On Veterans Day 2004, my men and I sat around looking at each other in Mosul, a week earlier having been blown-up wounding six, having been in Iraq for about a month and a half, and said – well, I guess we’re Veterans now.
What did that mean to me then? I guess it meant that I had seen combat; that we were engaging the adversary and were forward deployed and were getting into the thick of it. And this would be the stuff that we would tell out grand-kids about.
But, on Veterans day 2015, what does it mean to me now? To be a Veteran? I was sharing a drink with a fellow Iraq Veteran last night and we discussed this. We live in a crazy world where right here at home we are surrounded by people who we perceive simply ‘don’t get it.’ Not to say every non-veteran is an absolute idiot because that simply isn’t true. But we did distinctly realize that things that made sense to us – stemming from a sense of duty, and a sense of selflessness – seemed to be lacking among some of our non-veteran peers.
So what does that mean to me? I guess it means I share an unspoken and uncommon bond with other veterans. I suppose it means that I earned this title through servitude to the Nation and its protection and interests. I suppose it means that I join a lineage of other vet’s who have done this very same thing before me.
It means I was of a certain age and I was given a select few precious and important responsibilities. It means that ingrained in me from my service were different core values and concepts that don’t always transfer on the outside (but can be found present in some non-vets as well). I like to think it has made me a better person, after having trod a difficult path to get here. And I like to think that it means that I am someone who gives a shit (or gave a shit) regardless of political beliefs or interests – I was someone who did what they were told and did it for the soldiers I was sworn to lead and care for.
It certainly means I have a lot of stories – that much I know to be true! But more than anything I like to think it means that in this mad and crazy world, there are still people out there whom you may or may not know, who are of a different caliber, and under their plain-clothes lies the soul of someone that you can count on and trust. Because they are reliable, dependable, and know the meaning of selflessness and sacrifice.
That’s what it means to me now, eleven years later. Not medals, not patches and banners, not a uniform hanging up in the closet or stuffed away in a foot locker somewhere – its about what that service has done to me, and for me. And who I am today because of it.