That’s me on the left and if you think I’m bragging, just know that 13 years later that is the Marine I ate to become the current version of me. He was yummy and tasted like lots of bacon and hot wings. Approximately 2 and a half years ago, I had no idea the entire online Veteran community existed. I had heard of Terminal Lance and perhaps read an article or two from the Duffle Blog, but truthfully I had never really thought of it as a community nor did I know the depth of what existed beyond that. Fast forward to a couple of years later and I have become so immersed in this world that I often don’t know where living unnecessarily in the past ends and pressing ahead to the future begins. Now, this is certainly not a swipe against the greater online Veteran community as they accomplish much good, make us laugh, and represent the best of free-market enterprise. Rather, it’s a personal testimony of how sometimes too much of a good thing can really drag you down. Two years ago I had no idea this world existed and 30 something months into it I have to ask if I am better off for it. The verdict? A resounding maybe. But perhaps you can help me answer the question by weighing in on these three important questions. Extra Credit if you run a Veteran site and comment in that name as this is truly a conversation for the greater good.
Why Have a Community to Begin With?
Can you imagine if John Rambo had Facebook Live when that Sheriff, aka Tommy Boy’s Dad, was giving Rambo a hard time? One of my most viral articles was the one I wrote in response to a bunch of frat boys spitting on wounded Veterans. I was genuinely pissed, you were genuinely pissed, and when powerful words were put into action we all got pissed together. So imagine this Facebook post from John Rambo, “Just wanted lunch and to look up an old Army buddy, anti-Veteran sheriff arrested me and scrubbed me down naked in the shower. Now I’m living in a cave fighting for my life.”
Dude, can you imagine the online Veteran rage which would have surfaced? In my ignorance in both the power of community and the influence of my writing, I’ll confess that I misplaced that Veteran rage a time or two. I’ve learned my lesson, but it prompts us all to ask if we boast about the online Veteran community then what is our responsibility to said community? Why do we even congregate online?
For many it’s a business, for other’s it’s a place to reminisce, and for people like me it’s just a chance get you thinking about Bea Arthur’s panties at least twice a week. But guy’s, I served 6 years in the Marine Corps with one benign deployment to Iraq in 2003. I’m kind of running out of Veteran stuff to type because while my life will forever be informed by my war experience it is not the eternal definition of it.
How Relevant are We to Future War Fighters?
I lived in an age of tri-color cammies, Cadillac boots, and iron sights. I’ve never drunk a Rip-It and the kids that are fighting in Iraq today were 5-years-old when I was there in 2003. But more importantly, are we perhaps glorifying a war that for us was not quite terrible only to send our sons to one that might be truly so. I loved my war experience in Iraq, but should my son have to fight the Russians in World War 3 I pray it was not my spoken fondness of war that gave him a false perception of the truly terrible.
For the most part, as history would dictate, GWOT Veterans were given a glimpse of war and not the true terrible. Out of all online communities that exist, I might respect Combat Flip Flops the most in this light. Warriors as they may be, they saw enough of war and yet maintained the proper perspective to not wish it upon anyone. Are we even relevant to future warriors and perhaps are we doing them unnecessary harm by glorifying our experience? Fair question, answer it as you might.
Have We Painfully Perpetuated the 22?
Namely, have we unwittingly legitimized suicide as an option to the troubles of life by spreading the narrative of 22 a day? Boone Cutler is another one whom I’ll throw up there with Combat Flip Flops as his Spartan Pledge is clear, succinct, and to the point. But mostly, it ravages the notion that suicide is a legitimate option. As the 22 a day narrative seems powerful on social media, it is woefully misleading to many as it implies that these are mostly GWOT Veterans. That’s simply not true my friends, so please if you find yourself struggling in life and aware of the 22 a day do not become one because it is not a legitimate option. Say it with me GWOT Vets, suicide is not a popular, common, or a legitimate option for your troubles. See Boone Cutler and the Spartan Pledge.
Should I ever commit suicide in my 50’s, I won’t calm down, please don’t call it a Veteran suicide. I worked in the mental health field for over 13 years and while I’m not a clinician I know the power or community thought on those who struggle. Will the community speak to our strength over our perceived fragility? The latter could be emotionally more viral on social media, but the prior could be more powerful. I say it again, if you are a GWOT Veteran struggling today please reach out because you will find fewer GWOT Veterans in that 22 than the online social media community would have you believe. I challenge you to read the Spartan Pledge.
What are we doing here, how relevant are we, and are we inadvertently less than helpful? That’s not a statement of fact, but an honest question we all need to ask. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the online Veteran community but as a guy who lived 10 plus years after his war oblivious to it’s existence I’m confused on how helpful it is. I pray the community adapts as we age and meets the needs of today rather than a life we will no longer live.
I do like bourbon, but when I sit down for a drink these days I’m often in a small pink chair drinking imaginary tea with a little girl who simply has no idea what her father once did on a foreign land long ago. That kind of seems like the future I want to embrace more than the past I’ll never see again. Many of my articles are my opinion, but this is one where I truly seek yours and yes, you chief Veteran influencers above all. Weigh in my friends, I’m trying to figure it out and you may be the key for me and many others.
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