“Don’t be fooled, I was raised by the wolves.”
– Falling in Reverse
I think it’s time we address something else separate from the last two pieces. Rather than addressing the interior issues, the mental ones, we need to take a hard look at the way others perceive us. There is a stigma attached to vets that I have seen perpetuated by some of our own. The public looks at us a certain way, and why shouldn’t they? Some of us act like total assholes, like the country owes us drinks and discounts. Why should we care what outsiders think? Because, if the public doesn’t hop on board, our brothers’ plight will never get better. The public won’t take us seriously if they’re weary of our bullshit.
Let me get one thing straight, if the shoe doesn’t fit you, don’t wear it. Meaning: if you don’t act like an asshat, disregard this article.
A few years ago, I was in a Chicago suburb with a buddy and fellow 0321 named Danny. He and I had time to spare before we had to be where we were supposed to, so we stopped in at a local tavern for a beer or ten.
In the early afternoon, a young Lance Coolie came burning in with a crew of his civilian buddies. Our young pup couldn’t have been more than 21, if not younger. It appeared his mates were throwing him a welcome home party. This Marine had just returned from a tour in Iraq and was out for a good time, dress blues and all.
Time passed with the fellow Belleau-Woodsman traipsing about the bar like the tasmanian devil, thoroughly enjoying himself and socializing with everyone in the joint. Finally, later in the evening, around the time when the happy hour crowd came in, he sat down at the bar next to Danny. He looked sternly at Danny and said, “You must not like me very much, man.”
Danny looked quizzically at the kid and asked, “What makes you say that, son?”
“Because you haven’t bought me a drink yet!”
Now, understand Danny is probably one of the smartest, kindest, funniest, and laid back dudes I’ve ever worked with. The guy thinks everything is funny, and wouldn’t say shit if he had a mouth full of it. At the time, he was a Staff Sergeant. Also at the time, I could see the wheels turning in Danny’s operations center.
“Why would I buy you a drink? I don’t know you,” Danny replied.
The kid became indignant, on the verge of belligerent. He stepped off the stool and stuck his nose a hair in the air and pointed at his chest, “Because I just got back from fuckin’ Iraq, man!”
Usually, I was the one to grab an out-of-step Marine by the scruff of his neck and straighten him out, but Danny raised his fingers and without missing a beat, held out is CAC card and said, “I’ve been to Iraq multiple times, my buddy here fought in the second Battle of Fallujah and his Battalion lost 51 Marines during their tour. Do you see anyone buying US drinks? Do you see us running around telling everyone how many people we’ve killed? Do you see us demanding anything of anyone? Shut your fucking mouth and sit back down.”
The kid had snapped to parade rest and gave a slurred apology. We bought the kid his remaining drinks and Danny put his arm around the kid and explained to him that no one owes him shit. He signed up to do a job (albeit, a motor T, fobbit gig we later found out) and he was called on to do it. No one is obligated to buy him drinks, or even say thank you. He told the kid that as a warrior, he shouldn’t seek recognition or glory, only that he and his boys make it back the way they left.
I’m not going to lie, this encounter, and my buddy Danny, taught me a lot that night. I’d never admit it to him, though.
I’ve seen this quite a bit, on the ol’ Facebook, in public, in (dear God) college classrooms. A vet coming in, understandably proud of his achievements and experiences, and cramming it down the throat of everyone he meets. I don’t know if anyone has explained this: IT TURNS PEOPLE OFF! The pompous, or even worse; bitter, angry, douchebag vet, makes people avoid or even downright resent vets. We all know these guys, the guy that starts every sentence with “Back in the Marines, Coast Guard, Iraq, Afghanistan, Special Forces, the MEU, or Fort Bliss…” and can somehow magically relate EVERY experience to his military service and has to one-up everyone. There’s also a sense of arrogance, which I’ll discuss in a later piece, towards those that haven’t served.
We need to understand, as a whole, we may be the first or only veteran that people come in contact with, we need to set a not only set a great first impression, but a lasting impression in everything we do. We have to be the ones that employers WANT to hire. Yes, there are places that stick veteran resume’s at the bottom of the pile. They see vets as liabilities that lack “people skills” and are on the bring of a meltdown daily. They probably have had a slew of the aforementioned vets come to work for them and end up making an ass of themselves.
Many places offer military discounts. Now, some opinions may differ than mine, but I NEVER ask for it. It’s not that I’m ashamed of my service, I just don’t feel I’m owed or really deserve anything extra for doing my job. If it comes up, I don’t turn it down, but I would never walk into an establishment and flash my CAC or ask “you guys have a military discount?” If I want to buy shit cheaper based on my service, I’ll go to the commissary. Don’t walk around acting like everyone owes you something.
We need to stop getting shit-faced in bars and throwing our service around like a foot-long, hang-low. Also, we need to stop turning into screaming, crying messes, 6 drinks in at the local bar and start talking about all the “bodies” we’ve “dropped”. I know as well as anyone how the shit hangs over your head, so let’s stop at 3 drinks and keep that shit between you and your fellow vets and counselors. We have to cease the stigma that we’re all unstable and damaged. This stigma is what causes those looks of pity when you tell someone you were in the military and did a tour in Iraq or the ‘Stan. This stigma is only going to get worse in the coming months due to the recent events st Fort Hood. The media is already painting this specialist as just another mental-case veteran, we need to show the public that we aren’t on the verge of homicide every damn day. Let your demeanor, T-shirt, bumper sticker, or even wheelchair do the talking for you. Be proud of what you’ve done, but don’t expect that pride or understanding to come from the lady behind the register, your professor, or especially the cop pulling you over.
Let’s set an example as citizens with a different experience than 99% of our peers. Let’s use that experience to our advantage in ways other than wowing people with war stories. Let’s get involved with each other, our communities, and yes, politics. Let’s change the landscape, one non-serving civilian at a time. 22 of us a day depend on it.