One of the things that I cannot seem to move past since leaving active duty in early 2011 is the innate desire for physical exercise during the early morning hours. Just a few years ago I would have said the complete opposite, but now it's apart of my routine and if I miss it then my whole day is ruined. Everyone has different outfits and attire they wear to the gym, and I always end up wearing a USMC olive drab green skivvy shirt. The reason is that I can't seem to find any other purpose for the twenty OD green shirts I have after my enlistment ended.
My attire usually leads me into conversations with older men who "wanna school a young buck a thing or two about life," or the ones who just want to swap war stories, and then I inevitably end up gridlocked for hours hearing about the way things used to be. No matter what I can never seem to walk away, I want to take time and listen to their stories and honor these men who are old warfighters who still remember Normandy and Iwo Jima like it was last week. I'm sure they know soon I will join their ranks with my veteran flair hat complete with medals, awards and buttons from long ago -- but that is not what happened this time.
I know that some may see this as an isolated example, but the truth is far from it. I was getting dressed in the locker room after my workout, and an older gentleman began a conversation with me that I will never forget. I will try and recount this event to the best of my knowledge so that you can capture a scene from Lifetimes of The Post 9/11 Veteran.
Scene: Local Middle Tennessee Recreational Facility
Cast: Old man that wants to talk a young whippersnapper.
Young Whippersnapper: (Myself)
Small talk, small talk, small talk...
Old Man: "So you were in the Marines, huh? Do you have any of that stuff? That PTSD stuff?"
Young Whippersnapper: ... (Inner monologue: Sure do! I picked it up on isle seven! In the 'War & Taliban' section.) ... It kinda comes with the territory...
I have no problem discussing my military service. I'm very proud of it and would go back right now if asked, but the real problem here is his second question asking me if I have PTSD! I mean, I live by a certain set of rules and guidelines that I follow, but apparently I walk this road alone. I will never ask anyone how old they are, how much they weigh, and I would never ask a veteran -- not just a veteran, but anyone who I had just met -- if they were "crazy."
It was war! Yes, I'm different. Who wouldn't be? For some reason the majority of people see my PTSD as a scarlet letter to be worn in order to forever mark my shame and disgrace. It makes me sick. It's not even the fact that he asked that, but to describe it as "that stuff, that PTSD stuff" as if it was something to be picked up on a blue light special. I get it. We've been at war a long time and America is over it! I'm over Justin Bieber, Honey Boo Boo and the Kardashians, yet still their tyranny remains.
Next time you hear someone talking about how politically correct America is, remember this moment, because it happens more often than not to all those who have served like myself. Remember that these people you are trying to marginalize are the only all-volunteer fighting force in our nation's history, and if you're really that tired of war, imagine how we feel about it.
Imagine how Marines all over the country feel right now as they remember fighting for their lives in Fallujah and how they feel now, or try to imagine what it's like to come home and realize the memory of who you were is better than the reality of who you are now. Over 22 veterans a day commit suicide, and if you look at the latest VA Census Data you will see that men and women who are 50 and older are the largest demographic committing suicide. Men and women who have hidden scars so deep inside themselves that eventually it was too heavy a burden to bare, because of the fear of being judged, mistreated and discarded by society.
Most veterans have no problem talking to people when they ask questions in regards to their service, and some actually enjoy it, but please make sure you aren't offending the veteran you are talking to. PTSD is a real problem that people have to deal with daily and is not a question you should ask upon meeting someone. We will always be haunted by the trials and tribulations we have endured, so please take time to understand that I am/we are just trying to find our way back to normal.