military veteran, you served with honor and yes you do expect certain things for it, from your government and/or the people you helped and/or served, or just from your fellow citizens. That bargain you upheld from when you took ‘The Oath’ to when you received your honorable discharge, came with expectations by you also. In the book “Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlein, only military veterans had earned the right to vote. As a U.S. military veteran you are not asking for that or any additional rights, but:

You expect to be respected. You don’t need to be saluted or ‘thanked for your service’ all the time, but maybe it’s nice to hear on Veteran’s or Memorial Day.
You expect your veteran status to look good on a resume or application. Yes, you want to be hired or accepted based on your qualifications, but being a veteran should help, not hurt in that.
You expect help if and when you need it. You helped enough people during your service (your entire country and maybe other ones as well).

Not everything in life goes perfectly or according to plan. Did your plans include marriage or starting and raising a family? Use your VA home loan to buy a house? Were you going to get that college degree and then start your chosen career? Or put the skills you learned in the military to use? Did your marriage fall apart or the career you envisioned never come to pass? Or possibly the injuries or trauma you experienced (mental or physical) catch up with you and prevent you from achieving your goals. Where did you turn for help? Friends, family or a ‘grateful’ government? Too many veterans either didn’t have these options or the help wasn’t enough and they ended up poor, hurt or for some, hungry and homeless.

That shouldn’t happen but it does! The biggest problem with not getting help is that there are so many that need help, way too many. Yes there are a lot of generous people and organizations that try; but there are never enough of them, and/or never enough money for those that need. Yes, the Government tries to help; and there are lots of dedicated government employees who try to (believe it or not), but whether it is red tape, inefficiency or lack of funding or any of myriad other reasons, government help cannot always be counted on. Too many veterans are still on the street or hurting, any help from any people or organizations is always appreciated.

by Larry Shields
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