Videos by OutKick
Being a veteran isn’t only about saving twos of dollars at Home Depot and getting free cheese fries once a year at some of these places. It’s also about blowing things up, waiting in lines, and having people ask what it’s like to kill somebody. Hooray!
Kidding. There are a million other things that go into being a veteran. Some of them, like knowing that the work you do matters, or feeling like you belong to something bigger than yourself, are found in the civilian world in varying degrees. Others, like peeing in cups while people watch, or knowing what it’s like when the Green Berets you were riding horses with one morning just disappear, aren’t as common. But out of all of the things that make up my own personal military experience, these are the best:
Ok, ok, some of them are just the worst. Like, terrible people who, if you found yourself in their living room watching their TV, and you noticed that their DVR was about to stop recording game 7 of the Finals just as overtime was starting, you wouldn’t extend the recording. Not everybody in the military is great. But then there’s my buddy Justin. A couple weeks ago, I was going through something tough that he knew about. He didn’t just text me to ask how I was doing, he went out of his way without me asking to make a call to a guy he knew could help me, just because he cared. But lots of people have great friends who make their lives better. What makes my friendship with guys like Justin special is that we’ve been to war together. Like, actual war. That changes people in ways that only those who have been there will truly understand. Like being on Survivor. Or marrying a Kardashian. The band of brothers is real.
Getting outside your bubble
Think of the worst groups of people you know. I’ll throw out a few: Westboro Baptist Church, the KKK and wearers of those finger shoe things. All of those groups have one thing in common: their members generally live in a bubble, with very little to no meaningful contact with people who aren’t exactly like them. That means they hear the same things over and over again, like, “Black people hate cops,” or, “Those shoes are really good for your feet,” and eventually they start to believe them. Hitler said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” One of the best things the military ever did for me was to introduce me to new people and new ways of thinking. Some of those new ways of thinking are, quite frankly, horrible, and not everything I’ve learned in the military has been true or right, but just being exposed to people who aren’t exactly like me has given me a much broader perspective on what’s right, and helped me have a more complete picture of our nation’s (and our world’s) reality. You can’t have perspective if you stay in the same place. You have to move to get perspective. And without some perspective it’s hard not to turn into at least kind of an a-hole.
Not eating for 7 days
One time the Army made me go seven days without eating as part of a survival school. I was hiking anywhere from 10-15 miles a day, too. The suck factor was off the charts. But I did it, losing 12 pounds in the process and getting just a touch of pneumonia. And whenever something hard pops up in my life that I have to do, like a job interview, or making a big presentation to some important people, or sitting through a Nicholas Sparks movie, I have a different frame of reference for A) what I’m capable of achieving, and B) what I’m capable of surviving. Both of those things have changed my life at different points, and every veteran, even those who never deployed, gets the advantage of them.
Another brick in the self-worth wall
Being in the military is kind of like what Shakespeare said, about, “Something, something, something, greatness is thrust upon you.” For the rest of my life, no matter how screwed up it gets, I will always be able to look back and say, “I did that.” There’s nothing anyone can ever do to take away the fact that I served. It’s not that I think I deserve the least bit of recognition from anyone else. In fact, I originally joined the military because it was going to help me get a civilian career. Which, in the end, it did. So me and the military are square. No thanks needed for my service. What I’m talking about is an internal thing. No one will ever truly understand exactly what I went through to earn my veteran status other than, of course, another veteran. But I know, and having that huge brick of knowledge as the foundation for my self-worth wall helps me be a better father, worker, son, friend, and human being. And in the words of my favorite Gershwin brothers tune, they can’t take that away from me.
Plus, over the last 15 years I’ve also gotten to blow a whole lot of stuff up.
I continue to blow things up on Twitter here: @fastacton.