From a very early age... basically at age 7 right around my first Communion, I knew deep down that I would serve in the United States Armed Forces. I knew I was a protector/defender, or Warrior I guess. The Voice of the voiceless, the protector of those who were too weak or not fit enough to defend themselves. To protect Freedom, which is not to be confused by any means with Free-dumb, blind Nationalism or docility. As the years went by and the I grew into a young adolescent I had morphed into a very troubled youth that was rough around the edges. We can leave it at that. It's my story, my data, and I will dump the rest when and if I see fit. Understood?
But I always was obsessed with History, specifically military history, World War II, Vietnam, and the evolution of Armor and Tank Warfare. Unfortunately, I was not that interested in Social history, politics, governments, or foreign policy during these times as well, but that's a whole "nother" story again... in and of itself for another time. To give you a taste I was way into board wargames by a Company called Avalon Hill like "Panzer Blitz" and "Afrika Corps" as well as the life of Irwin Rommel the "Desert Fox". My father had taken me to the Tank museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground, United States Army in Maryland. At 18 years old I joined the New York Air National Guard, 274th Combat Communications Squadron out of Roslyn, ew York. My Air Force Specialty Code was 291x1,
which was Communications-Computer Systems Operator. The way that I eventually became Active Duty Air Force was not by one of those "Court/Judge directed" affairs aka - "An offer I could not refuse but... Unfortunately by age 18, it had become rather inappropriate for me to continue living under my Parents roof, so the only other practical solution for me was to go and enlist Active Duty Air Force.
To this day I still remember my BMTS flight number "3707th" and my main TI was TSgt Cesar, and my Active Duty recruiter was a guy named SSgt Bergstrom, I actually wonder if these guys are still alive and kicking from time to time. In totality I ended up spending like a little under 23 years total serving my country. It truly without a doubt is, has become, and will stay till my dying day, one of the most intense love/hate relationships I will ever have. For most folks 4 years of Active Duty is more than enough of a taste, and I truly truly can admire those that make this decision. But to commit to twenty years or more of service, and not completely lose your mind or lose something that you love dearly is a remarkable feat for anyone.
Additionally, the military spouse and child are one our nation's greatest gifts and resilient human resource. Many Americans have no idea at all, what military families, not just the immediate family unit, but the extended family must go through, endure and sacrifice. To many of them they miss out on the trivial details of family life that normal civilian families get to enjoy. Civilian families cannot even begin to understand the pressures and uncertainties, and ultimately for some military families the collateral damage and destruction that follows the military members in some cases.
There became many points/junctures during my military career that made me question my commitment and sanity, as well as a full blown conflict of my human values. I can remember reenlistments where I wanted to vomit in my mouth. But through all of it, even after my last deployment, where I truly had realized that I was a warrior and a leader that had much heart for his people and I actually thought of going another six years past twenty. Cannon AFB, East New Mexico, The post 911 world, as well as Chief MSgts that clearly demonstrated they were narcissistic politicians and protectionists as well as the loss of my right testicle finally put the nail in the coffin to me thinking of making SMSgt or miraculously making Chief. Thats ok though, I knew it was time to leave because politics and my world view of where the nation was headed made it clear to me, that I had no business being there. I was never a status climber, hypocrite or backstabber as an NCO and never would be. End of story.
My last year, I worked relentlessly and tirelessly on resumes/covers letters in order to land a job asap before I was even off of Terminal Leave. I was successful in reaching said goal, something that many of my SNCO peers did not ascribe to. I was quite successful in what I was doing as well as the salary I commanded, but after a little less than a decade I had come to realize that Corporate America and Corporate Senior Leadership was a "Weak and Toxic Ticket" in many cases. There was a lot to be grateful for from my military career and it's organizational culture. Not that it is practical or realistic to want back into to the military at the age of 51 but I cannot deny that there are many aspects of it that I do miss and many things that the Military Machine does much much better than Corporate America. In the last few months I constantly have very lucid dreams that somehow I was coerced or let back in the Air Force because of some reasons or contingencies. At first many times these dreams bordered on nightmares and PTSD oriented (which we will get to soon enough), but as of late they are usually welcomed. What a surprise!
In June of 1996, I deployed to Khobar towers between the dates of 25-26 June, this is within under 24 hours of the Bombing there, I stayed at Khobar for about a month and a half and then redeployed to Al Kharj AB as the "First In-Last Out" Tactical Communications Team. The deployment was cut short a week early because of the death of my Father-In-Law, and getting me back to the states under these conditions was nothing short of rather dramatic. I did not realize this at the time (and should have believe, you me) but I was behaving and coping in toxic, self-destructive ways within less than 2 weeks of returning to the states. Don't ask but I was playing with darkness. Leave it at that.
This went on literally on and off for almost another decade before I even could be cognizant of what I was doing and maybe the reasons why. What is funny and ironic is that I even had my Air Force Comrades talk shit from time to time about me because of the "Thousand Yard Stare" etc. Some of these people as I type this are on their way to becoming (E-9s). Wrong. I deployed in 2002 to Al Udeid Air Base and basically put that bases network infrastructure in so bombing could commence of Iraq during OIF. When March of 2003 rolled in, we were ready to roll, and for the most part my work-center had done it's part. When we saw the M-1 Abrams rolling in to Baghdad in the late spring, it was a good vibe at the "Deid" so we literally wouldn't watch CNN or any of the news. So when my parents picked me up a the Airport in July 2003, and I went to my room later that evening and I turned on the news, I was literally bowled over, because I knew now things were getting ugly and hardcore. It was not the dream blitzkrieg mission of bringing Starbucks to the Middle East that Cheney and Rumsfeld had promised in their grand hubris.
In my last 6-8 months in the USAF I was diagnosed with a Testicular Leydig Cell Tumor, and the pressures of everything had caused me to get divorced... and then 3 months later get remarried to the women I love to the last breath and we are still together happily to this day. So in 2007, after being retired about 2.5 years I decided to put in an initial VA Claim because I was working with many Military Vets that were always talking about their service connected disabilities but they were somewhat small. I just felt that I did not want to even deal with the VA and also that I was not that screwed up. But I thought about it and put my claim in and talked with the DAV. It took over seven years for me to get most of my claim resolved. From 2013 up to early 2015 I went through alot of shit and dealt with many issues regarding PTSD, Suicide and Suicidal Ideation. It's hard to articulate but deep down I knew I had pushed my trauma issues to deep to even recognize and I had compartmentalized these things (secrets) because of the miltary culture (which is in a way.... quite natural considering the warrior ethos), I had to hold on and keep up my warrior persona, I had a family/wife, and like anywhere from 33-65 personnel at times that I was responsible for (lock, stock and barrell). Many civilians cannot understand that... and unfortunately for differing reasons some of my military brothers and sisters cannot process this either, but that is my thought process on it.
There are many Vets in the community (if it could be called that), that seem to have this view of my PTSD is worse than yours, you are making it up, posing, bullshitting for the money etc. etc. Also, many vets create infighting saying that if you were not a grunt/specops in direct combat ops, that somehow you are not formally/officially veterans status. Bullshit! If you just went to Bootcamp and got Medically Boarded you are a Vet. I don't care what your job is, what branch of the service, saw combat or not, deployed or not. You are a Vet. Just stop with this shit. United and Organized is the only way to succeed and survive. Weakest link in the chain.
When I was in the service I always utilized the system and environment to at least try and have a modicum of control over the outcome of my military career's direction. To be completely passive and at the "Man's" will is a lame way to navigate the trajectory of your professional career. When you become a Veteran it's the same way to approach the situation. You have benefits, they are NOT GIFTS or ENTITLEMENTs, these things were earned WITH BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS DO NOT DELUDE YOURSELVES!
The majority of Americans at large have not COME TO TERMS with the fact that more service members were killed by suicide (23 a day) than actual Killed in Action during OPERATIONS IRAQI FREEDOM/ENDURING FREEDOM. There is something sick regarding the collective conscious of our nation. I want to be perfectly clear that (we the military members/veterans) did not fail. Then who did? There have been times lately when I say and think that given the chance I would not do it again, but that is a lie... I guess it is all that I know in the end. Maybe this is what the dreams are about? One of the biggest sources of my insurmountable waves of blackened depression come from what I see in my country now. Is this what I gave 20 years of my life for?
Now with Spec Ops forces carrying out missions back in Iraq with the Kurds, and the POTUS decision to keep Troops in Afghanistan through 2015 and beyond with nary a peep from the American populace or Congress it just keeps the American tragedy rolling, but to where? There is no discourse regarding these matters/decisions, just apathy and denial.
One thing I would like to say though, is that I am more than grateful for the benefits I have received for the most part (90%) and I am more than surprised in a good way by the medical treatment I receive through the VA. At times it is better than Tricare. I would like to personally thank congressman (R) Jim Webb and his fellow collaborators for the Post 911 gi-bill.
If you want to show your personal appreciation to this Vet or others (I won't and cannot speak for them all), but to just say empty hollow statements such as "thank you for your service" etc. I don't want or need that, I need people to listen, I need Americans to know their history, I need my fellow Americans to vote.
Veterans are NOT these one dimensional, blindly following, blindly nationalistic, automatons ok? Alright... in rare instance some really are. Because the Military is literally a microcosm of American Society at large. You figure the rest out. Instead of just managing our medications and symptoms, please, just try to listen to us and talk to us. Don't treat us as possible individuals that can explode at any moments notice, but on the other hand don't call us heroes. I am not a hero, I am just some guy, a guy who had a rather tumultuous personal life but tried very very hard, to serve his country with as much honor, pride and dignity as he could possibly humanly muster. I tried to give as much as I could without losing it completely. There is no stereotypical Veteran one way or another so stopping looking for him or her.
But I do think as Veterans we need to be Organized and stop the infighting over myopic and trivial issues that detract from the true mission. Which is to make sure we take care of ourselves and each other. People need to remember what General McArthur is originally famous for orginally, which is the overt suppression of the Bonus Army. Not someone whom I would have much respect for.
Always fight for your rights as Veterans and I finally challenge all Military Members and Veterans to read! read! read! about History, and Vote! Always Vote.
Someone who really cares about the Veterans community at large, and truly has a sincere positive mental attitude is ”Soldier Hard”, he is an OIF Army Veteran that served as a “Tanker”. I never knew his real name but I had stumbled upon his video of the song
The first time I heard this rhyme I was ironically “Triggered” pretty badly, but at the same time I was comforted because this dude was expressing things perfectly for me, and even more so the visuals in the video for perfect for his words. What follows below is a very short list of his songs.
Soldier Hard runs the Redcon1 music group that features a slew of other Veteran/Active Duty Rappers and also a country/rocknroll artist to boot. I will leave it to you to use your fave search engine to find out more. Soldier hard has HEART and truly is one of the most sincerest dudes I have been exposed to regarding Vet Issues so please check him out. His candor, sincerity, and words/visual portrayals in his media offerings resonate with me on a very physical and palpable level. Who knows maybe he would totally not relate to my thoughts and works and think I was a Tool or an Asshole but thats the risk I take when I express myself and make my own media. Additionally, some of the artists you should hear on Redcon are Steven Hobbs, Frankie Figgs or Jay Duece. Good guys all. This summer when I was in the Mini Mart at Fort Dix/McGuire I was in line to check out, and I kept hearing all these people in uniform, Air Force, USMC and Army people conversating and besides using the usual military meeting/greetings, many of them said "Brother" or "Sister" and you know what? Thats truly the way it should be and the way it is. Because we are brothers and sisters in Arms... Comrades. I thought to myself, that this was a good thing military culture wise.
Over the last weekend I stumbled upon an amazing historical documentary on the Fall of Saigon, which literally in my mind, truly embodies what it means to be an American Service member and doing the right thing full of integrity.
At one point I had tears in my eyes. I challenge you to take the time to dedicate to watch it in it's entirety you may learn a thing or two.
The continued outsourcing and privatization of the United States Armed Forces NEEDS TO STOP NOW!!
As Veterans we can't organize like a traditional Union or other workers solidarity organization so it's up to us to stick tight and support these groups like
to fill in those gaps that a Union would normally provide. Many things have changed (for the better I think at least) socially and culturally in the military. But for every one step forward we take, there seems to be two steps back in other areas. Remember, in almost every situation it's all about Collective Action.
We Veterans have an Obligation to keep the legacy of honor alive for the KIA/Fallen, but we have an even more important mission to support those who are presently serving, and to advocate for those who are thinking of joining the Armed Forces.
Tomorrow first and foremost please... I implore you to take a step back and think about what serving means or meant to you, and even more importantly what this Country means to you and what freedom really means. Let our voices be the weapons to ensure positive changes in America now.
On a more personal and simpler note, put this day aside to take care of YOURSELVES AND YOUR LOVED ONES.
I don't care if you are Rich or Poor, God fearing or an Atheist, Gay or Straight, Single or Married. Don't care about your race, or the color of your skin. Whether you are a Woman or Man. If you took that oath and served you are a Vet. No-one, except the Universe/Cosmos itself has the power or right to take it away from you. Eternally. I also dedicate this post to military veterans around the world serving their respective countries. I dedicate this post to all of my mentors in the USAF, my niece Monica, my Nephew Tony and finally to my wife's cousin John A. United States Army.
Final note I swear, but I never said I didn't stir the pot, or that I was apolitical/non-partisan, but... You watch the 4th GOP Primary Debate this evening, they will all talk grandly about going to War and to act aggressive, but there won't be one sylable spoken about Veterans or the military personnel serving the nation except for exploiting them to further their own agendas. You watch.
A million bows. Be Well. And enjoy your day.