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3 Honest Questions for the Online Veteran Community

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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.”

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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?

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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.

Is War Terrible Enough

Is War Terrible Enough

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.

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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.

In Conclusion

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.

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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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Jeff Edwards

6 Comments

  1. I agree about the 22. It’s facebook “awareness” posts, and movies like American Sniper, that make me reluctant to even mention that I’m a veteran. I can’t even explain how many times I have been asked if I have PTSD, and even heard my college professors say that if you hire a veteran you have to watch them.

  2. Brother, you’re doing a great job. This is one of the few veteran blogs that I subscribe to and actively read. I know that my son or daughter will one day wear the uniform, and probably see combat. Hell, it’s been a tradition for over 6 generations back to the Indian Wars in my bloodline. I have the same thoughts. I hope we as a veteran community can pass on both the pride and the level headed look at reality that I come to blogs like yours seeking.

    I think that the online veteran community has the opportunity to help each other. Not all destinations are. Continue to shine the light, others are following.

    If you or any of your followers need to chat, hit me up. I am not a hero or super star, just a veteran with a single tour to Iraq who formed valuable memories and lost valuable friends. Seriously, if you find yourself in a hole, write me drew.lyman@reagan.com

  3. Good Luck with that. I was in a Wal-Mart in South East Texas a few years ago, I was wearing a hat that identifies me as a Veteran, The cashier at check out was a young woman, she noticed the hat and said to me ” It really is a shame the way they treat you Veterans, I want to thank you for your Service”. I asked the women what she meant by” the way they treat us Veterans”? She said that she understood that we were not getting the Health Care and the financial assistance that we were promised. It is pointless to argue with these people and really, she is just trying to be nice. I told her that I was a Veteran of 21 years, Once a month I put on my uniform, March out to the Mail box, Salute it and then extract my pay check, execute an about face and laugh all the way to the Bank.
    I asked her how much her Health insurance cost and she explained that she did not have any insurance for her and her family, it was too expensive and they had a choice of eating or insurance and they chose the food. She was surprised to hear that I pay $31 a month for full coverage for my family of 6, my meds are free and I see the best doctors in the world and we speak the same language.
    There are as many War Stories as there are Veterans, My Stories are of good times and of privilege, Privileged to have been a part of the Big Green Machine.
    I would not wish to put the poor mouth on these internet Military Communities, they offer fellowship for those who need it and they post some pretty cool Memes. This “22” movement calls attention to a serious problem that we have in Veteran Community, The idea that this sends the message that suicide is okay is not a theory that I would agree with.
    Military Service in the United States has always been a sacrifice, and a sacrifice is not a sacrifice unless it hurts.
    I enjoy your articles. By your Leave and Carry on.

  4. Community is important. Keeping yourself in check is important. I don’t walk around wearing my I am a vet attitude or hat 24/7. But as I go about my life and I meet other vets, epeacially those that came before me I try to share a smile and ask them how they are doing and thank them for helping shape the man I am today. Inveritably we end up sharing a story or three. Most of the time it’s funny… every once in a while it’s something they never share with anyone else but another vet. It doesn’t seem to matter the age difference; the other day I was talking to a 97 year old WWII army RECON vet who went from Dday to the end of the war with little more than a few scratches and a single “minor” gun shot wound and was thankful to God for every day of his life. I feel it is great to stay connected. you pointed out some great things, being a vet is not all that you are but it is a very important part. As I write this, myself and some fellow vets that served together are trying to find one of our guys who posted a rather disturbing post yesterday. No one can find him as of this moment, he disconnected from everyone and is somewhere in FL. There are a few service members nearby that are trying to track him down… its frustrating and heartbreaking… we lost one of our own earlier this year who also disconnected…
    Stay strong find your course, help where you can. That’s all I got right now time for me to get out there and make a living.

  5. We are relevant if to no one but each other. My kids never heard me glorify war or make it sound sexy. My only son grew up hating uniforms and the thought of joining any service, especially the Corps. But at 19 he up and enlisted. I think he majority of us come from generations of men who served so it’s inescapable. We can all still learn from living vets from all previous wars. Jeff I worry sometimes if them folks out there in Starbucksville are hitting you with some radio waves Brother. Let me know and I’ll send you an aluminum foil hat . You’re doing good and we all love it. Keep it coming. Or, you could write a book.

  6. “Online” veteran’s community… well I participate, and there is value in this sharing of experience. BUT, if you’re a veteran and not a member of a local veteran’s organization/chapter/club you’re denying yourself the personal support and caring of people ‘who have been there.’ A member of the American Legion since I got out of boot camp (Vietnam era); the day after I got back from Desert Storm, I went to my local VFW meeting and joined up. These were the men I idolized while I was growing up – they were my little league coaches, scoutmasters, community activists, local politicians: They held BBQs, Bingo, Picnics; provided scholarships, sponsored youth sports leagues and teams; pitched in on floods and other disasters. And, they helped me understand, through community, what I was feeling and why. No less, their shared experiences were also professional lessons in my military career. I’m a charter member of my local Marine Corp League and active the Military Order of the World Wars, Reserve Officer Assn.; Military Officers Assn.; Marine Corps Assn.; Naval Institute… in all I’ve gotten support, learned and shared and helped. If you don’t participated, you’re also denying your community your service in helping others and helping to bridge the military/veteran – civilian gap. Be a leader, again, join up. If you need help, or can give help, join up. Semper Fidelis

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