It’s a bit of an odd feeling to be writing for Veterans Day as a veteran. I’m 38. I’ve spent four years in the Army as a Chaplain, and 19 of those months I’ve been deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. Many with whom I serve have seen combat all over; Panama, Bosnia, Iraq (the first and second time), as well as Afghanistan. I know several who have six or more deployments in their careers. Around the major deploying units, it’s not unusual for a soldier to have spent half his career deployed.
According to the Pew Research Center, 96% of Veterans who have served, post-9/11, are proud of their service; however, nearly half say that readjusting to civilian life was difficult, most often citing family issues. About one-in-six Veterans were wounded in combat and slightly more than half experienced emotional trauma or distress while serving. Tragically, even with the positive, supportive culture we have, 84% of post-9/11 veterans feel like the public just doesn’t understand the sacrifices made by them or their families. This touches on one truly hidden wound of war.
Too many families are without proper support during the arduous journey that is deployment. Please do not make the mistake of thinking that the length of the deployment matters. Three months, nine months, one year; all are dangerous and carry untold stress for the soldier and the family left behind. For example, my one year in Iraq was far less stressful and difficult for me and my family than the seven months I just completed in Afghanistan, partly because I was in a much more dangerous part of Afghanistan than I was Iraq. Deployment is deployment, regardless of time and military families need caring support.
The same Pew report also verifies that only about 0.5% of the US population serves in the military at any given time. I don’t cite this to make you feel bad if you haven’t served, but to highlight the tiny segment of the population that volunteers to go into harm’s way to fulfill the nation’s bidding.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13). I saw it time and time again, Soldiers going out on mission, into extremely dangerous territory, knowing that even with all the body armor and protection, there’s still a very real possibility that one or more of them might not come home. Yet they went, day after day, putting their lives in danger to protect fellow military and the local populace.
Acts of heroism are commonplace on deployment; they’re just not always recognized. I saw medics, as soon as the last boom of a mortar hit the Forward Operating Base (FOB) jump out from safe cover to get to wounded Soldiers if there were any. I saw Infantry walking the streets, exposed to enemy attack, to secure the roads. I saw the pride that Soldiers took in their friends who died or were wounded in combat.
Most in the military, I would guess, either have lost a friend in combat, or know several who have. It’s the reality of war, but Veteran’s Day for me, is not about remembering the death of those service members, but their life and service. On Veteran’s Day, this year, I’ll not be celebrating at Golden Corral or any other restaurant that offers me a free meal as a thank you. I will be laying a fellow Paratrooper to rest. The words I comfort my fellow soldiers with are the words that I now write to you. Veteran’s Day is not about the deaths of Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, or Airmen, but about the amazing courage and endurance that all veterans, alive or dead, have proven, by serving in the military. They are amazing.
You will likely be bombarded this weekend in your social media circles with messages and graphics honoring the military, or reminding you to honor them. I know it all gets to be too much sometimes, when you are inundated with the same message over and over it can be easy to disregard it, but please don’t. Instead, use each and every post as a reminder to love the veterans you know and pray for the ones you don’t.
The WWII generation earned the title “The Greatest Generation,” but I am confident in saying that the one-half of one percent that is serving today is the greatest of this generation.