Four articles caught my attention this past few days. The first was titled Army Sgt Born in CT killed in Afghanistan. Sgt Edward J. Frank, 26, of Hartford CT made the final measure of devotion this past weekend when he was killed by an IED. Sgt Frank was on his third combat tour, two in Iraq, and this third in Afghanistan. He leaves behind a wife and three young children. May he Rest in Peace, and his family’s grief be assuaged. Unfortunately, he is not the only son of Connecticut to die in Afghanistan this month, as Chief Petty Officer Brian Bill, 31 and a Navy SEAL, of Stamford CT, was also killed in Afghanistan.
The second was an editorial in the NY Times by Jonathan Raab of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The editorial, Wanted: a Good Job and Some Understanding ends with a plaintive “Everybody wants to support the troops until they have to share in the hardship and sacrifice,” I said. “Then all of a sudden that bumper sticker or that flag pin doesn’t mean anything anymore.” I agree with the sentiment in general, but I have more to say. Look at the current politics – there is almost no talk about the wars, or about the effects they are having on the people fighting them, or their families, or society at large. Veteran unemployment in general is 5% higher than the civilian population; for disabled veterans it is twice, and in some states, three times as high as the general civilian population. In economic times like these – its every man for himself. People are worried about putting food on their own table, and about paying their own rent or mortgage. Unless they’re veterans or related to veterans – they’ve got other things to worry about. I submit we should not be looking for understanding from civilians – we should be looking to understand civilians, in the same way we tried to understand Iraqis or Afghans when we were deployed. In other words – civilians aren’t going to change. We’re not going to change them. We can win them over, we can overcome their fear and prejudices, just as we did with the civilian populations in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we have an advantage – no one is killing them or their families on a daily basis.
The third article was in the Connecticut Post and was entitled Returning Veterans Face Struggles Returning to the Home Front. The article talks about veterans experiences in CT returning to a civilian environment, and the trials and tribulations thereof. The theme emerges, as quoted by Joy Kiss, founder of the homeless veteran shelter Homes for the Brave in Bridgeport CT – “The returning Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans are becoming homeless quicker than the Vietnam era veterans. They’re coming back to jobs they had, but they’re coming back different so they lose those jobs. And then, as a result of the loss of the job, they lose their homes. And then on top of the stress of combat, they may lose their marriages, they may turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with whatever demons they’re living with. You just get layer after layer after layer.”
And last, this article More Homeless Female Veterans in NC, SC posted in the CT Post.The article quotes a female veteran who says she thought her work experience in the military would help her land a job “but instead potential employers seemed to dismiss her as a serious candidate.”
The message I take away is “We’re different.” And these articles, attempting to chronicle what its like to be a returning vet, actually entrenches that. And we are different. In fact, we’re special. We’re doers. We’re people who make things happen. Who accomplish missions under the most dire and difficult of circumstances. We’re people who negotiated with sheikhs and village elders and ran towns and districts and built bridges and energy grids. We’re not people who complained about not being understood or about being given a job. We went out and did what we did. That’s what we do. We don’t need civilians to understand us – we need to understand them! Developing working relationships, doing economic development projects, accomplishing missions – these are all things we can do – whether its in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Connecticut.
With all due respect to the various authors of the articles, We don’t need civilians to understand us or give us a job.