For all of the "Support Our Troops" rhetoric, we still need a national conversation about how we treat American troops once they return to civilian life.
I thought this piece by Cole England, a Maine native and former Specialist in the US Army, would be of interest to readers here. England's editorial, published first in the Exception Magazine,* shines a light on the challenges many veterans now face.
Loyalty. Duty. Respect. Selfless Service. Honor. Integrity. Personal Courage. (LDRSHIP).
I wore these words on a dog tag the day I entered the United States Army. A freshly pressed uniform, the shine of new boots, my first military issued haircut. I was proud as hell to serve in the footsteps of patriots and heroes.
I will never forget giving my farewell to fellow graduates of Yarmouth High School as I shipped out to Basic Combat Training in 2003. My decision to serve in the Armed Forces was an easy one. Two grandparents, two cousins and a family of veterans encouraged my decision to fight for the values of "our" country.
But now I am an unemployed veteran of war.
I saw the deserts of Iraq before my 20th birthday. I was both passionate and terrified as I stepped off the commercial airline into the country of Kuwait. This is what myself and so many others join to do: represent the powers of our people and serve our country.
Yet not even six months overseas, I suffered an incident which has since left me permanently disabled. I suffer from Basilar Migraines, a condition which causes severe pain that is nearly impossible to prevent and difficult to manage. I spent almost a year to the day at Fort Bragg, North Carolina trying to figure out if I have a future in the service. I had to chase paper trails and play games set forth by the Medical Evaluation Board, the authority which oversees the health of soldiers and determines if we are "fit" for further duty.
In 2005, I was found unfit for military service and was released from the Army to come back to my home state of Maine to begin the next phase of my life. Again, I found myself stepping off the plane as terrified to return to the work force as I was the day I first landed in Kuwait.
I always believed that because of my loyalty and selfless service to this country, I would have opportunities to thrive as a civilian.
The military suggests veterans try and find federal jobs because of their inclination to hire us. I tried and tried again with no success in various government agencies to achieve gainful employment. I started to settle for low paying jobs that were either temporary or yielded too little income to survive.
It is very difficult to comprehend that a veteran's duty to country and the experiences gained are worth nothing to the employers and people we protect. This is a sad reality for veterans returning to their home states as heroes. I am not looking for handouts and we are not looking for special courtesies. I am just looking for a glimpse of hope that it wasn't a waste of our time to put on the uniform. I am looking for an excuse to say that our service was to country and not the the ideals of a select few.
Looking forward, I know that times will become increasingly difficult and pride in service will diminish. I watch as the small amount of money I earn is taken from my pocket and recklessly spent in ways that We, the people have no say about.
I look at the uniforms hanging in my closet and wonder if they will ever stand for something more than a failing democracy. Is this what we get?
"A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government." ~Thomas Jefferson.
*Full disclosure: I am the Publisher of the Exception Magazine, the online source for Maine news.