I can spot a boot a mile away. The tucked in shirt, squared away high and tight, and he is probably standing at parade rest while waiting for his food at the mall. I don’t typically make fun of boots because we were all boots at one point in our career and no matter how much we like to think we were the cool boot, we were in fact, just a boot. For my non-military readers, a boot is that kid fresh out of boot camp who fully embodies the only military experience he has known to date. Namely, that which boot camp taught him. He rightfully swells with pride, but doesn’t quite have the discernment to know when to turn it down a notch. Yet, after a year or two under the tutelage of a few salty Lance Corporals and an encounter or two with the big green weenie, he figures it out. There is more to military life than boot camp. And so it is with us GWOT Veterans, there is more to life than war.
The Good Ole Years of War
For a little perspective, I think it is worth noting that when I returned from Iraq in 2003, future Medal of Honor recipients Kyle Carpenter and Dakota Meyer were 13 and 14 years old respectively. I could have totally kicked their butt back then when they were in Junior High and I was a Marine, but were I to encounter these two warriors today they would have me shoved in a locker with a wedgie up my butt. If an 18 year old private deploys to Iraq today, he would have been 6 years old when I stepped off that plane. And so it is with the GWOT war generation as it has been with all warriors before us, time waits for no one.
When I think about the Wars we fought, I wonder what it will be like to be two decades removed from it, then 3 decades, and so on. If you are a GWOT Veteran, everything you know about being a Veteran is a little over a decade old at best. Last week over the 4th, there was this raging debate in the Veteran community about fireworks, combat stress, and yard signs. I didn’t weigh in on it because I didn’t have much to offer. Do fireworks remind me of sounds I heard in Iraq, yes. Does it bother me, no. Truthfully, you do whatever you want because the Veteran community is a community, not a homeowners association. We don’t elect officers or pay dues, we are just a bunch of people with a common experience and we don’t owe allegiance to any group thought. If anything, we should look to our elders because Vietnam Veterans have been listening to fireworks for 50 years. But let’s move on.
Iraq will always own a little piece of me and Veterans of any war would echo that sentiment. Truth be told, many of us miss it as the nature of this hum drum life often conflicts with the passion and purpose we felt over there. However, at some point in the maturation process, you go from a boot Veteran ready to name and claim every affiliation with your war to a salty veteran who just wants the kids to stay off his lawn. And apart from this blog which is designed to write about such matters, I am much more the latter. Clint Eastwood from Grand Torino is kind of my idol.
Seasons of Life
If I am honest with myself, I spent too much time in the early years as a Veteran thinking disproportionally about the past. I drank too much alcohol, thought little about the future, and was a little reckless with life as I tried to recreate the rush of war. I have a nagging suspicion I wasn’t the only Veteran to do so, and if that too was you, feel free to respond in the comments with, “I am Spartacus”. But life moves on and whether you like it or not, you realize the things to which you hold on were but shadows of a life you will never again live. And only a fool would forfeit real life for but a shadow of one.
However, just like a boot can’t help but be a stupid boot, a new Veteran can hardly help himself. As an American warrior, you just had the experience of your life and who can blame you if you let out a prolonged Ric Flair, “Woooooo” for about 3 years. Then as life moves on, you gain a little more weight, the high and tight hair cut turns into some mop only the Air Force would approve, and you start to gain a little something called humility and perspective.
There is a liquor store around the corner from my house that I visit, uhm, rarely, yeah we will go with rarely, that’s the ticket. At this store one of the clerks knows me as a Veteran due to wearing some subtle Marine swag one day and he regularly applies the 10% Veteran discount without me saying a word. Yet, when other clerks check me out and don’t do the same, you know what I say? Nothing, not a single word. For I have reached a season of life where I’d rather not whore out my humility for a couple of bucks off booze. Now when I need a big ticket item at Lowes, I’ll walk through the checkout line singing the Marines Hymn if I have to, after all I’m only human.
The truth is, this is not really just a Veteran issue and more of a seasons of life matter. Should it be surprising what humors you at age 23 doesn’t make you crack a smile at age 36. There is a pretty large Veteran community online made up of businesses and social groups spearheaded by GWOT Veterans. It is a fun way to connect and I thoroughly enjoy the musings about women, weapons, war and whiskey. My blog does some of that and you can follow my Facebook page by clicking here.
Do it! But I often wonder which of them will adapt as the years go on and who will remain stuck in a rut. I guess they will not run out of 20 something year old military veterans, but the GWOT generation will only get older and they aren’t making us in the same numbers any more.
At age 36, I still love guns and have been rumored to enjoy whiskey, but to be honest, I’m thinking more about raising my kids than hitting the bars. When I sit down with the ladies for a drink these days, I’m sitting in a small pink chair and I’m drinking imaginary tea. My career is not slaying bodies, rather it is non-profit management and soon to be writing. Thus as I age, I gain a little something called perspective to go along with my new found humility and it tastes good. It drives me on to purpose and passion in this life, not the one I lived 12 years ago.
Instead of thinking disproportionately about the past, I have been living this life for quite sometime now and I hope I am not the only Veteran to do so. GWOT brothers, we look up to the Vietnam Veterans for their example in battle, but we need to look up to them as much for how they moved on. It has been 12 years since I stepped off the plane from Iraq and I am no closer to forgetting it today than I was yesterday. However, by the grace of God, I am much closer to making it a part of me rather than the sum. So if you find yourself an aging Veteran of the Global Wars on Terror with changing tastes determined to move forward, then once again I invite you to join me and feel free to respond in the comments with, “I am Spartacus”
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