Happy Veterans Day…but stop calling us “heroes”

November 10, 2017 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , United States

Benjamin Faust photo

 

By

PW Covington

 

 

And you can keep the free food, too

 

 

If you know me or my writing, it probably won’t surprise you to find out that I won’t be wearing American Flag outerwear or standing in lines outside of Mega-Corporate restaurants with throngs of men wearing funny hats this Veterans Day. With fewer and fewer Americans choosing to serve in uniform every year, and a period of war that has sometimes raged, sometimes trickled; yet never stopped, since 1990, American civilians and those that have volunteered to defend, support, enable, and represent them can seem like two separate species, each projecting their own insecurities and misunderstandings upon the other.

A free fried onion or 6 ounce steak will not help or heal this divide.

 

A few of my personal thoughts on this Veterans Day:

 

Those that have served this country have come from every corner of society. Contrary to the image that many Veterans and Veteran service organizations like to present; the US Military is NOT some kind of Ultra-Conservative, Straight, White, Male, Christian Supremacist fraternity of poor, rural, Southerners that had no other opportunity or interest in life, before applying for the military. I served in the 1990’s, and even then, the diversity I found within the military blew away any I had been exposed to in small town Texas.

I worked side by side with plenty that might fit the “good old boy” stereotype, but I also worked with a gay, punk-rock, intelligence analyst from upstate New York, a former Division I women’s basketball player, a 1st generation Vietnamese-American officer that seemed to disappear when you looked directly at him, a black Lieutenant that used to enjoy cruising the streets of a small, Arkansas town with his white girlfriend, in his shiny sports car looking for racist idiots to scuffle with; on more than one Monday morning he came in with a swollen or bruised face, but walking with pride.

I worked under a Senior NCO that, although born and raised in the American South, converted to Islam after his experiences serving in Saudi Arabia during the 1st Gulf War. I became friends with an Air Force firefighter that was very, very proud of his Native American heritage and all that it meant to him. The first Wiccan practitioners I ever knew were military members. I worked with a fellow Airman from a very wealthy and prominent South Carolina family that had earned his Masters in Philosophy THEN enlisted in the Army National Guard (after the age of 30), then after almost a decade, joined the regular Air Force (losing rank in the process) as a logistics specialist, building wooden crates and shipping containers on a daily basis.

Some that I served with left the military around the same time I did, after a few years in uniform during a period of shrinking budgets and tightening belts. We have become parents, spouses, business owners, artists, inmates, health care professionals, truck drivers, dancers, journalists, and factory workers. We are atheists and believers, men and women, well to do, and more needy.

Others, ran as far and fast as they could from the military structure, only to realize with the distance of years, that their service helped forge that very self reliance and determination.

A few that I knew remained in the military, and continued to deploy as needed, in response to security, humanitarian, and national interest needs of our country. Some even achieved the highest accomplishment any military member hopes for when sewing on those first few stripes; after 20, 25, 30 or more years in service to others, they have earned retirement from active duty. Many of these men and women, chose AGAIN to serve as civilians, sometimes for the military, and others with any number of other Federal, State, or local agencies and activities.

 

My point here is that there is NO standard “Veteran”. We once wore similar clothes to work, but there is no singular “Veteran” (or “military”) personality. Don’t be fooled or discouraged by the Ultra-Conservative, Anti-everything, rhetoric from what may seem to be the most visible or the loudest among us. Veterans are men and women, come from all ethnic backgrounds, practice many religious faiths (and, importantly, many, like me, subscribe to NONE at all), and have as diverse sexual, educational, and childhood backgrounds as any other segment of the US population.

The vast majority of US military Veterans, even during a period of war that has stretched on since 1990, have never fired a shot in anger. Most soldiers, sailors, airmen, and yes, even Marines, serve in logistical, administrative, maintenance, support, or staff positions. While ONE end product of the American military is kinetic power and force, the number of people required and the number of hours of very difficult, mostly thankless work involved to get that infantry squad into that battle-space, or to get that guided monition onto a target, or to keep that ballistic missile submarine at sea, is Herculean.

There are true heroes to be found among the military community, but the word is used to the point of abuse by civilians and even a few Veterans. No, we are NOT “heroes” for applying for a job and then doing it to the best of our ability after we were hired. That word is overused and offensive, especially when it is being used to market everything from re-heated chicken-fried steaks to religious services.

It can seem like every Veteran you talk to (or, actually, that seems to always want to TALK TO YOU) was some kind of Special Recon Forces Para-Control Seal Badass. Don’t fall for it.

The fact is, without medical professionals, without finance specialists, without environmental engineers, without transportation specialists, without dietitians and contracting professionals, without fuels specialists, without information systems and data specialists, without air conditioning and heating repair people, without musicians, journalists and protocol specialists, without aerospace engineers and scientists developing next generation technology, without those that operate the network of GPS spacecraft, without those that work every day to ensure the safety and security of this nation’s remaining nuclear and special weapons, without those that can purify water or assist disaster ravished areas rebuild and govern themselves after being leveled by Mother Nature, without those that get up every morning (or afternoon), put on their work clothes, and go to a workplace not unlike many civilians…those on the “pointy end” would not have a chance at survival or success.

 

In recent decades, it seems that certain folks within the military and Veteran community may have forgotten some of what we all once understood. We do not serve high ranking officers or even the Commander in Chief. We serve the American people. Sometimes that service is about plucking civilians off of roof-tops during floods or rescuing fishermen caught in storms at sea…other times it can be about putting boots on the ground in foreign combat zones and defending ourselves and others. Sometimes, it is about being present, in some of the most dangerous and brutal places in the world, not as combatants, but as International Peace-keepers.

It’s the job, and for most Veterans, our military service was much more similar to your daily workplace than to any Hollywood movie you may have seen or drunken tale you may have overheard from the “Navy Seal” at a bar somewhere.

One of the main reasons that I, personally, avoid the free buffet lines and such on Veterans Day, and cringe at well meant remarks like “Thanks for your service”, is because, there was no “ME” involved. Military service is always a matter of “WE/US”, not “I/ME”. My service is the story of what all of those I served with accomplished, it is about field training exercises with squadron-mates, it is about the almost instant bonds that get created as those assembled at the final deployment location instantly get to work and get the mission accomplished, it is about the pride you feel when you see a vessel that you served on sailing on without you, or that melancholy when you recognize a tail number of a plane you once worked on in an aircraft bone-yard. It’s a ceremonial coin carried for 20 years in a wallet, even when it sat for over a year, in the property room of a penal institution, always prepared for a “coin-check” that may never come again.

In my service, although I knew that I was working FOR the American people; at the direction of those they elected to represent themselves, I worked WITH members of the 2nd Mobile Aerial Port Squadron, I worked WITH members of the 377th Transportation Squadron, I was not a “military member”, nor just “an Airman”…I was an Air Transportation Specialist, I was a Mobile Aerial Porter. I was a 2 MAPPER.

 

The needs of the military, and ultimately, the American people, will always dictate the lives and fates of those that serve, and in my case, that meant I did not get to be any of these things as long as I would have liked to be. However, when I look back on those years in the service, I can see that I was never alone, and that it never was supposed to be about me….it is about all of us, with each of us bringing our own unique strengths and talents to the table. There is NO “Army of One”. It doesn’t work that way. It never will.

When you invite individual Veterans to an event honoring their service, know that, whether you can see them or not, you are hosting an entire duty section, an entire deployment package, a Squadron, a Battalion, a Company, a Corps, a career field.

So, yeah, there it is….as usual, I don’t expect or pretend to speak for anyone but myself, especially any other Veteran. Again, there is no single “type” of Veteran, just as there is no single type of “American”.

 

Happy Veterans Day, America.

Today is a day to honor the service of those that gave parts of their lives in service to all of us. It is a living holiday; it is about the men and women that surround us every day, just doing what they do. I join you in this observance; but don’t look for me, wrapped up in the flag, at the Golden Corral buffet line.

 

 

 

 

 

PW Covington

PW Covington is a 100% Service Connected Disabled Veteran of the US Air Force. He deployed to Somalia as part of the International famine relief and humanitarian OPERATION RESTORE HOPE.

Covington is a writer and poet. His new poetry collection, The Motor Hotels of Central Avenue, is now available.

PW lives two blocks north of Route 66, in Northern New Mexico.

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3 Comments

  1. sarah ito November 10, at 20:20

    This Army veteran agrees with your sentiments 100%.

    Reply
  2. Aleksandar Pavlovich November 10, at 20:02

    Hey - great story but perhaps change out the photograph to one without the Colors on the deck?

    Reply
  3. Jason Covington November 10, at 17:56

    Is this the same guy (PW Covington) who got caught embellishing his military resume? Then got kicked out of Team Rubicon for presenting false papers?

    Reply

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