Coming Home: Veterans Wonder What Now?

A Guest Post by AmericanDuckie

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It’s still dark, yet you’re into another day. Another raid, another enemy to find. No rolling over to hit the snooze button. No chance to call in sick either. Only traffic jams are the goats.

You come on a full hike after sleeping, if you want to call it that, for about three hours. Splash some lukewarm water in your face, grab your gear and hit the dust; a hundred pounds of everything that will hopefully keep you alive another day.

People wonder if it’s worth it, this hell hole where the people who want to kill you look no different than the civilians.  Is it worth it? I signed up for this. I can’t explain why, it’s just something I always meant to do. It’s who I am. My country is worth the fight to keep this evil crap on this side of the world and away from my people. It’s worth it to those we’re trying to help here, who contrary to what some folks back home claim, are grateful for a chance to be free from the wolves that try and devour them through barbaric dictatorship. Hell yeah, it’s worth it.

I’m thousands of miles away from life- my folks, my best friend. Don’t think about them now. Don’t think about my own bed, in my own house, or a much needed hot shower. I think about doing my job, making sure no more bad guys take out my brothers while we’re on the hunt. Wind’s blowing fierce out of the mountains, hidden trails winding all over the damned place, but the enemy is in a small enclave a few clicks north east of our current position…

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A version of the same phrase that I hear from many Veterans was going through my mind as I attempted to write that little bit just now. “They taught us how to fight, but they didn’t teach us how to come home.”

I can’t write or get into the mind of someone else, I can only write from my own imagination and perspective. I don’t know if this is meant for our troops, Veterans or for civilians- I can only hope that maybe anyone who reads it will take something thoughtful away from it.

I guess this could be considered a concerned civilian’s rant about what our military men and women go through.  This isn’t an argument on whether the wars Americans have participated in have been right or not- that’s not the point of this. The point is, our troops have been sent to foreign nations since the inception of our Navy and Marines, to fight, to keep America free from enemies, and to make sure enemies never invade America.

While America has been attacked twice here at home, December 7th 1941, and September 11th, 2001, our nation’s heroes have kept their oaths to:

“… solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

How I wish there were politicians who meant their words when they swear to do the same, and they ought to swear another oath as well- to not send any into harm’s way until they understand the ramifications of decisions made in offices instead of listening to those on the front lines.

It used to be that many of those in Washington had served in the Military.  Less now during the past 40 or so years, not nearly enough of those who have made the decisions to enter, or send others to fight wars know what it’s like to be on a battlefield.  Those in Washington, who make the Rules of Engagement, have never had to fight in a war with enemies who don’t care about or play by the rules.

As my friend David Mulldune says in his book, The Mailman Went UA (A Vietnam Memoir),The powers that determine who goes to war have never stepped foot onto the battlefield as a combatant (grunt), nor are they willing to send their children; therefore, they suffer no ill consequence from their decisions… the decisions that we who do the actual fighting must live with.

The majority of our Military men and women do their jobs honorably, yet back here at home, citizens, politicians, and the media focus on the ugliness of war without considering those who are on the battlefield day after day who see up close and personal the evil savagery that the enemy can do to fellow humans without a thought.



From John Kerry’s ‘Winter Soldier’ testimony given while fellow Americans were still in the jungles of Vietnam, to Hanoi Jane Fonda, to many in Washington calling our troops murders and comparing them to monsters like the Nazis, I have to ask- what are you people thinking? Do you not think our troops hear and are not affected by such thoughtless rhetoric?

Consider the words of Sgt. Eddie Jeffers from Iraq, February, 2007, when he said people “don’t realize its effects on this war. In this war, there are no Geneva Conventions, no cease fires. Medics and Chaplains are not spared from the enemy’s brutality because it’s against the rules… The enemy slinks in the shadows and fights a coward’s war against us. It is effective though, as many men and women have died since the start of this war. And the memory of their service to America is tainted by the inconsiderate remarks on our nation’s news outlets.

From the same article, Eddie said, “But even thousands of miles away, in Ramadi, Iraq, the cries and screams and complaints of the ungrateful reach me. In a year, I will be thrust back into society from a life and mentality that doesn’t fit your average man. And then, I will be alone...”

Eddie never got the chance to make that transition. He was killed in Ramadi September 19, 2007, 4 months before he was due home. He was 23.

Those who trade in life’s comforts for combat boots believe in what they do. Most of them don’t see it as something special- it’s who they are.  It’s who they were meant to be; a calling.  Others may have signed up for different reasons, or were drafted, but the fact still remains- they went and served, and kept true to their sworn oaths. They, for the most part, believed and still believe in what they were called to do and would do the same again if called.  Too many people don’t understand what Eddie referred to as the “life and mentality that doesn’t fit your average man”.

Part of that mentality is that which is insulted when people ask them “Is it worth it?” or look at them as if they’re barbarians, and see American casualties as a waste.

From this civilian’s point of view, while my heart breaks for so many families, friends and teams who have lost a son, daughter, dad, husband, best friend, brother, sister… I don’t see it as a waste; a loss yes, but not a waste. It’s something precious given- life given so that others will live another day in a nation which pays more attention to the latest Hollywood gossip, the next ball game or their next vacations.

Too many people here for the past few generations haven’t known sacrifice. We haven’t known what true poverty is, nor known just how incredibly fortunate we are to live in the United States. Those who most loudly call for social justice, political correctness and government programs have talked a talk of compassion, love and justice, but when it really comes down to it, it has turned us into a nation of spoiled, ungrateful and ignorant Americans who care more about what their country can do for them, instead of what they can do to help their country, who don’t consider those who fight for us or why.

Out in the field, our troops have to make due with whatever equipment they can get, often improvising with duct tape and dental floss. They have to depend on people in America to send simple, yet essential items such as body wash and lip balm, simple things such as protein bars, granola bars and ready to eat tuna. There is never a shortage of requests for simple things, which to me, says we here at home aren’t doing nearly enough to think of them while they’re gone to ‘sacrifice’ a few hours and a few dollars to send troops a care package.

What is sacrifice? It is an act of something offered, surrender of something for the sake of something or someone else, something given up.  Some of us are grateful for the sacrifices of our military and Veterans. We think of time spent away, the chances of being wounded or killed in war, grateful for lives given so we don’t have to face the evil they have fought. But how many think about the sacrifices made which effect so many months and even years after they return home; other than thinking about them, how few actually do something?

Backlogs in the VA, a system which was set up to help Veterans and returning troops, has become a huge entity unto itself, yet so many Veterans are left to fight harder against the system.  More of our nations’ heroes’ benefits have been cut for whatever political reasons, by both sides who claim to be our Veterans and troops champions. There are more homeless Veterans in the US than there are homeless illegal aliens. What does this say about our priorities? Jobless rates are higher among Veterans than the civilian sector, and while PTSD can be an obstacle for returning troops and veterans another hurdle can be the fact that many of those who have known nothing but the military have a hard time adjusting, making the transition to civilian life.

Imagine doing a job where you live sacrificially every day because it’s always been in your heart and soul to do it.  These men and women were a part of something those of us who have never served will ever truly understand. A close band of brothers (and sisters) no matter which branch they served in, whose sole calling was to defend others and live the oath they swore, even if it takes dying to do it. They had each other’s backs while protecting all of us. They lived a highly trained, structured, and regulated team based life, individuals, but not self-based, yet life always on the edge.

I read a piece recently, written from a point of view most of us will never know, but in a way I can understand what this author speaks about, describing the transition.  “We had sacrificed marriages, seeing our kids grow up, watching our parents grow old, witnessed our brothers’ deaths, and lost limbs for a conflict that we didn’t start, but were damn sure going to finish. We had been involved so long that it became us. Sure, some of us got out and made strides in veteran’s advocacy, tactical efficiency and efficacy, community growth, technological advancements, and improving quality of life for the layperson at home… (But) this is talking about the guy that has cut his teeth and dodged bullets since he was 18 years old and now has to try to find a place in this world…. there are those of us that still feel we have more to contribute. There are those of us who aren’t meant for a desk. There are men in this world still willing to go out there… But, is there really a place for us anymore?”

When one spends tours, or a majority of their military time on foreign soil, whether on the front lines or on bases, they come home to a “war wearied” nation.  People talk about being tired of war, yet politicians and others always seem to find reasons to send our best off to fight somewhere, yet the most disturbing trend over the past four decades has been to send them to fight, while not expecting to win.

People may argue over whether the war in Iraq was right or wrong, but the fact remains our troops went, they fought hard, they died, they suffered, yet they accomplished much. They regained terrorist held cities and did their best to train Iraqi forces and police; they helped rebuild hospitals, schools and playgrounds.

But because politicians declared to the world that the surge wasn’t working, announced when troops would come home, all the while not allowing them to do their jobs that our government trained them to do- defeat the enemy, all this does is give the enemy the chance to bide their time. After Obama declaring that the enemy was on the run, they have streamed back into Iraq- after our troops came home. And now, they’re doing the same in Afghanistan.

If there is any truth to lives wasted- this would be it, because everything our boys died for and fought for, has been washed away-by terrorists yes, but also by our own government’s failure to let them finish what they were sent to do.

Marcus Luttrell says it best, in his book, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.  “We train for war and fight to win. I stand ready to bring the full spectrum of combat power to bear in order to achieve my mission and the goals established by my country. The execution of my duties will be swift and violent when required, yet guided by the very principles I serve to defend… Looking back… I was more acutely aware of a growing problem which faces U.S. forces on active duty in theaters of war all over the world. For me, it began in Iraq, the first murmurings from the liberal part of the U.S.A. that we were somehow in the wrong, brutal killers, bullying other countries; that we who put our lives on the line for our nation at the behest of our government should somehow be charged with murder for shooting our enemy.

It’s been an insidious progression, the criticisms of the U.S. Armed Forces from politicians and from the liberal media, which knows nothing of combat, nothing of our training, and nothing of the mortal dangers we face out there on the front line… constantly in the back of our minds the ever-intrusive rules of engagement. These are drawn up for us to follow by some politician sitting in some distant committee room in Washington, D.C. And that’s a very long way from the battlefield, where a sniper’s bullet can blast your head, where the slightest mistake can cost your life, where you need to kill your enemy before he kills you. And those ROE are very specific: we may not open fire until we are fired upon or have positively identified our enemy and have proof of his intentions. Now, that’s all very gallant. But how about a group of U.S. soldiers who have been on patrol for several days; have been fired upon; have dodged rocket-propelled grenades and homemade bombs; have sustained casualties; and who are very nearly exhausted and maybe slightly scared? How about when a bunch of guys wearing colored towels around their heads and brandishing AK-47s come charging over the horizon straight toward you? Do you wait for them to start killing your team, or do you mow the bastards down before they get a chance to do so? That situation might look simple in Washington, where the human rights of terrorists are often given high priority.”

I have never served, never sacrificed the way these people have. I may not understand, but I know what touches my heart about them- that while they don’t expect anything from us, it would be appreciated if they knew that what they have done is recognized as duty served, simple things we all take for granted, they sacrificed and gave up for duty’s call.

It’d be appreciated if those who send them would honor them by not tying their hands while telling them to fight. That they could depend on the promises made, benefits and care should they need it without fighting the system that was created to help them.  Our guys are dying on the battlefields because of ridiculous ROEs and here at home because the system is another battle, and it’s got to stop. Stop idolizing TV, sports and movie stars- and start appreciating, helping and showing our Troops and Veterans that you know and are grateful for what they have sacrificed for you. That they matter.

Once more, Sgt. Eddie Jeffers from his article, Raw Deal in Ramadi– “Due to a leak in the Pentagon, the secretary of Defense had to make a very abrupt announcement or risk the New York Times or someone else spilling the story. The Army is going to fifteen month deployments to assist the surge in Iraq. Does that affect me? Yes it does… Expect me home around January…Nothing that can be done about it except what we’re doing now; continuing the mission and insuring America’s success in this war.”

Eddie died before he made it home and hasn’t had to see what so many others who have returned have had to see since the days of the surge. He never had to see our government and politically correct talking heads insure that what they worked and died for would be wasted. He had an idea, but hasn’t had to deal with the question which has been asked by so many…

I wish I could answer or make those who ought to know, give an answer to that same question, which I ask as well for so many.  What now?

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