Some days I am extremely proud to be a veteran.
I am less proud of my own achievements I may have made during my brief stint in the United States Air Force. Rather, I am proud of the company that I can claim. The days I stand tallest are those days when I can stand, whether literally or figuratively, shoulder to shoulder with my brothers and sisters in service. And I say “service” because that is truly what it means to be a veteran. While I can also count myself as a brother in arms among strong, dangerous men and women, I am most proud that I have served. I am, perhaps hypocritically, less proud that I carried and used arms. Though that is a personal matter, and no indictment on my fellow men and women who truly have wielded arms.
Instead, the concept that I can share a title with incredible men and women who give and have given of themselves in service of their fellow man is beyond warming or touching. To stand up for what matters and to stand up for others – for their neighbors, friends, family, and strangers whom they have never met. They stand for them simply because they share our soil, seas, and air. Or simply because their hearts beat and they are. Not that they are anything in particular, but that they, “are”. They stand for them because the have volunteered. They stand because they have been asked, and not forced. They stand because they feel they should. They stand for the week and have never asked for anything in return.
That term “service” makes, in itself, an important point. Service verses arms. There are many who have served who have only handled a weapon in routine training and I think that most civilians don’t realize that. I have some friends and family members who have a less than stellar opinion of the military and several friends have indicated having family members who are strongly against the military. Our military. It’s important that we understand that these folks who are against it aren’t crazy and (usually) aren’t assholes, but I’d wager to say that at least a few of them are quite ignorant of just what serving in the United States military means.
Serving doesn’t mean totting around bombs, waving obnoxious flags, or pointing guns in people’s faces. Huge amounts of military efforts are done without ever being armed. Many Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen only carry a weapon, usually a sidearm, for self defense. That’s it. They wouldn’t hurt a fly except to protect another. They build bridges, roads, and schools. They supply emergency rations and locate viable water sources. They provide aide and relief. They serve the people, ours and all others in need, because it is the right thing to do. They do not fear reprisal. They fear letting us, and each and every one of you, down. They fear doing the wrong thing, because they set out to do the right thing.
As for those that do carry arms into battle, they will always have my continued gratitude and admiration. To charge forth with total disregard for their own well being and to do so as a matter of duty. They have put it all on the line. Health and home. Lives and livelihoods. Beliefs and belief itself. They not only throw their bodies between us and those that would do harm, but they risk their own sanity’s with every passing moment. Once upon a time, I did such a thing. I will again, if ever it is truly needed. Not just yet, of course. For all of the pain that I feel for abandoning my fellow Airmen, I don’t know that this gulf can truly fill the pain that I feel for all of the innocents in our paths. We have done a horrible thing. We have done horrible things for wonderful people. Wonderful people have requested horrible things without even realizing the horrors they have inflected upon their children.
It means putting aside your own day-to-day bullshit in order to do the right things for others. As a job.
That’s a pretty good job, if you ask me.
I was slated for the Front Line. I know that. It was in my blood. It was my breeding. And even though I only served for a handful of years, I will carry those days with me for the rest of my life. I may feel the need to rejoin, some day. If ever the front line needs me again, I will pick up a rifle and charge forth until they can once again let me go. I have realized, against my will, that I will never forget the things that I have done. The words that I have said. The actions that I have taken. The man that I have been. That it was a part of me before I even joined. That I was that before I knew what that was. Even now, fat and tired, I feel like I need to be out there, out on that battlefield, ready to fight, ready to defend, ready to kill…
ready to die. I feel like I am nothing but an impostor, pretending to be a desk-jokey, when all awhile I am a killer. And in comparison to those that we should all honor on a day like Memorial Day, I have done nothing. We have all done nothing. We did not lay our lives down, forever, for what we cared about. And for most of my generations’ lives, we have had no idea what it truly means to serve.
There were those meant for writing. Those meant for administration. For maintenance. For driving industrial trucks. These people were not meant for combat. But against their will, they were thrust into it. They had no choice but to fight a war they had no intention of joining or be branded a coward, or be killed. But once you put on the uniform, you sacrifice.
There is no front line. There is only front line.
But times have changed, even just in the past few years, and I no longer have to toil over a sweaty beer while trying to get people to understand how it feels. Now I can just show you. So here is a collection of some of my favorite news stories, youtube videos, and whateverthefuckelse I have come across on the internet that reminds me of how easy it is to feel proud to have served.
Back in the day, I would have a pretty hard time trying to explain how and why I have such pride in my brothers and sisters of service. I’d explain how we did this good thing or helped out that poor soul or how there was a news article that I knew noone would look up about how this one Marine put his life – literally – in between danger and civilians. Another veteran might show up and we’d swap war stories while half of our friends would listen intently and awestruck and the other half would try their best not to look too disinterested or sick of hearing the same five stories. Eventually the stories would devolve into some weird dick-measuring contest of who’s time in the sandbox was shittier. That’s fine with me. I know, without a doubt, that the things I did made a difference. And I know, without a doubt, that the things my brothers and sisters did made a difference. It matters. It has always mattered.
tl;dr – Being a veteran feels good because I can share the title with amazing people + some bitching about people misunderstanding service members + dick-measuring? Yeah… it’s good to have served and here’s proof:
WARNING: SOME OF THESE STORIES AND VIDEOS WILL REALLY TEAR AT YOU HEARTSTRINGS AND SEVERELY FUCK WITH YOU!