Veterans’ Day. I am one of hundreds of thousands of service members. You are one of millions of people. You see me, and thank me for my service. I thank you for your support, and we go on our ways. It’s a tried and true formula; I am thanked, and therefore gratified for public support, and you have done your civic duty.
We’ve both been taught that this is the rite: the greeting and response. Eighteen years of conflict has created this ritualistic meeting. Politeness and the veneer of civility prevents any further interaction. You’d rather not know more; I’d rather not talk about anything else.
But what do you want to say? Do you want to ask what it is I’ve done, what it is that I believe? Do you desire to tell me exactly what you think of eighteen years of conflict? Are you afraid that I am a faceless government automaton with no heart? Or do you believe that because I wear the uniform of the nation that I therefore love war? What do you want to know?
Because, let me tell you, there is so much that I want to ask you. Do you know what it is that you vote for every election? Do you know that I have no power to determine my own fate, or that of my comrades? You are the one who elects those who make those decisions, who provide funding for conflicts, who decide what type of treatment that veterans will receive. You hold the power of the citizenry; and it is an awesome burden.
But do you know that?
Can you see that we are you; your own sisters, brothers, cousins, neighbors, and friends? You may not recognize us at times, but we are there. And we share the same hopes and fears. We are exposed to the same influences – positive and negative – as you.
Do you sense how eighteen years of conflict weighs on a nation? Do you know what threats the country faces overseas and at home? Are you able to navigate the political pathways of today, with talking heads shouting at you from every direction to back one scheme or another? Are you able to tell that “support the troops!” is an empty argument when no one wants to say exactly what it is that we stand for?
For we do not stand for one political party or another. The “troops” are not a body politic. We serve the people of the United States. We are your military. But do you know what it is that we are asked to do in your name? Does our service mean anything to you on any day other than that which you are told that it should matter to you? Do we linger only on the edge of viral social media posts about patriotism? I would hazard that as soon as November 11 is over, I will vanish from your memory until I pop up at a football game or a YouTube video of a soldier’s homecoming, or some Facebook post about remembering all those deployed.
And I can’t blame you. Ours is a disassociated existence. One that is both real and imminent in the physical world while also being gated behind the restrictions of our own military bubble. The civilian-military chasm exists, and some – many veterans, even – attempt to widen it by saying that you can’t understand what our service entails.
Hell, we ourselves don’t quite understand it.
Instead of our ritualistic greeting and response, wouldn’t it be better if we could sit down and discuss these things? Wouldn’t it be better if we both understood our services just a little bit better? And then maybe we could get around to figuring out what it is that we each are thankful for about each other. It’s better to bridge the divides; it builds a stronger nation.
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About the Author: Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare.