On Being a Veteran

 This was originally an email to my agency on Veteran’s Day about what it means to me to be a US veteran today, but there are a few things I wish to expand upon.  First, I want to dispel the notion of members of the military as being “suckers and losers.” They are not.  While a wide variety of men and women enter the military, and some might be viewed as losers, or may feel that way about themselves, by the time they finish basic and advanced training, they are no longer any such thing. They become soldiers, people who are willing to lay their lives on the line, not just for each other, or for friends and family back home, but for an idea – the nation, something bigger than self. The oath we took as soldiers first and foremost commits us to the Constitution, “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;”  words that still make me proud to have served. I am still committed to that mission, albeit as a private citizen.

To serve one’s country is to commit to the idea of the country, not any particular individual. To support and defend the Constitution is a powerful statement. It’s a commitment to stand against those opposed to rule of law, freedom, and equality. Although it is fair to say that we have not been very good about distributing equality equally. The nation remains a work in progress. We also know that the Constitution was flawed from the beginning, in that it did not provide freedoms to all people. Thus it has been amended as many of us believe we can achieve something better for America.

My time in the US Army was a mere three years, followed by six years in the US Army Reserve. It was not easy time, despite it being peace time. It was a time full of opportunity, self-development, and pushing beyond what I had perceived to be my limits. It was also a time, especially looking back, to see just how racist and genderist government structures can be. That’s why I appreciate so very much the work that the agency is doing to develop a new statement of ethics and values that is focused on equity.

Some of the men I served with feel that those years in the Army were the best years of their lives. I remember it quite differently. I also remember that these guys did not really seem to be enjoying the experience all that much. No matter how many tough, cool, and exciting things I did then, they don’t come close to my years here in Virginia.  I’ll admit that dangling below a helicopter, climbing the side of a glacier in combat gear, cruising across plateaus in the Canadian Rockies in six-wheeled combat vehicles, and blowing lots of shit up occasionally was fun and makes for good memories, but those things did not define the years.

Finally, while I appreciate the current “Thank you for your service” attitude,  I don’t need thanks for serving. I benefited greatly from my service. It was an honor and privilege. Others, however, need and deserve much more than thanks. They need ongoing support and a nation that has not forgotten them and their colleagues.

I’ve spent 19 years and 9 months in Virginia state government. I’ve tried to bring the same values to this job that I learned in the Army: complete the mission, take care of your people. It’s not a bad model.

Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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