A Moment in My Life – Thursday, November 12, 2020
Yesterday was Veterans Day, a day to honor all those brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives so that we could live freely. A soldier is a soldier regardless of what uniform they wore; they each made a sacrifice. It doesn’t matter if they lost their lives or made it back home; they made a total sacrifice. Some more than others, but ultimately it was a full sacrifice because they could never go back to who they were before they set foot onto that plane, bus, or boat. They redeemed their lives for the uniform.
I don’t think they all knew what they were getting themselves into. Who would? Who would have made that choice if they knew that there was no turning back once they made that commitment? Maybe some were aware, but they were willing to proceed anyway. Someone has to do it. I could never be that someone. I admire those who are willing to be that person.
Without having walked a mile in their shoes, it’s so easy to discount the cost for that uniform. I have to admit that I am among those who never gave it much thought, but something about this Veterans Day hit me at just that right spot, and for the first time, I understood the cost.
Considering that most of the soldiers were just kids when they left home, they gave up their whole life in this one act. To be a member of the military meant leaving behind family and friends—that special someone to start a new life with in a house with the white picket fence and 2.5 kids and a dog. It meant giving up a career straight out of school and having cocktails with coworkers during the workweek, or watching games with your buddies or going on weekend getaways. Instead, during their rare moments of leisure, they lived ready to gear up and go at a split-seconds’ notice. They endured the constant fight or flight adrenaline rushes, knowing that this might be their last fight. They witnessed unthinkable scenes of mass devastation where no human should have to witness. They dealt with the game-time decisions of whether to kill or be killed. Day in and day out, it was Groundhog Day. Their teammates became their brothers and sisters who protected each other and who broke their hearts when they lost one of their own. They grew up fast out on the battlefield.
When their service time was up, and they were the fortunate ones who got to come home, that’s when they very quickly learn that all they have been through comes home with them. This is their new reality! Every little sound, movement, smell, feel, and every face and place they saw came home with them as a collage imprinted on their minds forever.
The mind is a vastly powerful thing capable of retaining every visual, sensory, and audio scene that we have ever observed. It’s capable of huge imageries. Top the two with our emotions, and our minds could make or break us in more directions than we could envision. Our minds could create a whole world where we could escape to or never return from. Any trauma from our life experiences could live on in our memories indefinitely. After our soldiers have gone through all they have seen, heard, done, and survived, just the mental aspects of their experiences were damaging enough. Still, usually, they also return home with physical souvenirs from their time abroad.
The hardest thing about their homecoming is coming home to civilization, where they trade weapons for hugs, and bunkers and rations for cozy homes and any food they could think of, and as much of it as they want. The hardest part for those awaiting their return is understanding that we can’t expect them to drop their uniforms and play normal. We don’t get to see their mental, emotional, or physical scars that they would bear for the rest of their lives. Civilization becomes their new battlefield where they need to acclimate and learn to fit into living life again while dealing with their demons and scars.
It is heartbreaking that some soldiers don’t have a cozy home to return to with people waiting for them. It is hard either way. If a soldier has people there for them or a lone soldier who has to brave their new normal alone. A soldier’s life is rough any way you look at it because there is no manual for them or for us to follow to help them adjust back to civilization.
After all that they have been through, we should have sponsors waiting and ready to take them by their hands to guide them as they transition back into their lives. They need a helping hand to deal with their mental, emotional, and physical demons. They need lodging and resources. Some may need job training and assistance with getting a job. There should be a soldier phase two program, like how they have programs to ready our high school kids for college and college internship programs that prepared students for the real world. It’s so sad that many veterans end up homeless upon their return. We do have success stories. I have many friends who are veterans and have acclimated nicely back into their lives, but there are so many less fortunate.
Why don’t we have an internship program for soldiers? Especially since not just anybody would have the expertise to assist a veteran, they require specialized people to help a soldier deal with their demons. Considering the damaging effects of war, I’m sure not every veteran can be helped or wants to be helped, but for those who do want help, it would be so nice to have that helping hand so that they don’t have to feel so alone because it is already so hard to come home again.