Want to Welcome the New Generation of Veterans Home? Include Them.

Slightly older than our college peers we are no longer enrolled for an experience (if enrolled at all), we have lived dirt poor and with limited resources and we aren’t there for the dorm party or ramen noodles cooking on a hotplate, we have a mission.

Unable to relate to those younger than us and unable to fit in with those older than us, we are left in a paralyzing limbo — of which, the emotional state is equivalent to Wilson, the apathetic volleyball in Cast Away. A stigma rooted as heavy as a Redwood has taken hold as to what it means to be a veteran, it isn’t the fault of the people around us though, for years the media has made us out to be non-functioning psychopaths that can’t be helped and cannot stop killing ourselves. Very few instances of veterans making the all-American comeback have been presented to the public despite many doing exactly that on a consistent basis, and so they are left with no choice but to consider us unstable, angry and incompetent outsiders which need to be monitored and spoken to like we are slow learners or unable to take care of ourselves.

Ironically, this behavior towards the veteran community, specifically the younger veteran community, leads to veterans adapting what their public peers pressure them to assume the archetype of in their distorted minds. Leaving the military to find a new life for yourself is a challenge presented to those who truly do not understand the gravity of what they are attempting to accomplish, myself included. We assume we will have a fresh start on freedom and the ability to focus on ourselves but consider very little in the way of what that actually means in terms of the steps to get there. For most, there are less than a handful of potential options. The options are typically presented as finding a career, going back to school or accepting you are permanently disabled for the rest of your life.

As we transition, we realize we actually have a desire to do more than just work, we’ve done that already, and we have a desire to do more than just learn — we’ve also done that already. Most who are told they are too disabled to lead a normal life also find that option pretty repulsive as well. Despite our apprehension towards it, we get to work, enroll in school and do the best we can at moving on so as not to cause a ruckus or disturb the status-quo, we just want to be a part of a group and lead lives worthy of hanging a hat on. At some point in our new endeavors, we realize things aren’t clicking like we had assumed they would in our minds when we took the journey of freeing ourselves — and instead begin to wonder if we were ever meant to actually leave our warrior tribes.

The consequences of attempting to project yourself onto a new path in life is that people will be heavily skeptical of where you came from in the first place and why you decided to land among them. In the case of choosing the career path, you are an older guy or gal with less tenure than others, maybe even older than tenured employees, needing to beg for similar pay in order to be able to live on your own or — share the shame of your decision by living with your family, on a couch or in a basement after the military. Similarly, in school you realize that most of what you are learning, you were taught in the military and in far more complex ways… but you will sit through classes with people nearly a decade younger than you and watch their body language gravitate away from you as they recognize you are older, and then you'll watch the professor stutter step as they attempt to address you because they aren’t sure how you will react. In these instances you recognize the isolation involved with leaving the military, and over the course of time as well as transgressions from the surrounding environment, you begin to take on the role & stigma they give you; you are angry and distraught, you do not care what you look like any more going to class or work, you take very little pride in yourself as a person and you become the mess that society projected onto you for daring to project yourself into their world.

Our media has poisoned the perception of veterans returning home after the service and have given us a collective title of dysfunctional psychopaths incapable of fitting back in and left with no choice but to kill ourselves at overwhelmingly alarming rates. Imagine if instead, we were given the perspective of the veterans who built themselves from the ground up, veteran CEO’s, COO’s and business owners, veteran athletes and actors and millionaires, veteran examples which exemplify the American dream. Can you remember a time when you were overwhelmingly given that perspective? I can’t.

The overzealous passion instilled in many veterans underlie their very being, and rather than showcasing their supposed dysfunctionality, we need to be nursing their purpose and mission driven core beliefs while allowing their love of country and purpose to shine and radiate in the work place or school. Instead of treating veterans like they are a mental patient walking down a corridor they weren’t supposed to be in after breaking out of their room, maybe we need to accept that most have had experiences which rival the trivial lives we face when leaving the military and maybe, just maybe we can learn something from them and treat them like scholars, or at the very least, like equals.

In the work place, their attention to detail and ability to adapt and overcome would shock even a seasoned business leader, but often times we suggest they throw that acute skill to the wayside because it threatens the comfortability of other peoples piss poor work performance…why wouldn’t it? they are average and have gotten away with average work ethic for years. A veteran coming in and dominating isn’t a good look on their comfort zone or ability to retreat to the shadows until retirement, so we shape shift veterans into incapable beings that need to be more “civil” which is really just a synonym for laziness in this case. Our pathetic, or apathetic response to veterans coming back with high hopes is to diminish them so as not to threaten the status-quo, which veterans weren’t attempting to disturb in the first place… but the civil standard of accomplishment is so incredibly dismal and low that doing just about anything sends ripples through the work or school place because people aren’t used to actually doing what they are tasked to do in the manner they were tasked to do it in.

In a world that needs a refreshing and demanding change for the good, we take the last peoples willing to lay their life down on the principal of it and demand they integrate to the civilian way of life when we know damn well — but are too afraid to admit, that it is not the veteran community which needs integration back into civilian life, it is civilians who need to sack up and gain a warriors spirit, sense of duty, commitment and honor. A world void of these things is chaotic, but entering it after being in a world that demanded it is not only depressing, it is not worth existing in, to many. The conditions which we stigmatize veterans have been created by our own perception, or lack thereof. I’ve learned the difficult way that there is a good portion of people whom have no desire to excel. exceed. accomplish or bring to fruition aspirations which require their full attention and faith, their reasoning varies but at their core they are always threatened by the same thing which is people who do the exact opposite and threaten their bubble.

We have a unique opportunity to utilize the talents and skills veterans bring to the table and advance our world a day at a time by giving them meaningful tasks and missions to accomplish, but often refuse to do so because it threatens others positions. We want to work with you, teach you, grow more wise and collective with you, we do not want to work against you or feel friction in our new lives day after day.

If you want to welcome us home, save the banners and the handshakes and gives us something worth a shit to do, you can hold the money, just give us some food and a real meaningful purpose — far away from anyone who will be threatened by the violence at which we attack and pursue our highest aspirations. If you want to welcome us home, allow us to feel a sense of pride putting ourselves together each morning and hold us accountable to that standard rather than berating us for looking so well put-together, don’t tell us we have to relax our standards, raise yours. If you actually want to welcome veterans home, reach out to us instead of circulating rumors around work or school about us, we aren’t as unapproachable as you think. If you want to welcome veterans home, let them have a voice about what they’ve observed and kept quiet about for so long. If you really want to welcome us home, do so by giving us something worth coming home to, rather than avoiding and isolating from.

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The Grind

U.S Army / OEF Vet, College Football Player, Small Business Start-Up Owner, Student