After a hectic week in the United States, I am ready to enjoy the weekend, which starts today for me. Today is a special holiday for my family and me; it is Veteran’s Day and Armistice Day. My family history is dotted with individuals who have served and fought for the United States (and probably before then when they were located in Europe). I am one of those individuals. I am proud of my service and the time I spent in the United States Army. It taught me a lot about myself, who I want to be, and what I want my country to be. My journey after the military has not been an easy one; I have lost friends due to conflict or distance, I have struggled with my physical and mental health, and I have done things I am not exactly proud of. This is not your usual post commemorating those who have served and their sacrifice; this is just a simple story.
I signed my contract with the Army in late July 2006 and shipped off two weeks later on August 10th. That date will always hold a special place in my heart; it was the day I raised my hand and swore an oath of loyalty to the United States and her people. Every year I try to take time and reflect on this day and see if I regret my decision and every year I have the same answer…No. I never regret my decision because it has ultimately made me the person I am today for better or for worse. Another day I reflect on is May 27th because that was the day I re-enlisted for another five years of service and the last day of my active duty status two years ago. The day I re-enlisted I was in Iraq on my second tour overseas with my unit and was ready to take on the world. They asked me if I wanted to do it anywhere special and I asked them if I could travel to the sabers built by Saddam Hussein also known as The Arch of Triumph. It took a few weeks, but I was finally able to have the ceremony (after the official one) in front of the sabers and is one of my favorite memories of that deployment. After that deployment, I would move to Germany for two years and then back stateside where I would deploy one last time to Afghanistan. Those years leading up to my release from active duty were filled with happiness, dread, saddness, and just lots of memories I will carry with me until I die.
During that almost eight years of service, I traveled around the world, met people who became lifelong friends and evolved into someone who has discipline and a spine. If you were to ask my friends from the military or even now since I have gotten out, they would say my number one trait is, to tell the truth in the most blatant fashion. Has it gotten me in trouble? Of course! Not everyone has the stomach to deal with such honesty. It has also secured friendships and partnerships because they know I will always be able to tell them the truth and construct it in a way that would be helpful instead of hurtful. This is my most valued trait that I have taken from my time in the service.
Today I had the opportunity to introduce a keynote speaker who was also a veteran and a historian; two things I am as well. When I was asked to do the introduction I was a little confused to why I was being asked. Yeah, I held a position in the veterans association on campus, but why was I going to introduce this professor to other people on campus. I had never taken one of his courses, I had only spoken to him a few times and they were brief, and we were from two different branches. When I went to interview him (because I cover all my bases), I realized that we had a lot in common and when he gave his speech today I realized that because were both veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars that we had a lot of the same problems with the wars. His words made sense to me, but nonetheless, it helped me with reflective thinking I did on the way home today. The one thing that stuck with me was when he said that people should take action instead of say thank you to veterans. It is completely true. An empty thank you is just as bad as being ignored. I always encourage non-veteran individuals to ask me questions and talk to me; it helps me, but it helps them understand as well.
That is what I am encouraging today. To take action and take this day to reflect on whom you are, whether you are a veteran or a civilian. If you know someone is hurting, sit down with them and talk to them. Just talking to that person could do wonders for their mental health. Volunteer or check in on your local VFW/American Legion and see if they need extra hands for events. Check with your local VA hospital or clinic to see if anyone needs your help, even if it is a car ride.