I had the blessing of listening to a conversation between two students last night. They are 25 & 26 years old young men who are confident and at ease in their skins albeit quick with the snark and dark humor. They are both dual theater combat veterans. The conversation was casual- fluid and had an ease of two people who share a secret. A Combat Engineer and an Infantrymen, both men who had to make a choice on their license plate of whether to say Iraq or Afghanistan. They likely chuckled at how few people realize they are not the same war. Casually, laughingly, they banter back and forth about life in a war zone. They compare the differences between the two different wars; the lessons learned as you acclimated to life in a war zone. They joke about how Fobbits- (those who spent their war on a Forward Operating Base with schedule chow times, hot showers and the internet) -always say, “My job was kinda like the infantry.” The laughter that follows carries an edge. Yeah, its kinda like comparing a Marshmallow to a brick, they’re both rectangles.
Their war wasn’t spent on the FOB but outside the wire.
They laughingly talked about how route clearance patrol was the worse duty- miming the bug eyed look out the window as you slowly roll through the streets of Iraq looking for IEDS- having to get out and investigate each “suspicious” pile of garbage in a country filled with suspicious piles of garbage. “Just shoot it until it blows up. What? That’s what I did.” the Combat Engineer laughs…. until of course the rules changed and you were no longer able to shoot your weapon without being fired upon first. Someone might get hurt.
“You know, you just get up on it and go in real low,” he says, miming out the deep knee squat with an arm extended, pretending to poke something with a stick, “because you know going in low made all the difference.” He laughs sarcastically. Nothing like being a shrapnel magnet.
“Yeah, those days sucked.” says the Infantryman looking over at me. “We had to wait for those guys. We rolled out behind the engineers, rolling out real slow….talk about being stressed out. Your just waiting for something to happen. Not if, fucking when. Just staring, up on the glass looking around. … sucked.”
The conversation evolved into explaining to me the various devices invented by soldiers trying to stay alive- things that would jam cell phone signals to stop bomb detonation. “Talk about a pucker. When your rolling down the road and look at that light as it goes from green to yellow. Fuck that.”
Then calmly explaining that meant the jammer was actually doing its job, meaning there was a bomb trying to go off. Or how another device was developed when the enemies tactics evolved to inflict more damage by detonating when the cab was over it- improving its ability to be lethal versus just disabling the vehicle. They share a common disdain for those making money off the war and a frustration with the “Support our Veterans” window dressing that comes with the upcoming holiday.
And most important, they share a pride in their service.
They just want people to get it.
Less than 1% of the population raises that hand in oath to defend the Constitution. Think about that for a minute – these young men and women who were willing to raise their hand, leave their homes and fight a fight they didn’t start. I follow the news and recognize a war weary nation. A nation now wondering if Veterans get too many benefits. Wondering if they are rewarded too much for doing their jobs. After all, they weren’t drafted, they volunteered.
To those individuals I say, “Bite me.”
Where was this concern in the beginning? When the country was in the rabid post 9/11 days wanting vengeance? You wrote the check. Now it is time to cash it.
On this upcoming Veteran’s Day- amidst the furniture and car sales and the household chores you are able to do on your day off- I ask you to remember those who sacrificed for this day. They are no longer only those stoic old men talking about battles long ago. They are young men and women who sacrificed their youth. Gave up the freedom to avoid dangerous situations. The Freedom to say “Are you friggin’ crazy- those people are shooting out there, I don’t want to go.” They sacrificed the giggle of their kids, the warmth of their loved ones arms, the ease of sleeping in, the choice of what to do with their day, the ability to quit their job because it sucks, the right to decide where they want to live, the right to a warrant before search of their home, car or person, the right to protest or talk to the press, the freedom to decide to grow their hair long or decide what to wear to work.
The every day freedoms that we often do not even think about because they are so innate are the same things the military forgoes when they raise their hand and take an oath to defend the Constitution. And now, they face a country that is afraid of their unseen wounds. A country that can’t see how the skills of staying alive on a battle field convert to the civilian workplace. Or think it is unfair that you go to school for free. Free, except that it was paid for by spending time in a desert hoping to come out unscathed. And knowing that is the lie you tell yourself to keep going everyday.
Thank a vet. Look them in the eye. Speak from your heart and be thankful you have no idea how they feel. Veterans day is the day we celebrate Veterans but we get all the gifts.