Jul 01

Fellow Veterans – Regroup & March Forward

As we near the 4th of July holiday weekend, our social media streams start flowing with patriotism. Along with the posts and tweets about Independence Day, annual reminder begins to surface: these damn combat veteran lawn signs. Kind requests from people to consider those around you whose PTSD might be triggered by their celebrations, as if we’re skittish dogs. Something else I’ve noticed as I keep connected with my veteran friends are groups where humorous and relatable memes are shared that are meant to be enjoyed by those with shared experiences. Even companies, making T-shirts and other products, cater to the market of the “been there, and boy let me tell you.”

I get that veterans in recent years have been through some experiences. I’ve deployed three times, and know it’s not a walk in the park. But what is irritating me to no end, is seeing this perpetuation perception of damaged goods that need to be coddled. The veteran community is slowly getting covering up with a warm blankie, our heads patted, and asked if we need a lullaby.

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The above image is a picture I took while at lunch in a restaurant. The company that makes this shirt is coincidentally, Dysfunctional Veterans. They have a mission statement I can get behind: “Founded by the poster child for the term “dysfunctional veteran”, DV is a group that understands the struggles you experience after you’ve served. Camaraderie doesn’t end when you ETS, our mission is to build a platform where fellow veterans can gather, share and vent about their experiences both past and present.

Reintegrating back into society involves setbacks: our mission is to entertain as you navigate these roadblocks, reassess the situation and change direction. Through sarcasm and a DV’s own special brand of warped humor we will inevitably have civilian casualties. Nonetheless our mission to support one another, stands.”

Here’s my problem: they are shoving a crow bar into the rift between civilian and veteran. Read about them – sounds like a solid purpose for those in the know. See the shirt on some guy in his 20’s by himself in a restaurant? Looks like the guy has issues. Call it dark humor or sarcasm. Some of this stuff just comes across as pretentious at best, and alarming at worst. You served your country honorably, and all you got was this lousy T-shirt? Have a little respect for yourself.

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Transition out of the military into civilian life can be tough. I’ve had my ups and downs. There were times shortly after getting out that I thought about how simple life was back then. But I thought about it, and how I needed to look ahead and be proud of what I’ve accomplished. This type of camaraderie that ISWI brings, again – it’s for the in crowd. But how long do you need to remain in after you’re out? I believe some of the boots we were issued had boot straps. Pull yourself up by them. I sound like a dick because this is what I wish was said to me at a time when I was feeling sorry for myself. You won’t get to where you want in the future, if you remain in the past. You won’t be present for the loved ones around you, if you are stuck in the past. If people don’t care about your struggle, fuck ’em. Reach out to another veteran. They’ll understand. But march ahead to talk to someone who’s been there, as in the past tense. Make your success a mission and plan for that shit like it’s a mission you led when it was life or death. Because it may very well be now, and you’re too good a person to let weakness get the best of you.

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Lastly, I want to address these lawn signs that have been gaining popularity. Combat veterans are feeling their PTSD coming on when fireworks go off in their neighborhood, and feel the need to tell their neighbors to cool it. I’m not going to write about what specific thing I encountered reminded me about what specific thing I experienced. Military with PTSD, The non-profit organization behind it is doing good things for PTSD education. And let me say if it wasn’t already clear, that I am by no means speaking out against those who clearly have been affected by what so many of us have gone through. Those I deployed with who died serving our great country, are brothers I will never forget. PTSD is a real thing for many – which is why it should be addressed. Address it, though. You aren’t doing yourself any good putting your status as some apparent damaged goods for others to feel sad for by posting a lawn sign. You are living your life 51 other weekends of the year – do no other events occur that cause this disturbance? They are fireworks that could cause memories of gunfire, mortars, an IED, or something else. If you are that distraught, though, you need to seek help – not advertise. If you are still posting signs years later, you need to regroup.

Rather than clinging to the past, why not surround yourselves with those looking to make a difference and share success stories? Veteranology is a podcast that interviews veterans who are doing great things. Listen to their interviews on Stitcher. Operation Supply Drop, who are friends of mine, does solid work as a military non-profit for veterans and those serving overseas. They welcome volunteers into their fold, and bring a community of their own.

We have endured. We are stronger for it. We can feel down. We can seek assistance. We should support our fellow veterans, as we are all family through our shared service. But we cannot let the constant reminders or being distant, damaged, or distraught, run our lives if we are to make something of ourselves.
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