Veterans, You Are More Than Just Your Time in Service
Do not let society put labels on you
I can hear the Drill Sergeant yelling again, “Get it up and get it on!” You throw your rucksack on, grab your rifle, and fall into formation. It’s day-5 of boot camp, and you already hate hearing this command. Why did you think this was a good idea?
It’s the spring of 2004 and you find yourself at Fort Benning, GA. You signed up for the Army to serve your country after 9/11. And now things are getting real. But no time to think about that too much, Drill Sergeant is yelling again.
You’re less than a week into boot camp, but deep down, you’re staring to like it. Home and school were never a place where you felt much belonging or purpose — but here, well, things feel different.
It feels good to march in step with fellow recruits. All wearing the same uniform, all singing the same cadence. You’re here to become a soldier, a warrior who will head off to war to fight for freedom. And although you’ve never been to war, it doesn’t sound so bad.
For the first time in your life you feel you have purpose and meaning. And it feels so good to belong to something. If only dad could see you now. He’d be beaming with pride.
“Test fire, test fire, test fire.” The .50 cal unloads into the test fire pit — your last stop before rolling outside the wire. It’s three months into your deployment to Iraq, and you’re finally getting used to the smells and sounds and chaos of war. Like the other 21-year-olds in your platoon, you were scared when you first showed up. And even though you weren’t sure exactly what war would be like, it all feels familiar now. You’re still not sure exactly why you’re here, but your nightly mission brief from the LT reminds you what you’re supposed to do. No time to think about the bigger picture, all that matters is holding up your end and not letting your squad mates down. And so far, you’ve done that.
Mission brief, roll outside the wire, mission, refuel, weapons cleaning, sleep. Repeat.
It’s familiar, it’s comforting. And you’re bringing hope to others. Damn, it feels so good. Only 12 more months of this and then you’ll be home.
Where did the time go, you wonder? Nine months ago, you got your DD 214 and did your final out-processing. The only place you’d really felt purpose and belonging feels so long ago now. You were tired and beat down when you finally got out. Eight years of deployments and training in the middle of nowhere took its toll. You wanted more time at home, more time to enjoy life more time to do the things you wanted.
But now, staring down at another empty pint glass, you’re staring to wonder. Did I make the right choice? Why doesn’t the sleep come at night? What am I supposed to do with my life now? Will I ever feel purpose and belonging again?
The empty pint glass brings no answers, just more questions. You feel you’re in a maze and are just going in circles.
Alcohol brings no answers. Late nights partying bring no answers. Telling war stories bring no answers.
Veterans, this may not be your story, but perhaps some of this sounds familiar? Or you know someone who is going through this?
The military provided purpose and identity and belonging. For many, the military made them feel they belonged — that they were a part of something bigger than themselves.
And then the uniform came off. Depression, loneliness and anxiety set in. And no amount of drinking or Netflix binging or one-night stands dulls the pain.
Veterans, your time in service is a very defining part of you. And you did wonderful things during your time in service. But you are more than just your time in service. You are not just a hero or a broken veteran. You are not just someone who served and now doesn’t.
Broken veteran. Hero. Someone with PTSD. These are the labels society loves to place on you. The boxes they try to put you in. But you are so much more than this. You can excel outside of any box you’ve been placed in.
I’m a warrior, yes. But first and foremost, I’m a husband, uncle, big brother, and son. I’m a community leader, a writer, a volunteer, a runner. And nobody gets to place me in a box that’s just labeled “Veteran.”
Do not let society tell you what you are or place you in a box. Be who you are and who you were meant to be. You don’t have to wear a uniform to make a difference and give back. You don’t have to be in the military to have purpose and identity.
Your time in the service gave you the tools to be a leader and make a difference. To educate the rest of the country about what veterans have gone through and what you offer. To be there for other veterans who are struggling.
In the Army, they instructed you to always have a battle buddy. To have someone down there in the foxhole with you. If you’re struggling, find that battle buddy again. For me, my battle buddies are my wife, my therapist, my siblings, and my closest friends. They jump down into the dark pit with me on my worst days, grab my hand, and remind me I’m not alone.
Veterans, let’s stop suffering in dark pits, alone and by ourselves. Together, we’re much stronger than we can ever be alone.
You have a story, and it matters. You served and fought for your country. You gave freedom to others. You answered the nation’s call.
You deserve to enjoy those freedoms you fought so hard for. But to enjoy those freedoms, you need to break free from the chains holding you down. You need to climb out of the dark pit you may be in. You need to look in the mirror and embrace the person looking back at you.
When I left the military, I was in a dark pit. I was depressed and didn’t know what I supposed to do with my life. Team RWB helped me find part of my purpose. And now, I find purpose in helping other veterans, in telling my story, in being a leader in my family and community, and by encouraging other veterans to do the same.
You have purpose. You matter. Find your battle buddies and get through this together. Find healing, and hope, and purpose, and identity again. And then go help others do the same.
You can do this, I believe in you. Now believe in yourself.
This story was originally published on Linkedin
About the Author:
Andrew lives and works in San Francisco. He’s newly married, a big brother in a family with 8 kids, and an uncle to two amazing nieces. A combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, he writes about health and wellness, depression, relationships, and finances. When he’s not working, you can find him running or biking, doing yoga, cooking with his apron on, or adventuring with his amazing wife. Connect with me on LinkedIn.