Veteran

I am a veteran. Every time I say these words, I tense up in fear of someone calling me out on it. I envision my friends, buddies from the army, thinking back to their deployments, not recalling my face there. I picture people scoffing at me, pointing at my lack of a trip overseas and spitting in my face. I feel like a poser. Like I don’t deserve to call myself such a thing. I picture my dad, a real veteran in my eyes. The guys and girls in my unit, some of which I’m still friends with, and just feel shame for even pretending to stand with such great people. For even using the same word we use to describe them on myself.

I sit here, afraid to say these words, but at the same time, I don’t know of any other way to describe that seven year period of my life. When I joined, it wasn’t that noble. I’d just found out my wife was pregnant, and I was in desperate need of money. I’d considered joining the military before, but at this juncture it seemed to be the best option. The signing bonus would give us a great start with a newborn, new job opportunities, a new start in life. So I did it. I picked the shortest school I could find to make sure I’d be home before my son was born. I left as early as possible. Unfortunately life doesn’t always fit into ones plans. My son ended up being born 5 weeks early, and I was not there for it. Not even 15 weeks in to my career and I’d already given up one of the most important moments you’ll ever have in your life.

I’m not going to go into much detail, but this, among other things, led to my divorce. I was homeless for a period of time, struggling to find work before I finally lucked out and started landing full time positions with the National Guard. I kept these for the next 3 years.

I spent weeks away from home. Months. Repeatedly. I worked 16 hour days sometimes. Other times 22 hour days. Sometimes, for days straight, falling asleep in the minutes between jobs i had to do. I worked for months straight without a day off at times. I dealt with the strain of giving your life to a cause, while trying to also give your life to your family, and I failed at that balance. But I did this without question. I came in one morning, about 2 months after my unit deployed, and was told I would be leaving for Iraq in 2 hours and to go pack my bags. I had to call my wife to tell her “hey, I’m not coming home for dinner. For 15 months.” I waited all day, but by 10 pm that night whatever call they’d been waiting on hadn’t come in, and I was told to go home. Not told I wasn’t deploying, but just to go home and be back in the morning. No one ever said another word to me about leaving. No “we decided not to”, or “you’re going next week possibly” just silence. Thus I had nothing to tell my wife, for two weeks until I finally got word I was on standby, indefinitely, incase the unit needed more people overseas. Yet another thing that led to my second divorce.

I, and any other soldier out there, made this commitment. I can’t even begin to descibe to people what it’s like to put an entire nations needs above your own, but I hope this brings it into perspective for people. I do feel ashamed to call myself a veteran. But I made sacrifices. And I learned. I learned that despite joining for something as simple as money, what I was fighting for, what I am willing to die for, isn’t just a shell we collectively call America. It isn’t for some idealistic term like freedom, or our country, our government or peace. It’s for you. It’s for each and every one of you. I walk down the street every day, 12 blocks each way in portland, and I occasionally look around and think to myself, “there is not one person here I wouldn’t take a bullet for.”.

I realized the greatest thing about our country is its people, however varied they may be in opinions, ideologies, religions, we have every range of diversity known to us living within our borders. This allows for the best environment to foster innovation, equality and balance out there. I would lay my life down in a heartbeat to protect even 1/320,000,000th of that. But I also think anyone would. And because anyone would do it in my mind, I hardly feel it’s right to call me a veteran.

I hope after reading this people have a better understanding of what soldiers go through. It’s so easy to just neatly glaze over details, to stuff this post into the back of your mind, and go on with your day. But I do hope, if even for a moment, it reminds you of some of the things soldiers do for you. There are people out there willing to give up everything for you, your family, your job, and your country.