Friday, November 11, 2016

What Veterans Want Others to Know (Survey responses, part 2)

This is part two of my compilation from Veteran Surveys. The following responses have been culled from a recent survey, and although not every response is noted individually, thoughts have been grouped into categories. You can find Part One: Wishes here, along with a brief explanation of where these responses have come from.

Me: How important is it for you to share your military experiences with civilians or other veterans? On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being a preference for keeping experiences to yourself, and 5 being extremely important, here were the results:

24% selected "2", while 46% overwhelmingly selected "3".  For the most
part, then, we see that veterans, although proud of their service,
prefer the quiet side of sharing. 15% chose "5".
Some vets admitted that it's good to talk about their experiences from war and other aspects of their service BUT only to those who will understand and listen. It's very hard to explain the tensions of war and peace, the transitional mindset, and the details of our experiences when someone who hasn't experienced it doesn't truly want to listen. We learn to preserve and deal with our outlook, although sometimes, we need the help of others to work through things, thoughts, and (mis)perceptions. 

Me: What is one thing that you would love, love, love for others to know about you, particularly as a veteran, or veterans in general?

On transitioning home:
Detail matters. We don't expect you to understand what it's like. When we get out, we want to be able to start back up and live a new life, but it's a hard struggle to pick back up, especially in school and being around younger people who seem to have it easier than you. It is often a struggle to transition to civilian life, and it has been difficult finding decent employment. The trivial matters stand out big time, too. We sometimes struggle with mundane details and the drama that goes with them, especially once we've returned from war. There are so many larger issues to focus on; that might explain why we're distant sometimes. 

Anyone who has been to war is very observant and generally quiet. Some people consider that stand-offish, but in reality we are sizing up the situation. Is there a threat? Is this place safe for me and my family? Everywhere I go, this is how I think. We are not war hungry, power hungry, bloodthirsty, violent, or love "guns" and fighting. In most cases, veterans I know are entirely the opposite of that, but will fight if called to do so. Most veterans are not political, left, right, and we hate war; just because we are veterans doesn't mean we're conservative Republicans who like war. 

On continuing service:
We have your back, we respect unselfishness, and serve proudly in civilian society, too.  Remember we are soldiers, patriotic, educated, with values, beliefs, and a love for country that supports the "American way of life" as we understand it. We have a passion for helping others. There's no better feeling than to help someone knowing they have no way to repay you. 

They do make a conscious choice to put others before self, but a few admitted it gets harder the more stupidity and selfishness grow in each generation. The volunteer force is needed far longer than what we can serve, and newer generations have a role to play, too. We are still here, but we can't continue to serve like we used to. 

Even though I'm out of the military, I would love to rejoin one day. I'll never stop serving, even as a civilian. Service is a calling, and you can't take it out of our system. Veterans have a sense of purpose, of being a part of something bigger than themselves, and that's not an arrogant way of thinking. Once out of the service, they constantly seek it a way to serve. I couldn't have paraphrased it any better than this servicemember stated: "Service greater than self is an awesome way to have an amazing life."

There's no better feeling than to 
help someone knowing they 
have no way to repay you. 

On illness: 
Not everyone with PTSD saw combat, and not everyone that saw combat has PTSD. PTSD is also not only for soldiers. I would love for others to know we are not welfare recipients, disabled or lazy, but rather, a casualty of war. Not all injuries or disabilities are visible. Many of us struggle to get help for impairments that no one sees. Those of us who are considered "disabled" in some way would rather have the chance to be productive and support themselves and their families. Also, it's important to remember that not all veterans, wounded or otherwise, are males, and we are not "Damaged Property" or all "messed up in the head" like much of the media and Hollywood make us out to be.  If you're curious to know more, don't hesitate to ask us your questions. Most of us will answer all of your questions (don't ask us how many people we killed, or what the worst thing we saw was--PLEASE; asking us to relive our trauma is not worth satisfying your curiosity). We are more than our service dog, more than our missing limbs, more than our disability! Talk to me about me!!

On Family:
From my experience, we veterans are regular people just like everyone else. We enjoy travel, but we never really get "used to" moving all the time. We do find ways of "making" family wherever we go, and veterans have a bond that most civilians will never understand. If you served with me, we are family. Period. If I move into your neighborhood, I will be at your house to say hello. Break bread with me, invite me in. Military neighbors, whether in the barracks, family housing, or off base, are instant family. We put our family first, and sometimes that family is chosen--regardless, families of military members make numerous sacrifices that others cannot truly comprehend unless experienced first-hand. This doesn't make us better, just looking at life from very different angles. The military provides as much as it can for our family so we do what we must. Is is a job, but we want to do our best. It's not easy. I would never wish the military life on anyone unless they volunteered, but at the same time, I wouldn't give up a day of my active duty nor would I change any of the experiences or "family" I gained through those ordeals. I think that people sometimes forget--or at least overlook--that we have a 100% volunteer military. It takes a special person to volunteer for the armed services, especially during a war. 

On the military's personal impact:
Joining the military changed my life for the better, provided me with an escape from abuse, poverty, low expectations, and allowed me to follow my dreams of being all that I can be, plus go to school. 
Being a veteran is a tremendous part of our life, something we think about everyday, but it does not define who we are, yet it will always be a part of who we are. I cherish my military time, I get chills when I put on my uniform--still--and I love love love my country. My love for my country is why I joined, my brothers and sisters in arms are why I stayed. I never served in combat to kill or wage war, but to further a political agenda. The killing I did was for self-preservation, and never with malicious intent. The best leadership training I ever received was from the military and I am eternally grateful for the experiences I had while serving.

I don't know about you, but these were fascinating insights to read and piece together. They will be incredibly useful, particularly when talking to our students about veterans, and how to better understand them. "Simple" questions can lead to profound understandings, and I thank those who responded. Part 3 is forthcoming--and it's one you'll definitely want to share with students. 

Veterans who are interested in adding to these comments, please feel free to leave comments below!
Tell us more. 

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