I asked a veteran to write a piece for me, about what it means to be a young OIF veteran in today’s America. I ask that this young man be treated with the respect that he deserves. Thank you.
What does it mean to be a veteran? For those who served in World War II, it meant that these men and women were the ones who defeated the Nazis in Germany and the Emperor’s military in Japan. It also meant that those who returned home helped rebuild the country and have been called the Greatest Generation, proved that they were the best that the country could provide in a time of need. In Korea, it meant that they fought the Chinese and North Korean communists to a standstill that continues to this day.
For the vets of Vietnam, it meant that for the length of their deployment, they stood tall in Hell. However, the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s, along with reported abuses, meant that veterans of this conflict were not held in high regard. Some were even attacked and spat upon, even called “baby killer.” As for the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, at least from my perspective — the regard in which we are held is mixed.
I can remember the first time I came home from Iraq in 2004. I remember almost running to the baggage claim just to see my mom and my girlfriend. I ran into people who were either giving me a look of disapproval or those that gave me a thumbs up or even wanted a handshake. For us, it is part of the job of wearing the uniform.
However, the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have come with their own set of rewards and consequences. There are the reminders of friends who were killed in action during a patrol, convoy or an assault. There is the memory of engagements lasting either a few minutes or hours on end. There is the memory of Saddam Hussein being hauled out of the spider hole in Tikrit and the thought of “great we got him. Can we go home now?” only to hear “Sorry guys, we’re staying another 3 months.”
After I hung up the uniform when I completed my service, did I think it was easy out in the real world? I soon found out: it isn’t and that is the sad fact of it.
Tough realities – and some help
Most of us think that when we are done with serving our country, we are placed in high regard when it comes to getting jobs. We tend to think “Hey I went through hell in Basic, I served in Iraq/Afghanistan, I have skills, I’m a good soldier, I am desirable to an employer” and we think that we can just walk into an interview and get the job that day.
Unfortunately, that’s just not going to happen due to circumstances like the lousy economy. If you don’t have a college education, all the experience in the world will not be able to land you a job.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. We vets have a multitude of opportunities to benefit from our service. We have the Department of Veterans Affairs who can help us with disability claims and education programs so that when we are done with school, we can appear more hire-able than the other person going for the same job.
They may not be perfect, but with persistence we can get answers, we can get those benefits we earned. There are other groups that can help too.
However, there are some vets who need more help than us. You might have seen them along the roads begging for money or food or work.
What does it mean to me to be a proud U.S. Army Veteran?
Remember this: we proved to ourselves that we are capable of doing more than we ever thought we could. We volunteered, we served our country. We are the 1% of the country that stepped up to serve.
Photo credit: The National Guard