I guess to be specific, I ought to have modified the title to say quit acting like a caricature of a Veteran. Not too long ago, I was out at a fair with my family when I noticed a group of young Veterans out and about. You could tell they were Veterans by what they wore, the conversation they were having, and how they conducted themselves in public and I thought to myself, “My God I want to be nothing like them.” Now, perhaps much of it had to do with age as Iraq for me was 13 years ago and these guys could likely still shake the sand out of their pokemon underoos. But if I were to peruse the Veteran community, much of which exists online, it’s actually those young Vets that fit the mold and not myself. And thus I pondered, is there a point where Veterans need to quit acting like a caricature of themselves.
Entertain not Emulate
This is actually not a critique of the online Veteran community as I love them all, even the ones that advance the narrative of the caricatured Veteran. For me and many Veterans, it is entertainment to muse about days long gone with my fellow Vets. I find a certain joy in tackling modern topics from the viewpoint of a Veteran and I believe the encouragement one can receive online from the Veteran community is extremely helpful. Even the caricature of the facial haired, whisky drinking, gun slinging, rootin tootin Veteran looking for an ISIS bunny to slay is fun to play with as there are indeed truths about us mixed in. It is supposed to be fun and the best Vet communities get that right.
But if I were to emulate what a large portion of the online community tells me a Veteran should be I don’t know that my life would actually advance much beyond my early 20’s. And for a guy pushing 40, that’s a sadder sight to see as each year goes by. Unfortunately, I think that is what many of our Veteran brothers have in fact done. Rather than reminisce they recreate and rather than entertain they emulate only to miss out on what could very well be the best season of their life. In pursuit of a shadow of a war they will never again see, they miss out on the substance right before them. Fellow GWOT Vets, we are not getting any younger and they are not making anymore of us.
Be Excellent Not a Veteran
If a Veteran decided to start a milkshake company called, oh I don’t know, “Military Milkshake Men” and they try to sell me one I will probably make a purchase to give a Veteran a shot. There is nothing wrong with helping out your fellow Veteran by giving them an opportunity to prove their excellence. Civilians do it all the time to get ahead be it their frat buddies or daddy’s business partners and they were often doing so while many of us were at war. Veterans should do that for one another and if you have a Vet business, feel free to link it up in the comments.
But if I take a drink of that milkshake and it taste like an Omelet MRE mated with a Beef Frankfurter MRE I’m going to spit that junk right out in your Veteran face. Because as a Veteran, I was giving you the opportunity to be excellent and either your milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, or it does not. Darn right, it’s not better than mine, don’t teach me, and I will not pay if you charge.
Our status as Veterans is meant to amplify, propel, and make a strategic bet on our ability to be excellent based off of our hard earned experiences. It is not meant to gift excellence to us on a platter. The world views Veterans as one class of people and there is some benefit to operating as group. But if you are a Veteran yourself, you know better. You know good and well there are some men who you would go to combat with that you wouldn’t dare start a business with. You know good and well, that there are some war buddies who you would trust with your life, but not the petty cash. The title Veteran is a call to excellence, not charity and making the two words synonymous is less than helpful. These guys figured it out and I am sure we can too.
A Call to Excellence
It is true that many of our Veteran’s need a hand, counseling, and the effort of us Veterans who may not need as much. So I don’t besmirch Veteran charities any more than I besmirch online Veteran communities. But I have said before and I believe it after 13 years working in the mental health field, if you call a Dog a name long enough he starts to answer to it. If you keep saying Veterans are broken men in need of charity to survive, some will start to believe it who might not need it otherwise. If you keep telling Veterans they are supposed to walk around the fair praying and wishing ISIS would attack so they could kill some terrorists, they just might walk around a fair in Washington State wishing ISIS would attack the same fair my children are attending.
But what if we changed the narrative to remind Veterans of their capacity for excellence? What if we spent more time talking about the success stories of Veterans who pulled through the pain and learned from it? What if we handed out small business loans for Veteran excellence like StreetShares is doing rather than handing out “fireworks go boom make Veteran sad” signs. What if you just reminded your buddy in his 40’s stuck in the past that he is not 20 anymore and a future without precedent awaits him? What if we made it our goal to be so excellent at this season of life, that people had no idea we ever went to war because our success today eclipses the body count of the past.
Look, I believe Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite when he says would take State if he went back in time. Looks like he has a good arm, so why not. But he can’t and his inability to move forward makes him a sad caricature and nothing more. I am not of the belief that any single caricature captures the diversity of the Veteran community, but if to be a Veteran you find yourself trying to recreate that past rather than reminisce about its joys and move forward, then perhaps it is time you quit acting like a Veteran. I’m as guilty as any for hanging on too long and I’ll confess that to you all. But let us all move forward together now shall we, into a future without precedent based on our current excellence rather than a past long gone by.
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