The U.S. Army Asked Its Twitter Followers How Serving Has Impacted Them
Thousands responded and it is gut-wrenching
On Thursday, only days before Memorial Day, the U.S. Army posted a video to their Twitter of a young soldier, Pfc. Nathan Spencer. In it, Spencer says the Army has given him the opportunity to “serve something greater than [himself]” and that serving in the military has afforded him the opportunity to “better [himself] as a man and a warrior.”
The video is convincing. Spencer is a healthy-looking young man who is obviously motivated and ready to serve. He is an embodiment of the war hero image we hold in our collective mind. We want to cheer him on, give him a handshake, and thank him for his service. Had the Army only posted that video, Twitter might have accepted the message and moved on.
But then, the Army asked its followers a question: “How has serving impacted you?”
Thousands of people responded and they tell a much darker story of what it’s like to serve in the military.
Veterans, social workers, wives, parents, friends, brothers and sisters shared stories of suffering: PTSD, physical wounds, suicides, racism, sexism, abandonment, and the list, unfortunately, goes on and on.
One veteran wrote, “I was poor, suicidal and about to be homeless when I enlisted because I saw no other way. Inside I was surrounded by racism, sexism and homophobia.”
“IT RUINED MY LIFE,” another wrote. “When I returned home you tossed me to the curb.”
The son of a veteran wrote, “My mother was a Lt. and triage nurse in Vietnam. She’s been a broken person for the last 50 years over the things she saw. In December, she killed herself with prescription pills.”
A veteran’s wife wrote, “My husband served with 2/75. He was a bad ass army ranger who owned any room he walked into. Now thanks to a #tbi and #ptsd his service means that he can’t even go out to get a haircut alone without becoming an anxious mess who needs 3 days to recover. I miss that guy I married.”
Even the relatively positive stories are heartbreaking: “Service is different for everyone & comes with sacrifice,” says one veteran. “I’m proud of my time in uniform. Thankful for the opportunities it provided, the friendships made, & the fulfilling career that I had. I wish I could move, breathe, live & sleep without pain.”
I, too, had a story to tell. “My husband, a Marine, was wounded in Iraq, lost his leg, became an addict because of the pain medications, then died a junkie.”
My husband’s service not only ruined our lives but it ended his. And we are obviously not alone.
This thread is overwhelming. But it is also a necessary read, especially this weekend as many Americans are obliviously preparing for BBQs and shopping sprees. This is a chance to read real stories from real veterans and their families, straight from the source. It is an opportunity for a reality check.
When we think of veterans, we tend to prefer certain narratives, ones like Pfc. Spencer’s. War gives veterans a purpose, we tell ourselves. We want to believe serving their country is their calling. They are strong. They are brave. They are proud. They are heroes. The image is nice. It is inspiring and comforting.
But this narrative is problematic because it isn’t the truth. We forget that veterans are average people being put in traumatic situations. The overly-simplistic narrative of the war hero turns something that is chaotic and complicated and riddled with suffering into something palatable and, therefore, easy to ignore. It gives us permission to stand idly by as our people are sent to senseless wars, as our sons and daughters and neighbors are killed and are killing — others as well as themselves.
The real stories are difficult to hear. The reality is that serving in the military can be dangerous. The reality is that when servicemembers make it home from war, they often suffer from war wounds, both physical and mental. The reality is that people have died, are dying.
So many veterans feel abandoned. They are isolated and losing hope. They are suffering all around us and, as voting citizens of this country, we are complicit.
As Memorial Day Weekend approaches, it is important to remember the difficult reality of what service members often go through. It is also important to remember our responsibility for their well-being. We cannot assume the military will take care of them. Obviously, that is not working.
We must ask ourselves what we are doing and what else we can do to support veterans in our communities as citizens who vote and volunteer and donate. If this Twitter thread is any indication, we are currently failing them. We must do better.