Please bear with me while I take a moment to venture away from the regular focus of this blog (remarriage and blended families) to pay attention to what I consider a heart issue.
Veteran’s day can be a mixed bag for me. I served active duty for four years and it was a time that had a large impact on me. I was stationed overseas, I had a job that kept me in a safe location and it gave me experiences I will always treasure.
While sitting in church this past weekend, a video was played to commemorate the upcoming holiday and there was a sentence that instantly make an impact on me. The narrator in the video was discussing sacrifices that people make when deciding to join the military. Out of everything that was said, there were two words that popped out at me: Time and Innocence.
I replayed those words in my head, trying to figure out why they stood out and why it affected me. It suddenly made sense – those are two sacrifices our military members make that are often overlooked. They are the unspoken sacrifices. They are things that you will never get back and that are invisible to most civilians. Regardless of your role, where you were stationed, whether or not you were active duty, in the guard or the reserves – they are sacrifices that all military members make.
Even now that’s difficult for me to write. I made sacrifices during my time in the military.
I think as veterans we often feel uncomfortable with admitting this. How can we claim sacrifices while we are still here? Those who sacrificed are no longer with us. We often feel guilty if we mention that we gave up anything or that we did much of anything at all, because we compare our actions to the price others paid. Especially when someone close to you is now gone.
I don’t think that it’s society’s view that instills this in us. In fact, our society is largely supportive of the military. Sometimes uncomfortably so. They wish us a ‘Happy Memorial Day’ (even if not necessarily appropriate) or a ‘Happy Veterans Day’, they hand out discounts, parking spots, there are television specials and other areas of recognition. They largely give us praise for our sacrifices and for the work we have done.
I think that the uncomfortable feelings from this recognition actually comes from each other and ourselves. Maybe it’s the competition between each branch or job title, the one-up stories, or a whole host of other things. We find it easy to push away any recognition or attention by focusing on the things we didn’t do –
“I wasn’t deployed anywhere dangerous.”
“I never took a bullet for anyone.”
“I wasn’t injured.”
“I didn’t really do much.”
We can downplay our role because we all know someone that paid a larger price and we don’t want to take their recognition or imply that we should be held to the same level of praise. We know the stories of countless heroes and we don’t want to place ourselves amongst their ranks.
But what if we start to look at it differently? What if we truly start to accept the feelings, emotions and memories we have as a part of ourselves and who we are? What if we accept this recognition for what it is – a simple thank you – for what was given? You did not die for your country, but you were willing to. You were changed. An innocence was lost. Your time was given for a greater purpose. These are things that you will not get back regardless of if you were continually in the midst of war or spent years filing paperwork to manage logistics.
This is not to say that there aren’t benefits for joining the military – there truly are many. I met and grew close to people who became my family, I visited places that I had only dreamed about and matured in a way that would not have otherwise happened. Yes, there are many benefits and gains but that does not mean that we have to overlook or talk away what we gave and were willing to give.
We need to find ways to embrace both sides: the good and the bad.
We have the challenge of figuring out how to mesh two very different pieces of our life: military and civilian.
And we need to embrace what we are, veterans of the United States military, while accepting that it has changes us.
We have to start recognizing that every past and present member of our military is working towards the greater good. By acknowledging this recognition we are not taking anything away from others. Everyone has played their own unique role.
For myself, this change in thinking is not yet something that I have mastered. I still feel uncomfortable when recognized or thanked, and I still do not talk openly about my experiences with many people. However, I know that’s something that should change. My four years spent may not be long compared to someone who has given 20, and serving overseas does not compare to those with multiple deployments, but it is still my story. And it’s one that I should be proud of.
Your story is one that you should be proud of.