Recently a friend of mine made an observation about me. She said that she doesn't see a lot of military stuff from me. I sat and thought for a second about it. I sat and thought for a few more seconds about it. After even more seconds I sighed and made this confession:
What am I supposed to be proud of?
In an instant my friend knew she would be in for something to really think about. For me, I would be confessing something that has sat on my mind for the past few years. Before I go into it I must say something very important to me:
I am a veteran. I am a proud and honorable servant of the ideals of this nation. I am humbled to be part of a lineage of men and women who have given everything to support those ideals. I am honored to be one of the people who can say "I Served" and know I gave my best for those who drink from the cup of a freedom so many have fought to fill. I remember those who never made it home from the battles fought overseas, and those who physically made it home but are never free from the battle in their own minds. I am a veteran and I am proud of my service to the nation. I want to thank those who have served with honor, integrity, and a truth to the mission that we all swore an oath to. If you are a veteran I thank you. **********
OK, back to my response to my friend. What am I supposed to be proud of? Every day I wake up I see the hate and divisive behavior of a nation hell bent on replaying the Civil War. Every day I see men and women who served this nation spit vileness at the world while waving, without any care of the hypocrisy of it all, the very flag that symbolizes our ideals . Every day I wake up to someone's declaration that they support this or that and, if I don't agree with them I am, for better or worse, an idiot and piece of shit who doesn't love his country. So, what am I supposed to be proud of?
Over the past few years I have been, indirectly called, a snowflake and a libtard. My struggles with equality in the judicial system has been mocked and diminished. I have been called Godless and that I am hell bound. I've been threatened with war and violence if my view doesn't line up with the rhetoric of some of these far left and right groups. I've been told I need to "get over it" when I see the political figures in office side with hate, homophobia, sexism, racism and criminal behaviors. I've been told that if I am not on the train to "Make America Great Again" and that I need to go back to Africa. Yes, "go back to Africa" was something I saw in the year 2019. So, what am I supposed to be proud of? The tragedy of this is that I didn't hear or read these types of things from just anyone. No, I have seen this all from men and women who have defended this country at some point. So, again, what am I supposed to be proud of?
The thing is I expect it from civilians of the nation. We are free. We have freedom of speech. We have freedom of the press. We have our rights that have been passed down from generations passed. Civilians don't always understand the cost of freedom and the blood, sweat and tears that goes into earning it. They don't, but military members do. Military members understand it at a deeper level because we signed the check that says "and up to including my life." A civilian doesn't understand that level of commitment to an ideal. Hell, some military don't even get it. I don't think I truly understood it fully until I stood in the conference room of the 5th Air Support Squadron waiting for the Commanding Officer to come in and tell us that one of our guys was Killed in Action (KIA). Then it became truly real because, once it hits home, it buries itself deep inside you and it will never be pulled out. So, when a military person spreads hate and divisiveness, I am, for lack of a better term, confused. So, what am I supposed to be proud of?
What did my 22 years of service and sacrifice do for my country? Why did so many men and women of different ethnicities, beliefs, citizenship, age, sexual orientation, and abilities get marched onto planes inside cold metal boxes with the symbol of our freedom neatly draped across? Why did my ethnic ancestors and so many other minority groups join our military in years when it was okay to give them less than their white military men (and women) got simply because of their race? What did they endure in far off lands only to come back to a country whose citizens, under the very flag the men (and women) fought to defend, would deny them their equality? Why did the women endure and overcome years of sexism, and verbal and mental abuse while constantly having to prove themselves worthy to wear a uniform? Why do these same women endure over the years only to be ridiculed and mocked today when they say they too suffer from PTSD? What did the many wars we as a nation have fought, and lost innocent lives both in physical form and mental, do for our country when we are more divided than ever? And, why, when the pride is no longer for the values of a nation but for nationalism, for our race and for our religious zealotry? So, what am I supposed to be proud of?
And this is my conflict with broadcasting I am a proud American: I am absolutely proud to have sacrificed for the ideals of this country. I am absolutely proud to have served and suffered with so many great men and women from all walks of life, beliefs and backgrounds, who have forever changed me for the better. I am proud to wear my military tattoos as a reminder of just what I was willing to give so that my son, and my son's son would be able to live in a country where he was not judged on his color, his religion or lack of, his sexual orientation or anything else of the such, but rather for his ability and skills as a human being. I am proud to stand with others who want to move the needle forward toward a country who defends against the hate of the world while showing the world love. I am proud of that. Then, I see where we are today, and I'm conflicted.
When my friend asked me about it, I instantly pictured the veterans' cemetery I drive by a couple times a week. I thought about the men and women buried there, and about the millions of marked and unmarked graves of those who served. I thought about doing the last day of the 22-pushup a day challenge to raise awareness for veteran suicides that I did right there in that cemetery.
And again, I thought about their sacrifices. This brought me back to my friend's question and what I said after I asked my friend, "What am I supposed to be proud of?" The movie A Few Good Men flashed in my head and a sequence of dialogue played out as if I was actually there again and again and again. This one:
Downey : [after the verdict was read] I don't understand... Colonel Jessup said he ordered the Code Red.
Galloway : I know but...
Downey : [nervously] Colonel Jessup said he ordered the Code Red! What did we do wrong?
Galloway : It's not that simple...
Downey : [anxiously] What did we do wrong? We did nothing wrong!
Dawson : Yeah we did. We were supposed to fight for people who couldn't fight for themselves. We were supposed to fight for Willy.
I said to my friend, "We were supposed to protect Willy!" As she asked me what I meant I finally broke this down. America was never supposed to be the bully on the yard. It was never supposed to be the tyrant. It was never supposed to be bought and paid for by the richest and most corrupt. It was never supposed to turn its citizens into warring factions of cowards hiding behind some altered belief system in order to get what "I want." No, America is supposed to defend the weak and the abused. We are supposed to be the beacon of hope for the hopeless. We are supposed to fight for those who couldn't fight for themselves. We are supposed to defend the rights of each other and show the world that freedom isn't just doing what you want without responsibility, but instead knowing that freedom comes with great responsibility. We are supposed to defend "Willy" who comes to us in the form of impoverished people in our nation, homeless, addicts, disabled, abused, beat, broken and even those who have made mistakes that cost them their freedom too. We are supposed to defend the equality of justice system and the ideals of a nation that say, "You will have the same opportunities as I do." We are supposed to defend the weak.
So, what am I proud of?
I am proud of every person who looks past the color of someone and says, "How can I help you?" I am proud of every person who passes out food to the homeless and volunteers their time, money and energy to helping those in the struggle. I am proud of the men and women who I see in uniform out helping people in the community. I am proud of legislators who fight the status quo and buck the system in order to help all, especially those who are being held back. I am proud of the White Americans who stand and understand that the judicial system is flawed and that Black lives do matter. I am proud of the Black Americans who stand with the police officers who do an impossible job day in and day out regardless of if they are Black or White or other because they know not every police officer is a racist. I am proud of the women who stand up for equality of women without needing to bash men. I am proud of the men who stand up for women's equality. I am proud of the people who tell a trans or gay teen that they is a safe place for them. I am proud that my sacrifice allows me to stand up and say this is what I am proud of and not worry about the backlash from those who have forgotten what it means to be a "Proud American." Most importantly, I am proud of all the "Willys" in the world who are learning to stand up and say they are not okay with what is going on in, not only this country, but the of our world, too. We have a long way to go but I am still very proud to be a veteran of a country with so much potential.
Happy Veterans Day to all the men and women who honorably serve(d) this great Nation.