The Blood Fraternity

When you are 22 years old, and you have been in the US Army since you were 18 and its time to leave the service, you will likely be overjoyed. You will drive off of post with 91 copies of your DD-214, swearing to yourself that you won’t get a haircut for a year and making a beeline for Colorado or California or one of the few other places in the nation where you can consume a copious amount of marijuana legally. You will be moving from a world where the rules are clearly defined, the lines sharply drawn and the decision-making hierarchy is clear, to a complex and bitterly divided homeland. Moving from the insulated military cocoon of shared values back to the “Real World”, where the motivations and values are as varied as the many types of people that exist in this country, is challenging to say the very least. It’s easy and cheap to look down your nose at the people around you, to dismiss their experiences because they weren’t as back-breaking, as stressful, or as profound. Ultimately, however, it does nothing to help you assimilate into society and use the invaluable skills you learned in the service to build a better life for yourself and your family. The hard truth of the matter is that you will never completely become a civilian again. That is neither an entirely good, nor an entirely bad thing.

There is a concept within the military, especially within the ranks of the Infantry, that I have come to know as the blood fraternity. The blood fraternity consists of that small level group of soldiers who have been through countless sleep-deprived missions together, who have slept in foxholes in the mud and the rain, and proudly borne the “Infantryman’s burden” of doing the some of the most unpleasant, physically-demanding work the military has to offer. Ultimately, the blood fraternity is made up of the soldiers who choose to put the welfare of the group above their own. It is reassuring on a gut level to know that in any crisis of faith, any breakup, and any bar fight, you will have several teammates there for you no matter what. If you have never existed as an adult in the world except as a member of this exclusive club, you may make the mistake of thinking the “Real World” is like this as well. It’s not. Existing in our modern society in America is extremely easy. It rarely requires people to band together and count on each other to thrive. You can be the most useless, anti-social shitheel on the block and you should easily be able to survive, to eat, to have a roof over your head at night. If you have been brought up and molded into an adult exclusively as a member of the “fraternity”, then our modern society can be strikingly lonely, especially when you have experienced something that so few of your civilian peers can even understand, like a combat deployment. One of the hardest parts of leaving the military is transitioning from being a member of a team that requires the competence and expertise of all its parts in order to accomplish its mission to a nation bitterly divided by politics and driven by self-interest.

My old platoon, Kandahar, Afghanistan, 2014

If the fraternity taught you a way of life that is ultimately unsustainable in civilian life, it also taught you how to win, how to accomplish what you set out to accomplish and how to adapt and overcome in order to impact the world around you. In a country that so desperately needs voices of reason and integrity, veterans without a doubt have a role to play in the transformative period our nation faces. Veterans and civilians alike have a role to play in making this country great. To my veteran brethren reading this, your service to this country is not done. Being a soldier for three years does not give you a lifetime pass on contributing to this country, whether that be as a business, political or community leader. To the civilians who took the time to read this, thank you. Oftentimes the most powerful way to thank a veteran is to just listen to their stories or to ask about their experiences. You will find types of people you don’t expect and a vast range of feelings and experiences. I promise you it will give you a more accurate picture of veterans, the military, and war, than the latest fuckin’ Michael Bay movie.