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Sunday, March 30, 2014

What it means to be a veteran.

“I am an American soldier. I am a warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the Army values. I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade. I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in all my warrior tasks and drills. I am an expert and I am a professional. I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat. I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life. I am an American soldier.”
When I went through training in 1999, that was a thing. The soldier’s creed. We knew it by heart inside of the first week. And when I say we knew it “by heart,” I don’t mean we had it memorized – although we did. I mean we knew it, we understood what it meant, and our actions backed it up. We lived the Army values. Loyalty. Duty. Respect. Selfless service. Honor. Integrity. Personal courage.
We stayed up past lights out making sure that our boots were shined (this was back in the days of black boots). We helped each other with extra sit-ups and push-ups to boost our platoon PT scores. We policed our own. “Code Reds” were not as drastic or dangerous as they were in “A Few Good Men,” but they happened. When your battle buddy got dropped, you got down next to him and took the same punishment.
Today’s soldiers have been exposed to what the Army calls “low stress training.” And they’re losing their minds in war zones because they have been coddled and cajoled through training.
Every day in training drill sergeants told us about the enemy. “They want you dead,” they told us. “They want your families dead. They want your friends dead. They will march their victory parade through your blood before it is dried from the streets.”
Today’s soldiers get lessons that include the Founding Fathers and participants at the Boston Tea Party as examples of terrorists and extremists.
And when they come home, the landscape has changed as well. When I left the Army for the first time in 2004 (I went back in 2005), I went looking for a job in retail. The interviewing manager found out I was a veteran. He told me that there were two other girls who had applied for the same position, and neither of them had served. He then said that if he knew nothing else about us, that would be enough. He stopped the interview then and offered me the job. Being a veteran used to mean something. It was like being an Eagle Scout. When employers found out that you had spent time in the military, they knew something about you. They knew your work ethic and your willingness to work as part of a team or lead one, whichever the situation called demanded. They knew your values and your convictions, and how you would perform under stress.
But today, as evidenced by National Guard Specialist Kayla Reyes’ experience with an interviewing manager at Macy’s, being a veteran can be a liability. Why is it that the public views soldiers in such a different light? Personally, I blame Jane Fonda. Well, not her alone, but the people like her who bought into the propaganda and misinformation regarding American soldiers at war – particularly in places like Vietnam. I blame the 9/11 truthers who blame terrorist actions on Americans protecting access to resources. I blame the Ron Paul/Henry Wallace isolationists who try to convince people that power-hungry authorities like Stalin and Putin only attempt to grab for power because America involves itself in alliances and treaties. And I blame the American people who know better and fail to say so.

When the manager at Macy’s learned that SPC Reyes had served in Afghanistan, she should have thanked her rather than questioning her ability to fit in.