A Voice for Our Veterans
A Voice For Our Veterans
In honor of Veterans Day, we are going to begin to give a voice to our veterans in Part One. In Part Two we are going to offer insights on how we can be better friends, countrymen/women when our veterans return and actually when they are away as well.
For the purpose of these two articles I have spoken to a Veteran/officer/Jag lawyer who by his own admission has a unique perspective which may represent some, but definitely not all. Although he has been deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq and has represented as a lawyer those who have been in active combat, he hasn’t himself. The answers are a conversation between us.
Please understand these articles cannot address all concerns. This article is meant to begin a conversation-an important conversation, and to begin a connection.
What it is like to come back to the people in a country not at war (some oblivious to what is going on in the world) after being in a country that maybe has only known war?
Depression, frustration, anger and maybe even disgust depending on your experiences while deployed are all appropriate emotions for returning veterans. We as a country have so much and many take this for granted. Many people know nothing about other countries, where they are geographically, what life is like, how little they have materially, whether they have the right to vote (a voice in their government), whether they have only known war, whether women and children have only known war, how war impacts families, for starters.
We veterans are trained for our jobs, we may or may not have seen horrific examples of life’s ugliness, life’s unfairness, life’s betrayal while fighting abroad. When you return to a country where people are complaining about their lattes, so to speak. After being in a country where women and children are starving, being shot, are being used for human shields, and a bunch of other horrible conditions, how can you not be depressed, angry and frustrated? How do you make sense of so much abundance taken for granted in our country?
Even if you came from no abundance in the US, we live in a country which makes it hard to miss how much abundance we have as a country. We also live in a country which is not at war. We have freedoms and rights that many take for granted. How do you feel when people can’t get off the couch to educate themselves to always understand every issue and to vote responsibly? Voting is a statement that acknowledges you understand people died for this right. That people are dying for this right.
If you and I meet and we both almost died in a horrific car accident, there is a common bond -the car accident – that can facilitate our opening up and sharing. If I have been to war and you haven’t, how can we find the bond that can facilitate a connection? War has the ability to isolate those who have experienced it, and we can’t let that happen.
When you are on base in a country at war, and you are part of the team that goes beyond the safe zone, puts yourself at risk, wonders if you will be alive at the end of the day, how can you stay connected to those who are not at risk, those who stay in the safe zone? Your main support group, I would imagine, is your team and staying connected as a base has to be important as well. We as a country must stay connected with our veterans.
How do you Manage Fear and Still do your Job?
In all of life’s situations, knowledge helps counteract fear. Having a well-researched plan for events can help decrease fear. Having a strong, quiet mind to help you remember your options and help you design new plans when necessary.
However, war is different: people are desperate, people don’t use the same rule book, the value of human life is different in different cultures, betrayal is always present. War brings out the best and worse in people for openers. We could go on and on about the dark side of war and managing fear is paramount to survival. Many of us don’t wake up every morning with the task of managing our fear as a top priority. We need to reserve judgment and have compassion for decisions made during circumstances we could never imagine. There are agencies whose purpose is to handle the crimes of war. We are not those agencies.
Why do Veterans Volunteer to go Back?
We also need to understand how raw life is in war. When serving in the military, one develops deep connections with their comrades. The naked self (no walls/protections), the bonds, the constant life and death decisions, having death be the new normal, figuring out each day how to stay alive or to keep others alive; these are the daily struggles of a combat veteran. And all these struggles make coming back to a more superficial (for lack of a better word) life challenging and isolating.
The important question is how do you resolve this? There are answers to these questions, but they are not easy answers. Are we equipped to understand this very real phenomenon that many veterans are experiencing?
A good book to begin to understand what someone who has been to war might be experiencing is “War is a Force that Gives us Meaning” by Chris Hedges. We must understand that this connection is very real, and we may never experience anything close to this in our lives. Again, we cannot let this difference in our lives leave the Veteran separate and feeling isolated.
Photos Courtesy of Shutterstock.