0. What The Hell is the Purpose of This Blog?
The aim of this essay series is to promote hard questions; not offer hard conclusions. Some data may be very well-developed (and will be identified as such), but other ideas are unquestionably in the realm of opinion (yet make a great deal of sense). Understand, however, that the population about which I write is also one into which I myself squarely fit. Replace “they/them” with “I/me” and you have, in the following essays, a glimpse into my own service and transition experiences, my own mistakes and soul-searching and, I should hope, some more balanced conclusions on the other side. No part of this is intended to question character, dismiss sincere patriotism or level insult. Instead, consider that true, pragmatic self-examination cannot really take place if it accompanies a fanatical unwillingness to admit weakness, targets a culture that fails to reward growth or, a recurrent theme throughout this work, inability to acknowledge one’s own humanness. In any case, I anticipate that the first people in line to burn down my house will be other veterans. The irony of that anger held against a litany of statements about fighting to protect American ideals, free speech and all that shit will be entirely missed.
A few clarifications before we proceed. These writings may be of greatest application to those whose loved one was enlisted, or to the enlisted person himself. Note the absence of “herself” in that previous sentence. The female servicemember and veteran/transition experience is often so profoundly different from that of males that the two cannot be reasonably combined, even for the broad generalizations that appear in these writings. The female military/veteran experience rightfully deserves a place of its own. There are certainly some universality to these issues, but limitations still exist. Moreover, this work may not have as much value to the commissioned officer, who not only may have joined for a different reason than his enlisted counterparts, but whose military role and experience is often very different from Private Snuffy.
Very broadly, this is directed almost exclusively to the all-volunteer service member/veteran generation who served across the early 2000s through the drawdowns in both Iraq and Afghanistan. This generation is already numerically larger than the Vietnam veteran generation ever was (nearly 3 million in comparison to the 2.7 of the Vietnam war) (McCarthy, 2018). They are the next wave of US veterans to raise families, to share recollections of their military experiences with their children, to find their way into post-military careers, to show up in churches and other community groups/organizations, to run for public office, work in government, lean heavily on the Veterans Health Administration (VA) for healthcare needs, grow older, fall apart and periodically reflect on what wearing a uniform once meant and now means to them. They will keep legacy Veteran Services Organizations (VSOs) like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion on life support, let them die off entirely, or perhaps rehabilitate them somehow to join the rest of us in the 21st century.
In fairly short order, this generation of veterans will become the only available one to conduct Memorial Day wreath layings, Veterans Day ceremonies, military honors at funerals, or say to hell with all of it and finalize the divorce between the veterans and US civilian population. A great deal rests on their shoulders and they have a myriad of decisions to make in the very near future. We would hope they make them while as integrated into civilian life as possible, and unfettered by anger, betrayal or grief.. Leadership, after all, is rooted in intention; not urgent need.
Acknowledging that these writings lean heavily in stereotypes (while simultaneously shooting others full of holes), remember that stereotypes generally exist for a reason. Just as data can describe populations but not individuals, stereotypes can offer similar insight. The individual may possess some of these traits, most of them, or maybe none at all. The recommendation: dig into the ones that make sense and disregard (temporarily, at least) those that don’t seem to apply.
As already mentioned, the highest opposition to this work will be from veterans themselves. They’ll assert that this is narcissistic, post-military drivel written to elevate the writer at the expense of his own community of origin. Or that it’s overly pragmatic and misses the entire point of service above self. In any case, the intent here is reasonably straightforward: pull back the veil behind which huddle the unchallenged, the opportunists and the paralyzed. That all said, and for me just as much as anybody else, change can really suck.