Last week, I discussed the issue of the public’s perception of you as a veteran. I think it’s time we examine the other side of that challenge coin.
There exists a rift in our generation, between those that have given themselves to the GWOT, and those that have never, and would never consider it. I am not speaking of those kids graduating high school this year, or even 5 years ago. I’m talking about those of us that were 16-18 years and older, watching on our televisions as the twin towers of the World Trade Center fell and the Pentagon was wrecked. The Mount Olympus’ of our financial and military might, penetrated, and violated right before our very eyes. We watched in classrooms and at work, listened on the radio as thousands died. We ALL felt a sting of uncertainty. That day changed the world, for everyone, in one way or another,
This day has been glazed over in recent years. Sadly, September 11 comes and goes with but a whimper, a momentary blurb on TV and radio programs. I fear the thought in the recesses of the minds of many Americans is “aren’t we over this, yet?” I can only imagine that those who lost a parent, child, sibling, or spouse are, in fact, NOT thinking about how America needs to move on and get back to life in a pre-9/11 world.
That day, I had been in the delayed entry program for about 4 months, waiting to finish out my senior year of high school before shipping off to Parris Island. My friends and I all discussed how we would be going to war, joining various branches of service to go to far off lands and contribute to the effort to prevent further attacks. Two months later, we had officially put boot on the ground and began cutting threads. I watched on the news as the first units started ousting AL Qaeda and their Taliban enablers. The phone rang and it was my recruiter, asking with bated breath if I was still planning on leaving that following June. Without hesitation, I answered yes, the opposite not ever entering my mind. I asked him why he was asking me this, what I felt, stupid question. He explained that since the invasion of Afghanistan that morning, 12 of the 15 “poolees” he had slated leaving for boot camp within the fiscal year, had backed out. They or their parents had called, adamant that they would not be leaving to die in a far-off land. At that next pool function, it was a lot lonelier. There was a somber mood as it was down to me and two other guys. I was puzzled at the action of my peers. We were now engaged in a war, why wouldn’t they want to go and do what our forefathers had done?
Fast forward 13 years…
We did our tours, buried friends and enemies, achieved rank, forged reputations among our fellow warriors, and finally, when all the bureaucracy got to be too much for us, we got out. We excitedly raised up our DD-214’s, grabbed our nuts, stuck our tongues out, and flipped a bird to “the Man.” We were going to make something of ourselves.
We got jobs and started taking classes. We started businesses, took chances, made strides. But the one thing that we couldn’t figure out is why we couldn’t relate to our classmates, employees, coworkers, and girl/boyfriends. It feels as though we hold a deep-seeded resentment towards anyone that hasn’t served. It was hard looking at the people we grew up with and went to high school with as they hadn’t moved away or really accomplished much. They lived in a tiny, little world. They were sheltered. Sure, they touted their vast life experiences. But, we yawned as they described their trip to Spain or Kenya for vacation. We rolled our eyes as the captain of the wrestling team, who stood next to us 13 years ago, watching the horror unfold on 9/11, tells us, “I almost joined, but…” We have a hard time watching the garbage on television. I looked on when I got out as my girlfriend at the time watched “My Super Sweet 16” on MTV. I was shocked at the thought that THIS is what my generation considered entertainment.
It’s difficult forging new relationships and networking professionally when a vast majority of the people you encounter haven’t the same experiences as you. It’s even more difficult watching those people take life for granted. We sit and listen with thin patience as our friends and coworkers bitch about their families, or discuss the latest small-time drama. We’re just happy to have a pulse. I’m going to get to the bottom line: people that were able to serve, and didn’t, disgust us. We flock to fellow alphas in the attempt to find solace. But, being the alpha dog of an office is worlds different than being the alpha dog of an infantry platoon or SOF team. It drives us nuts taking orders, or being scolded by someone that frankly, we probably don’t respect because they aren’t our TL or Platoon Sergeant. They haven’t shown us they’re worthy. It’s even worse if the boss has an inferiority complex because you DID serve and he may not have.
It’s nigh impossible for us to make true friends in the civilian and corporate world. No one has your back like your fellow Soldier, Sailor, or Marine did. As an astute fellow vet commented on an earlier piece, we tend to judge people based on if they are living their lives worthy of the sacrifices made by our buddies. That, my friends, is a tough nut to crack.
Sometimes, we judge people by that standard, but society tells us we shouldn’t fault them for not serving. I think it’s not that they haven’t served, it’s the notion that these people felt like they had something better to do than dedicate themselves for something bigger. It’s the fact that these people don’t look past their front porch and don’t think about things in the same terms as we do. There are even people that act as though they’re the only person on the face of the Earth and their little “problem” is catastrophic. There’s a massive divide in their thought process, and our own. Granted, there are some people that can genuinely relate to us. Parents, for the most part, know what it’s like to be selfless and make sacrifices. People that have survived significant traumas in their lives and recognize the value in their second chances. However, these people are few and far between.
This divide is holding us back. Until we can find common ground, there is going to be something always eating at us. Resentment isn’t a positive thing and it could cost us valuable relationships or even jobs.
As much as we need to stop acting like we’re entitled to worship, tribute, and praise, we need to take a step back and really consider giving a civilian a real shot at our time and attention. I realize as much as any of you how hard it is to look on at those who gaffed off the country in a time of need, but we need to at least make an attempt. Who knows, that person could end up being your new boss or mother-in-law.