When I was in Iraq I wrote an open letter to Vietnam veterans thanking them for their service. The letter was about the lessons learned by the American public about how not to treat the members of our nation’s armed forces, lessons that came at the expense of our Vietnam vets. I thanked them because this current generation of servicemen and veteran’s, my generation, enjoys so much more support because people remembered the injustices served upon our Vietnam veterans.
My wife asked if she could post it on a Marine Corps website and the letter grew legs from there. It made its way all around the states over the internet. Judging by the responses I received from the letter, it had evidently touched many veterans.
Those words struck a common chord among many. The shared experiences among a group of people had drawn them together and caused the same reaction to what were heartfelt, but simple words.
Sometimes this column does that, drawing phone calls from veterans who seem to feel comfortable sharing their views with me. I believe that level of comfort comes from what we have in common. Our service is such an important part of our lives that there is at least a foundational relationship established before the first words are even spoken.
But isn’t that how it goes for those who’ve served? Our shared experiences provide a bond which leads to much more than being able to swap war stories.
Those experiences bring us together in a way that many others do not understand.
Maybe things change as one’s time away from the service increases, but at this point I find it much easier to talk to those who’ve been to Iraq or Afghanistan than many other people. I find it easier to talk to another veteran who would otherwise be considered a perfect stranger, but who really isn’t at all.
I probably have more communication with the guys I served with in Iraq than I do just about anyone else except for my family. The shared experiences among those I served with have created a strong bond between us.
These bonds can be nurtured for all of us through veteran’s groups like the American Legion and the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars. It is right that they serve to hold the “band of brothers” together. That they provide each of us with a group of veterans who can speak the same language, relate to one another in ways each of us truly understands. They provide the vehicle for us to support each other as veterans.
Our common bonds allow us to take care of each other and continue to serve those who may still be actively fighting for our country. They humbly step forward but can not, nor would they out of pride as professional soldiers, make public their complaints about injustices served upon them. But we can.
As a group we carry the weight to support our elected representatives for introducing and moving legislation forward which is beneficial to all veterans and those still serving. We can move quickly to support legislation like Senator Nelson’s push for immediate refitting of National Guard and Reserve units who’ve suffered war time equipment losses. We should support legislation updating the Montgomery GI Bill recently reintroduced by Senator Hagel.
We can stand with other veterans to oppose legislative resolutions we don’t agree with.
We can denounce derogatory comments from politicians and reporters about our brothers and sisters in arms. When reporters like William Arkin call us “mercenaries” and says the American public should question what they actually owe those who’ve fought for them, we should lead the way in widespread fury against such an ingrate.
We can lead the public outcry when our soldiers and veterans get tangled in the web of VA or military bureaucracy trying to obtain medical care or are subjected to the deplorable conditions they were as outpatients at Walter Reed Hospital. We should stand ready to support our elected officials in correcting these disservices.
We can stand against those in Congress who make attempts at under-handed legislation aimed at cutting off the funding for troops still in harms way.
We can work with veteran’s support groups which exist to serve the unique needs of our nation’s heroes and their families such as Paralyzed Veterans of America and The Freedom Alliance.
We can pass on to the next generation those American ideals, our way of life, our form of government which we hold so dear and were so willing to sacrifice everything for.
But our influence and the potential power of our actions depends upon the numbers of veterans who band together to accomplish these things, who band together to provide a positive influence in society, who stand and defend one another while continuing to defend, albeit in a different way than we’ve previously done, to defend our country and our way of life.
There is still a great need for service to our country. I challenge my fellow veterans: you’ve shouldered the burden before, and although it may be in a different role, please continue to do so. Your country still needs you.