When is enough -- Enough?
December 1, 2011
With the holidays and their observances rolling rapidly one into the other and more upcoming, leaders consistently thank Soldiers, veterans, Wounded Warriors and recognize fallen Soldiers.
While the sentiment is surely genuine and appreciated I'm beginning to think all this thanks is becoming a little cliché.
I am proud to be among the ranks of veterans who have served this country in a war zone but in the end I can't help but feel I was just doing my job.
Today you can't bump into any servicemember who hasn't served at least one tour overseas. When I joined, in the 90s, veterans were few and far between, mostly from the first Gulf War. Veterans of Foreign War Posts consisted of WWII, Korea and Vietnam veterans telling the Gulf War vets that they had it easy.
"You were only over in Iraq for 210 days," some dusty retired colonel would say. "And the Air Force did most of the work for you. We had to scratch and claw for every inch of ground we gained."
Today, 10 years of continuous deployments have taken their toll on all the services, servicemembers and their Families. 'We have to take care of them' has become the new mantra.
When I joined the military, I was continuing a Family tradition of military service -- my grandfather fought in the Korean War, my other grandfather was a Merchant Marine, my father retired from the Coast Guard. I knew the risks associated with military service but felt I had to serve in order to pay the debt I owed to my ancestors for my freedom. I knew going in that war and combat were possible in my future.
I hoped to follow the guidance of one of my favorite quotes from the film "Patton," "No poor bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making other bastards die for their country."
We lavish praise on servicemembers increasingly uncomfortable with the big to-do. A recent newspaper article mentions that Soldiers are beginning to feel pitied more than praised as they are trotted out like prized ponies at a circus.
Sure I'll take your thanks and your seats at the latest sporting event, but don't treat me as a thing.
While enjoying any event that caters to veterans, I'll often think of my friends on missions patrolling the skies over the desert, the stories one of my sergeants told me about snipers in Serbia or my coworker who cross-rated because he hated the monkeys that pelted him with fruit and rocks and stole his food on the Yemen border.
I think about my brothers and sisters in arms who didn't come home. For those who did not return and paid the ultimate sacrifice, Gen. George S. Patton may have given the best advice and ultimate tribute when he said, "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived."
With the public that doesn't understand why we serve or what servicemembers go through, I begin to realize they are trying to recognize something completely foreign to them.
These same people can empathize but won't know the joy of getting a 'real' piece of mail while deployed, the paper inside the envelope still smelling like home. They don't know the strength of Families who are happy to get 10 to twenty minutes of talk-time in the middle of the night over a crackling, hissing telephone, but have to deal with the heartbreak over and over when the time is up.
You can't blame them for not knowing. You can only accept they are trying their best to relate to the services rendered to the country and show their gratitude for keeping our nation's borders safe for another day.
To the servicemember who has been there and back sometimes the pomp and circumstance rings hollow. We chose a dangerous profession and understood the risks, after all putting your life on the line for your buddies and your country is part of the job description.
In the end it's not the accolades and the free dinners on Veterans Day that make a servicemember feel right.
It's when the crusty old veteran at the VFW, the command sergeant major or the commander says "Good job, welcome home."
In the end, that, along with returning Family and friends, is more than enough.