Veterans don’t need pity


This essay was published March 24th 2013 by the Austin American Statesman.

Veteran: Reports of recruitment tricks and trauma misleading

By Chris Hernandez

Two years ago I attended a presentation by a woman who advocates “selective conscientious objector” status. In other words, she believes service members should be able to say, “I’ll go to war in Afghanistan because it’s moral, but I won’t go to Iraq because it’s immoral.”

The woman, a former college professor, gave an interesting speech. She showed a good grasp of the difficulties we faced in Iraq, and gave solid reasons why troops could morally object to a specific war. I had initially been against her proposal, but once she explained it I wasn’t opposed.

Then the question-and-answer session began. An audience member asked, “Why should any of these troops be conscientious objectors? They all volunteered. The draft ended decades ago.”

The woman’s answer was like nails on chalkboard. “Well, there still is a draft. There’s the poverty draft, where the military sends poor kids to war. And the stop-loss draft. And there’s also,” she said, just before plunging a knife directly into my gut, “the National Guard draft. Those people are supposed to be helping out during hurricanes and tornadoes, they don’t join the military to go to war.”

At that point my wife had to calm me down. I’m a 17-year National Guard soldier and served six years in the Marine Corps Reserve before that. I voluntarily went to Iraq in 2005 and volunteered for Afghanistan in 2008. I went to war, twice, with many thousands of National Guardsmen and never heard even one say, “We’re not supposed to go to war.”

I met her outside and argued against her depiction of our service as a draft. It’s not only poor kids in the military, and the possibility of being stop-lossed — having one’s term of service involuntarily extended — is spelled out in the contract when we join. Calling anyone’s service today a “draft” is at best ignorance, at worst an outright lie.

Specifically though, I wanted to argue with her about the alleged National Guard draft. We in the Guard are volunteers just like all other soldiers. And the Guard has almost all the backup combat arms units, which aren’t very effective at fighting natural disasters. No matter how many rounds they fire at a hurricane, tanks and artillery can’t stop it.

The woman insisted that people who join the Guard don’t want to go to war. Several other audience members joined in on her side. Eventually I found myself in a circle of about eight people, none of whom had ever served in the Guard (only one said he had served in the military, but claimed to have been a Navy SEAL, so take that for what it’s worth). All of them insisted to me, the only National Guard war veteran among them, that people join the Guard so they won’t go to war. And gosh darn it, didn’t I realize they were trying to help me, trying to make sure I didn’t get sent to war again?

In the years since that depressing, frustrating conversation, I’ve heard many comments from people who seem to have similar thoughts about us. We’re poor minorities who joined the military because we had no other options. We couldn’t find a job in this economy. The Army tricked us into going to Iraq. We didn’t want to be there.

Last year, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” was published. This novel about soldiers serving in Iraq, written by someone who never served in the military, became an award-winning best-seller. All the soldiers in the book — every one — come from tragic backgrounds. The author even uses the phrase “bottom third percentile” to describe them.

Recent media stories about veterans overwhelmingly focus on two things: post-traumatic stress syndrome and suicides. Both are serious problems and legitimate concerns. But the constant stories about those two subjects completely overshadow stories about successful veterans, and hide the fact that the vast majority of us aren’t suffering any ill effects from our wartime service. The public might be forgiven for thinking we’re all traumatized to the point of suicide by the wars. Newspapers and television constantly remind them that we’re damaged, broken, desperate for any way to stop the suffering. We’re victims, after all.

A few months ago filmmaker Michael Moore wrote, “I understand why so many (troops) enlisted after 9/11. Sadly, many of them were then trapped and sent off to invade Iraq. I felt for all of them. I understood those who joined because of a lousy economy.”

Us poor, pitiful saps. We mass of desperate, victimized children, unable to do anything worthwhile with our lives, were trapped by the military and sent to war against our will. Oh, the tragedy.

Of all the misconceptions surrounding the Iraq War, none is more frustrating to me than the “soldiers are victims” myth. It’s a lie I want to dispel, right now. The American public should make no mistake about this: We chose this fight. We chose this war. We’re responsible for putting ourselves there.

Some people will undoubtedly disagree with this. Someone will bring up their friend who joined the military just for college money, or a cousin who only wanted to be a mechanic, or someone who was “tricked” by their recruiter and never expected to go to war. Simply put, those stories mean nothing. We joined the military as free men and women. We wore camouflage and helmets in training. We fired rifles and machine guns. We threw grenades. We trained with bayonets. We knew we would do those things when we joined. We didn’t suddenly discover, to our horror, that we had joined a warfighting organization. Volunteering for an organization dedicated to fighting wars, and then complaining about being sent to war, is either moronic or cowardly or both. Those opinions are worthless to me.

My true feeling about the wars, which I don’t always express, is this: I can’t imagine having missed them. My life would have been diminished without them. The IED close calls, bullets that almost hit, supercharged radio calls of troops in a firefight, sudden orange flashes and shocks of adrenaline that meant an explosion had missed us, mind-crushing responsibility for the lives of others, all these things enriched my life.

When I tell people an Iraq or Afghanistan war story, the reaction I usually get is, “It must have been horrible to experience that.” Yes, sometimes it was. But missing those experiences would have been worse. Never leaving the wire with a group of men who would rather die than let each other down would have been worse. Never feeling a survivor’s adrenaline rush would have been worse. Never defending my values and country with my life would have been worse. I’m proud I did those things. I’m happy I was in the wars. Sometimes I take in the complicated stresses of marriage, children, finances and work, and long for the simple stress of avoiding bullets. Non-veterans probably won’t appreciate the beautiful purity of having life’s myriad worries reduced to just three: trying to kill the enemy, trying not to get killed, and trying to defend your brothers.

The public is constantly reminded of how much we veterans are suffering for our service. I’m here to remind the public of a counterpoint. We benefited from our service, and not just financially. We learned important lessons about the country, the world, our fellow soldiers, and most importantly, ourselves. We know what we’re capable of. We know some things are worth risking your life to defend, and we backed our words with action.

Nobody needs to pity us for that.

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Note added 3/28/13: In the essay published by the Statesman there were several minor mistakes that I missed when I submitted it. When I reposted it here I first decided to leave all the mistakes in, but they’ve been bothering me so much I had to correct them. I figured the Statesman would have edited them out, but was surprised to see they left my essay exactly as screwed up as I wrote it. Lesson learned, if any more newspapers want to print my stuff I need to make sure and get it edited myself.

54 Responses to “Veterans don’t need pity”

  1. 1 Gene (Aggie, Class of '70)

    “Nobody needs to pity us for that.”

    We RESPECT you. Thank you for your service.

  2. Whacked that one right out of the ballpark Chris! There is truth in the statement:
    “It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who knows great enthusiasm, great devotion, and the triumph of achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails at least fails whilst daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those odd and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. You’ve never lived until you’ve almost died. For those who have had to fight for it life has truly a flavour the protected shall never know.” Teddy Roosevelt

    I have immense respect for the National Guard, personally because of observing the professionalism and service to the area I lived in during Hurricane Ivan, as well as the stubborn, proud refusal to be cast as a red headed stepchild. Some of the National Guard units were the first to refuse to disarm law abiding citizens during Hurricane Katrina and all of them I’ve known carry the spirit of the Minutemen of the American Revolution forward to today.

    As someone else who has almost died defending liberty on the homefront, I too agree that missing those experiences would have left me a shell of what I could have been. Suffering and fighting for the right internal reasons forges the best of what it means to be human. To shrink from it or pity it is to completely miss what it means to be the best we could be. I am fiercely proud of my scars both external and internal, as well as those of my fellow Americans in whatever field of battle they served. It means we entered the arena to be tested and came out the other side. These are the people who truly make a difference in the world.

    • Juli,

      A friend of mine wrote a book partially about an Iraq vet. At one point someone asks the vet how he feels about his scars, and he answers, “I earned them serving my country. I couldn’t be more proud.” I thought that was a beautiful answer, and it’s my favorite line in the book.

      Thanks for the comment Juli, you always have good stuff to say.

  3. Thanks for your POV, and thank you for your service.

    I’ve never been in a war, or the military, or anything like that; what I have been is permanently disabled half-way through my life. I don’t want any pity (understanding and help when I need it will do). All experiences are able to, ultimately, enrich a life, even experiences one wouldn’t wish on anyone else. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what they are talking about.

    It’s the way you are made, to find value in your experiences. Too bad it’s so hard for some to realize that lives they have not lived are still, nevertheless, worth living by the people whose lives they are.

    • Artemis,

      Thanks for talking about your experience. I don’t know that every experience can enrich a life, but the ones we voluntarily chose, based on beliefs we feel are worth dying for, definitely can.

      Understanding and help are worth tons more than pity. I wish more people knew that.

  4. 7 Jack

    As a Vietnam vet, I completely agree with your perspective. Even tho there was a draft, some of us volunteered. My life was bettered by the experience. Back then and even today, the generally dumb public seems to think we were scarred by the war. Comments such as “It must have been terrible” and “how did you manage to come back normal” are commonplace. Hollywood and the press were responsible for a lot of the sentiment. Yes, certain parts were terrible, but you carry on the best you can. A good upbringing helps.

    I used to try to explain it, now I don’t bother. They wouldn’t understand no matter what you say.

    • Jack,

      I’ve met a lot of people who have been genuinely interested in what wartime service was like. I can talk to them all day long, and I’m really interested in their perspective, in their perception of our experience. On the other hand, I’ve met people who wanted to tell me what it was like, even though they weren’t there.

      Part of my motivation for writing is to tell the truth about my experience in war. My experience isn’t the same as everyone else’s, but it’s real. It’s not Hollywood or press-approved. I think putting that reality out there helps.

      Thanks for your service, Jack. You guys had it worse than us.

    • 9 Dave

      Welcome home brother.

  5. I really enjoy reading your posts. I am a 20 year National Guard veteran, with two deployments to Afghanistan and 1 to Iraq. I raised my hand and reenlisted while I was in Iraq, in fact I am also a 15-year veteran law enforcement officer, so your posts resonate with me on many levels.

    I was asked by a co-worker (with no military experience) last week if I missed it. I told him, truthfully, that I miss it every single day. The experiences I had and the people I served with were something that I cannot imagine my life without.

    I have said before that I wish my children could experience the pure undiluted LIVING that is life in a combat zone, without the danger and hardship, or course. But then, the danger and hardship are what give the experience value and what makes me appreciate my life here even more.

    Like Jack said above, they won’t get it. Truth be told, they don’t want to get it. They are afraid of that experience. These are the same people who are too cowardly to take responsibility for their own safety, never mind the safety of their family. They are completely incapable of understanding a person who puts on his armor and leaves the wire and willingly does dangerous things, or goes through a door with an armed, cranked out dope dealer behind it, or even the person who cares enough about the safety of his wife and kids that he takes steps to protect them when no one else can.

    They have a mental defect which results in them loving themselves more than anyone or anything else. To hide their shame, they try to pour pity and empathy on those that, deep inside, they know are better than they are.

    At least that’s my take on it. I could be wrong.

    • Mark, I believe you nailed it on those who refuse or are incapable of understanding. Thank you for your service in both capacities! Though I can no longer physically be on the front lines, I still miss it, at least most of it! 🙂 Don’t miss the politics!
      Princessartemis, kudos to you to continue your fight. Disability does not define our worth unless we allow it to. Good on ya for getting out there and living!

    • Mark,

      Agreed that being in combat was the most vivid experience I’ve ever had. I want my kids to experience something that intense, but like you said, I don’t want them to face the danger that goes with it.

      Of those who don’t understand or agree with the “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mindset, I don’t think they have a mental defect. They’re just not built the same as we are. That doesn’t make them bad people or less than anyone else. My only issue is when they try to force their values onto everyone else. I don’t expect everyone to be a soldier. They shouldn’t expect everyone to be as passive as they are.

      Thanks for your comments and service. And stay safe out there.

      • 13 JimP

        “They have a mental defect which results in them loving themselves more than anyone or anything else. To hide their shame, they try to pour pity and empathy on those that, deep inside, they know are better than they are.”

        Those that have nothing they are willing to kill or die for (other than themselves) live a craven, empty life. IMO, THAT makes them almost utterly worthless, and their only saving grace is a capacity, no matter how small, to change.

  6. 15 Bob Mills

    Agreed! I never asked for any pity, nor for any kudos. I went, I did my job, I got a couple of “gongs”. Then I came home found a job and provided for my family Yah, I had some bouts with PTSD but I got some help and not fgrom the damnable VA.
    FWIW, I enjoy your blog.
    Capt. Bobo, MACV S-2

    • Thanks, Captain Bobo (any relation to LT John Bobo?).

      A lot of my perspective was formed by the numerous VN vets I grew up around. A couple had problems, but others were just regular working family men. They weren’t debilitated or struggling, they were very proud of their service, and I was in awe of those guys.

      I’ve also gotten help from a couple of places. I don’t have PTSD, but I still had issues to work out. That’s normal after a deployment.

      Thanks for reading, and for your service.

      • 17 Bob Mills

        Nope, that was my nickname because I’m as hairy as the famous gorilla from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. For grins and giggles, my call sign was “Oral Crime 69”!

  7. 19 Joshua Green

    A Grand Adventure Except That It Isn’t
    by Fred Reed

    A friend recently asked me what I would tell a young man thinking
    about enlisting in the military. (He had in mind his son.) I would
    tell him this, which I wish someone had told me:

    Kid, you are being suckered. You are being used. You need to think
    carefully before signing that enlistment contract.

    First, notice that the men who want to send you to die were
    draft-dodgers. President Bush was of military age during Vietnam, but
    he sat out the war in the Air National Guard. The Guard was then a
    common way of avoiding combat. Bush could do it because he was a rich
    kid who went to Yale, and his family had connections.

    He dodged, but he wants you to go.

    Vice President Cheney, also of military age during Vietnam, also
    didn’t go. Why? When asked by the press, he said, ” I had other
    priorities. ” In other words, he was too important to risk his precious
    self overseas. He dodged, but wants you to go.

    If you take the time to investigate, you will always find this
    pattern. The rich and influential avoid combat. Harvard, Yale, and
    Princeton do not send young men to Iraq. The editors at magazines that
    support the war, National Review for example, didn’t fight. They are
    happy to let you go, though. The reason for the All Volunteer military
    was to let the smart and rich avoid service and instead send kids from
    middle-class and blue-collar families. It works.

    In talking to recruiters, you need to understand what you are up
    against. You are probably nineteen or twenty years old, full of piss
    and vinegar as we used to say, just starting to know the world. Which
    means that you don’t yet know it. (Do you know, for example, what
    countries border Iraq?)

    You are up against a government that hires high-powered ad agencies
    and psychologists to figure out how to lure you into the military.
    Over many years they have done surveys and studies on the weaknesses
    of young males to find out what will get them to join. They know that
    young men, the ones that are worth anything anyway, want to prove
    themselves, want adventure, want to show what they can do. Everything
    a recruiter does is carefully calculated to play on this. They go to
    recruiting school to learn how.

    ” The Few. The Proud. ” You don’t think that came out of the Marine
    Corps, do you? These phrases— ” An Army of One, ” ” Be All You Can
    Be ” –come from ad agencies in New York. Nobody in those ad agencies, I
    promise you, was ever in the Marine Corps. New York sells the military
    the way it sells soap. It has no interest in you at all.

    Recruiters know exactly what they are doing. They are manly, which
    appeals to gutsy young guys who don’t want to be mall rats. They are
    confident. They have a physical fitness, a clean-cut appearance that
    looks good compared to all those wussy lawyers in business suits. They
    invite you to come into a man’s world. They promise you college funds.
    (Check and see how many actually ever get those funds. Read the small

    And of course the military is a man’s world, and it is an adventure,
    and it does beat being a mall rat—until they put you in combat.
    Driving a tank beats stocking parts in the local NAPA outlet—until
    they put you in combat. Days on the rifle range, running the bars of
    San Diego far from home and parents, going across the border into
    Mexico—all of this appeals powerfully to a young man. It did to me. It
    beats hell out of getting some silly associate degree in biz-admin at
    the community college.

    Until they put you in combat. Then it’s too late. You can’t change
    your mind. They send you to jail for a long time if you do.

    Combat is not the adventure you think it is. Know what happens when an
    RPG hits a tank? Nothing good. The cherry juice—hydraulic fluid that
    turns the turret—can vaporize and then blow. I saw the results in the
    Naval Support Activity hospital in Danang in 1967. A tank has a crew
    of four. Two burned to death, screaming as they tried to get out. The
    other two were scalded pink, under a plastic sheet that was always
    foggy with serum evaporating from burns where the skin had sloughed
    off. They probably lived. Know what burn scars look like?

    The recruiters won’t tell you this. They know, but they won’t tell
    you. Ever seen a guy who just took a round through the face? He’s a
    bloody mess with his eyes gone, nasty hole where his nose was, funny
    white cartilage things sticking out of dripping meat. Suppose he’ll
    ever have another girlfriend? Not freaking likely. He’ll spend the
    next fifty years as a horror in some forsaken VA hospital.

    But the recruiters won’t tell you this. They want you to think that
    it’s an adventure.

    Other things happen that, depending on your head, may or may not
    bother you. Iraq means combat in cities. Ordinary people live there.
    You pop a grenade through a window, or hit a building with a burst
    from the Chain gun, or maybe put a tank round through it. Then you
    find the little girl with her bowels hanging out, not quite dead yet,
    with her mother screaming over what’s left. You’d be surprised how
    much blood a small kid has.

    You get to live with that picture for the rest of your life. And you
    will live with it. The recruiter will tell you that it doesn’t happen,
    that it’s the exception, that I’m a commy journalist. Believe him if
    you want. Believe him now, while you can. When you get back, you’ll
    believe me.

    A lot of things in America aren’t what they used to be. The military
    is one of them. The army didn’t always use girl soldiers to torture
    prisoners. For that they had specialists in the intelligence agencies.
    You won’t get assigned torture duty, almost certainly, because the
    Army got caught. Ask your recruiter about it, just to be sure.

    Don’t expect thanks from a grateful nation. Somebody might buy you a
    drink in a bar. That’s about all you get. Many will regard you as a
    criminal or a fool.

    Wars seem important at the time, but they usually aren’t. Five years
    later, they are history. About sixty thousand GIs died in Vietnam. We
    lost. Nothing happened. It was a stupid war for nothing. Today the
    guys who lost faces and legs and internal organs back then are just
    freaks. Nobody gives a damn about them, and nobody will give a damn
    about you. A war is a politician’s toy, but your wheelchair is
    forever. If you want adventure, try the fishing fleet in Alaska.

    Think about it.

    • Joshua,

      I’ll assume you agree with Fred Reed’s essay, so I’ll address it as if it came from you.

      I don’t care that those who sent me to war never served. Well, maybe I care, but I don’t take their failure to serve as justification that I shouldn’t serve. My reasons for serving aren’t dependent on anyone else’s actions. My country was attacked, I chose to be part of the force responded. Many people who never served were cheering that response. I don’t base my actions on theirs.

      The rich and influential always avoid combat. That’s absolutely true, at least after WW2. They should be ashamed of that. I don’t have to be.

      Nobody had to “lure” me into the military. I went to a recruiter’s office and told him I wanted six years of active duty infantry. I was tricked; I wound up in a noncombat job. That’s my only regret about joining the Marines when I was 17.

      I realize this essay was written for teenagers thinking about the military, it wasn’t written for someone like me. In my case, I went to war with my eyes wide open. I had seen people shot and killed. I had seen people burned to death. I had seen people stabbed to death. I knew I’d see more death in the wars (and I was right). That didn’t change my mind about my service.

      I realize civilians are sometimes killed in combat. In one fight I was in, a missile malfunctioned, went off course and hit a compound. I’m fortunate that I didn’t see the results. That’s terrible and we don’t want it to ever happen. That doesn’t mean everything we did or tried to do was worthless. It means horrible things happen in war, especially when the enemy uses civilians as cover.

      The reference to Abu Ghraib is a worn-out cliche. The Abu Ghraib incidents happened roughly a year into the war, and lasted a short time. The incidents were immediately addressed by the military, and almost ten years later are still being used as “proof” that somehow the entire military engaged in torture, even though at least one of the detainees even said it was only a small group of soldiers on night shift who abused them. I know a little about military interrogations. I suffer no guilt over the actions of a few morons. And I don’t buy their self-serving defense that they were ordered to do it.

      Don’t expect thanks from a grateful nation? I’ve had plenty of people thank me. Sometimes with a meal, sometimes a coffee, usually just a sincere and genuine “thanks for your service”. I appreciate it all.

      No matter how much you want it to be, this isn’t the VN war. We soldiers have had a different experience. I certainly don’t feel like a criminal or fool, and very few people have tried to make me feel that way. Their opinions mean nothing to me.

      Do you consider those living with visible scars “freaks”? I don’t. Are you saying you don’t give a damn about them? I do give a damn. Maybe you’ve opened a window into your soul. You haven’t shown any understanding of mine.

      Unfortunately, this essay was directed at a 41 year old veteran of two wars who is completely comfortable with his beliefs and service. The condescending tone may work on clueless teenagers; it didn’t work on me.

      • 21 Joshua Green

        So you are a chest thumping neo con who doesn’t understand he’s part of the slaughter machine. That it has nothing to do with defending America and everything to do with increasing the power of Government and lining the pockets of the powerful. I would pity you, except that you should know better. Goodbye. You won’t hear from me again.

        • Joshua,

          Your debating skills are amazing. You post an essay that’s not even your own, get your feelings hurt when I don’t embrace it, then throw insults and leave in a huff. I’m duly impressed.

          Bye, Josh. This site will be diminished by your absence.

      • 23 Scott Timmons

        Aw, don’t go Joshua! It’s so much fun watching Chris club baby seals!

      • 24 Jake

        This guy may have bad delivery and bad manners, but he did have some good points. Some good kids get dragged under the bus thinking they might be able to get a degree the way my gramps did on the GI bill AFTER he was discharged. I have personally known some kids who basically stopped bothering continuing their education under what little financial support they received for tuition because there was no physically possible way they could complete their course load in the mandated amount of time and still complete their duties. And if they can’t hack that then boop! tuition benefit disappears and you’re still on the hook for your end.

        I know I know every choice is made by the person who is affected by the choice, but that doesn’t mean that some people aren’t sold a line that crumbles as soon as they sign the dotted line. I completely understand there are plenty who got in for a myriad of other reasons besides tuition help and don’t feel cheated, but that doesn’t discount the experiences of the poor kids that have been taken advantage of.

        It’s easy to fall prey to the extremes method of discussion, in which the middle ground where both imperfect discussion participants and somewhat right and somewhat wrong.

        • Jake,

          I won’t claim that GI Bill benefits are always handed over easily. But the GI Bill works; service members have been using those benefits successfully for decades. And even if individuals sometimes get shafted over benefits, they still shouldn’t be surprised at being sent to war. My point wasn’t that the benefits are so good that it’s worth it to go to war; my point was that the military exists to engage in warfare. If someone joins the military, for whatever reason, they shouldn’t be surprised if they wind up serving in a war. Joining the military and then complaining about going to war is like volunteering to be an astronaut and then complaining about being sent into space.

          I don’t think poor kids are being taken advantage of, as you mentioned. They get the same benefits as anyone else. If they’re getting screwed, it’s not by the military, which is sometimes the only path out of poverty for them.

          How exactly are poor kids getting screwed by a military that gives them job training, educational benefits, a steady paycheck and health coverage?

      • Jake, Joshua (I know you’re lurking out there) and people like Fred — You would be more convincing if you were to speak of your own experiences rather than what you’ve heard or read of what others thought. I enlisted because I wanted to experience something different than a small town in East Texas, but did so knowing for certain that I could get blown up. I took the chance that I’d come out OK — look it up, the odds are pretty good that no matter what branch of service, which MOS, where you serve you won’t wind up maimed or dead. I spent 4 years in the Army, saw 4 continents, experienced war, had a few bar fights and learned another language. I also learned that the military and I didn’t necessarily agree with each other and I got out when my enlistment was up.

        Afterwards I went to work, took advantage of the GI Bill to earn a Bachelors (in biz admin, Fred) and a Masters and feel I’ve led a pretty good life. That’s not because I’m so exceptional, rather I believe I’m by far the more common example than what you are spouting. I don’t regret the time I spent in the military or the experiences I had — I believe those experiences shaped me and gave me the perspective and maturity to recognize and deal with real life and make my own decisions. They certainly keep me from forming an opinion based solely on someone else’s viewpoint without having any semblance of the experience myself. I also learned to not adopt a position based on only one side of an argument (that may have as much to do with Jesuit training as with military experience, though).

        I know bad things happen in the military, young kids are sold a bill of goods and get killed, civilians are hurt, assholes get away with doing the wrong things and get rich and famous because of it, people come home as emotional wrecks — those kinds of thing happens in civilian life as well and we’ve all seen or heard about them. It doesn’t mean that all of society is bad or that you can do much to prevent those things from happening on a global scale. A strong military may, in fact, do more to prevent such things from happening than cause them.

        Chris doesn’t need an apologist, but he’s writing about what’s real and what he’s experienced – at the very least, basing his fiction on it. You guys would be a lot more convincing if you tried the same.

      • 27 Jake

        Judging by the text of these replies I can only deduce that mine was either not read or not comprehended. Funny how anything but deference and meek thanks is met by veiled implications of being anti-military, even on a site as sensible as this one. The irony is I am one of the least anti-military folk in NYC, I’m just anti-centralization and agree with the need to not have a standing army due to the dangers to liberty such organizations present.

        Specific to mikey for shutting me down because I mention the experiences of people I care about instead of my own. I never went into the military, though I considered it for a time, and I am tired of people acting like this makes me less of a person than they are, or that I shouldn’t say anything because I didn’t fight to protect my right to. (the last war to protect the rights of Americans was over a century ago, btw) I opted to stay out based on the fact that I would be beholden to the will of fascists (Dem or Gop), and since I knew that and did not want it I did not sign up. My not being a vet does not discount the experiences of my friends and family, how dare you act like it does. When I have a buddy crying at me because his last hobby has been taken away from him because his doctors think he’s too sad because he got no legs no more and the despicable VA can’t even give him the money to pay for help because he can’t establish “need” the last thing I want to hear is people telling me I don’t matter because I’m one of the people the military protects, not one of the military. That just flies in the face of all logic. You’re basically saying every family of a dead vet has nothing to say about anything related to our socialist military intervention policies because they themselves didn’t serve.

        And as far as not replying to what I said, my second paragraph was quite clearly worded that I understand this is not every case or even the majority. I did not even mention complaining about being sent to war as it is simply common sense to expect when signing up. I mean duh. I don’t know where any of that comes from because I was not talking about that. I was talking about before any deployment notion comes into play at all. I’m not saying some ambiguous entity known as “the military” is screwing them, it’s their particular situation, with their particular set of duties and their particular jackbrass. Again, the fact that this is the hand some are dealt is not me saying you are lying about your own good experiences or those that you have heard of. Please stop replying as though that is what I’m saying, I can’t make it any more clear than that.

        I am talking about kids who are looking for a way out and they are sold a line that they can, then get duty and school at once, and god help you if you do your school work and do well enough to get a degree instead of shuffling those papers like I told you, or taking an extra duty shift because some other dudes in your unit suck at life. They say you can do school and then put you in the stocks if you take five minutes out of your week to do classes. The fact that “everyone gets the same benefits” is solid until you consider the fact that to someone more well off a tuition benefit is less of an incentive automatically. It is designed to pull people who are less well off in, I don’t know what anyone would act like it’s a bad thing to say that, it’s simple logic. It’s less smelly than the “draft tax” rich kids could buy their way out of the Union Army with, but in some ways more because it’s more underhanded.

        I’ve said it before so let me clarify. I am not discounting anyone’s personal experiences that were good, nor the anecdotes they provide that suggest the majority of experiences are more positive. But the fact that theirs exist do not mean my point suddenly does not. Just because some people have not been taken advantage of does not mean all have not.

        The majority of people in jail for heinous crimes might not be falsely convicted, but that does not mean we stop testing DNA and releasing the extremely small percentage of those that are. We need to simply rework the “pitch” as it were so it seems like less of a sponsorship program for athletes and more like what it is. Every person who signs up is responsible for their decision, but we should at least make the picture clearer to them beforehand instead of flashing all the pretty commercials at them. Nothing more and nothing less than honesty on the part of our government is what I am asking for.

        • Jake,

          You’re projecting a bit. Neither I nor Mikey insulted you for not serving. Many people I trust, admire, respect and/or love have never served. The military isn’t for everybody, and I don’t hold anyone’s decision not to join against them. You can’t throw jabs about your post not being understood, then turn around and attack people for things they never said.

          I just read over my and Mikey’s responses to you. If thinly-veiled accusations of being anti-military are in there, they’re so veiled as to be unrecognizable to me, even though I allegedly wrote some of them.

          Mikey brought up a good point about personal experience. How do you know soldiers are being screwed out of educational opportunities? Where do your examples “[they] put you in the stocks if you take five minutes out of your week to do classes” or “god help you if you do your school work and do well enough to get a degree instead of shuffling those papers like I told you” come from? If they’re just stories you’ve been told (as they seem to be), then you shouldn’t be surprised when people believe their own experience over your secondhand information.

          I don’t think anyone in the military has a drop-dead expectation that they’ll be able to complete classes while serving. There are those who manage to do it, and the military encourages it (there are even distance learning centers on big bases in Afghanistan), but it’s not a guarantee. Every service member lives with the possibility of being sent to foreign lands on short notice in response to crises; nobody should expect unfettered access to college. If a service member complains that their military responsibilities trumped their ability to attend classes while they were on active military service, that’s almost laughable. The GI Bill works exactly as originally intended, as assistance for veterans to get an education after their enlistment.

          And I still don’t get your assertion that some poor kids are screwed by the military. The military offers the exact same benefits to everyone, whether they’re rich or poor. Should the military have a different pitch for poor kids? Do poor kids need some further explanation, are they less intelligent or more gullible? Should the military stop offering poor kids benefits, because it’s somehow unfair to present opportunities to those who need them more than others?

          The one thing I agree with you about is the Army’s ad campaign. For far too long the Army has stressed education and job skills instead of combat service and sacrifice. That’s one reason among many that I joined the Marines first. I was pleasantly surprised (more like shocked) to see the Army use an ad with two geared-up soldiers bumping fists as they walked through what appeared to be a battlefield. That should be our main theme, with the benefits secondary.

  8. 29 Les

    FDR federalized the National Guard even before the Pearl Harbor was attacked. Some of the Guard units were among the first army units in the Solomons. The Guard was often used to stand in the gap while the small peacetime regular army started the process of building a wartime army. The Vietnam war was somewhat different; although Guardsmen fought there, the Guard was not federalized and sent because (in my opinion) LBJ wanted to foster the illusion that it was not a real war. That could have changed at any time.

    • My great uncle was in the California NG and wound up in the Phillipines in December 1941. He was captured in 1942 and was in the Death March, but never made it to a camp. He was listed as Missing, Presumed Dead in 1942, changed to Killed in Action in 1947.

      I’m proud as hell to wear a 36th ID combat patch. Nobody can convince me the Guard doesn’t fight along with active duty units.

  9. 31 Fabian Reta

    Amen Brother! I gotta say, I never once heard anybody feeling sorry for themselves when I was in the Marines. Even during active duty, we made sacrifices but we were all there because we made the decision to be there… I didn’t see any action during Desert Storm, but I can say that our unit was ready a anxious to do out part. To say that it’s a “povert draft”, I feel; is not only incorrect…. It’s irresponsible. Keep writing brother! I may not always comment, but I do read and appreciate!

  10. 33 SPEMack

    Good piece, per usual. It boggles how me in the post-Vietnam, all volunteer Army, in which the Guard and Reserves are designed to be round out brigades and combat support forces, how people can think that Guardsman join up not wanting to deploy. A lot of really good men with a lot of stars on thier shoulder straps designed the current force structure that way in the 70s so we wouldn’t have draft dodgers joining the Guard and getting out of deploying. Sickening.

    Side note, do you know thier a Chris Hernandez who is a minor league prospect for the Boston Red Sox? I spent the morning reading about him before finally getting here.

    • Mack,

      last year I was at a critique group and read an excerpt where Jerry and his platoon leader are talking after a firefight. Another guy in the group, a 70’s AF veteran, asked me, “These are National Guards guys, right?” I said yes, and he responded, “Then they wouldn’t be that salty.”

      I got real mad, real quick. Before I said anything, a woman asked, “What does salty mean?”

      “He’s got these guys talking like they’re combat vets. If they’re Guard, they’re not combat vets.”

      I almost blew up. I very angrily told him that I and a lot of other Guard guys had been in combat, I had guys killed around me, I had been shot at and shot back, had almost been blown up. I told him about the worst thing that happened to me in combat. I told him that as of 2010, over 900,000 reservists and Guardsmen had been mobilized in support of the war on terror. Then I had to stop talking and almost had to get up and walk out, because I was so pissed. He just dismissed it and said, “well the media needs to report that then.”

      How people still don’t know what we do is beyond me.


      p.s I did hear about the Red Sox Chris Hernandez. And the children’s book author Chris Hernandez. A guy on the Huffington Post tried to insult me for being a children’s book author. I had a good time with that.

      There are a lot of guys named Chris Hernandez, unfortunately. I might have to throw my mom’s maiden name in there, just to stand out.

  11. Fred’s a sour old jack@$$ who’s talking out his fourth point of contact. His essay should be seen in that light. The only thing he’s done right is to move to Mexico, where his ilk belongs.

    The people who join the military already stand head and shoulders above their peers, a fact documented with a predictable regularity before, during, and after their service. Note well that there is neither a physical test nor a mandatory urinalysis screening to be a civilian, which is the only explanation for our last three presidents and at least 500 congressmen and senators, at minimum.

    Additionally, they generally are the best and brightest, whether we’re talking about the troops or the officers. For every ‘tard in the military from pvt. to general, I can find you 5000 on civvie street, and you work with them and for them every single day, and in most (99.98%) cases vote for them as well. Save your “I’m so much better than you” pity for those folks.

    Pity especially the whiny libtard lecturer who is so bereft of basic grasp on reality, that she thinks the NG is Meals On Wheels and the Peace Corps – Home Division.

    Trying to educate people that dumb is trying to teach computer programming to a single-celled organism.

    Best practice is recommend that she try peddling her peurile pablum over at the ACLU or the American Friends Service Committee, and not at a NG armory on drill weekends. And it probably goes over a lot better with the socially-promoted douches at the community college than it does with those chosen by darwinian selection over at the VFW.

    I’m officially crossing over the dividing line between angry citizen and cranky old man, but personally, I’d have wanted to walk up and start urinating on her during her lecture, just to have the satisfaction of asking her how *she* liked it.

    • Aesop,

      do you get the impression the anti-war side really wants this to be Vietnam, The Sequel? I do. I think I need to write about that.

      • Of course it is!
        They’ve latched onto that meme for every conflict since 1973.
        When your only tool is a hammer, etc. etc.

        Proof of the pudding is how much Grenada, Panama, GW I, and the first 6 months in Iraq and Afghanistan pissed them all off royally. Especially the tired old hacks like Peter Arnett and Dan Rather who cut their teeth on Vietnam. They wanted to relive the glory days for one last trip around the bases, and kept getting denied.

        The problem is, they were wrong then, and they’re wrong now – about the military in general, and the veterans of either conflict. The fact that you don’t see or hear college-age crybabies marching in antiwar protests means we won that battle this time, by ending the draft. But the media still wants to rule the world, or at least pretend they do, thus the incessant drumbeat of what an immoral failure our every military exploit must be, in their reporting 24/7/365/forever.

        But given the grand strategy in Afghanistan (hint: there isn’t any. “Don’t Lose”, the 2003-2008 plan, isn’t even in play anymore.) and the Pentagon that kept asking for more troops without ever articulating any answer to the question “why?” except “Because America, F*** Yeah!”, we’re deep into 1972 and Vietnamization once again, this time with Afghans instead of Vietnamese. And a year from next New Years’, we’ll hear Hopey Dopey trot out Nixon’s “Peace With Honor” nonsense. From now until then, we’ve got 100,000 guys all trying desperately to not be the last name carved into some black wall ten years from now.

        When, inevitably, we’re faced with the Pulitzer-winning photograph of 2015, showing the stream of Afghan refugees waiting for the last helicopter off the roof of the US Embassy in Kabul, the champagne corks will be popping from ABC to CNN and every journalist and pointy-headed academic in between.

        For some reason, whenever we put a Texan in the White House, they always want to expand a war we shouldn’t be in, and then try to run it with 10% of what’s required to actually end it.

        The jacktard who came up with “You break it, you bought it” as a policy should be publicly quartered on live TV in prime time. The policy of DoD should be “You break it, it stays broke, and to hell with you.” Eventually, you whack enough of the tards, and what’s left starts to realize that maybe they should try a different approach. Either way, eventually they either end up eating goat turds and dirt cakes forever, or they straighten up and fly right. But you can’t build a nation where it’s only a notion. Pseudo-countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Somalia, etc., where all you have are collections of clans occupying the same space, aren’t countries in anything but the fantasies of certain European mapmakers. They’re battlegrounds. The solution is to isolate them until one side or the other knocks off enough people for common sense to break out. Unless some one side spews forth the reincarnation of Franklin, Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, we should fall back, cordon them off, and sell arms to all sides until there’s only one left.

        For that matter, in recently finishing “The Outpost”, it’s notable that in a battle that cost us all of eight guys, we had a B-1 level a village. If we simply made a list of every village in Afghanistan that’s cost us 8 guys or more, and then erased each one with B-1 strikes every day, we’d be well ahead of the game, and so would the government in Kabul.

        If we made that our national policy in perpetuity, we’d never need to fight another war again.

        • Aesop,

          I don’t agree with all of that, but I definitely couldn’t have said it better.

          Have you ever considered teaching cultural sensitivity classes? 🙂

  12. Thanks for the “Don’t need pity” article. I’m 66, a Vietnam vet (Army) and still remember being more traumatized by sentiments upon returning in 1970 than anything that happened before. Shocked, disappointed, angry (and thirsty) after being refused a beer at the San Francisco airport for being a babykiller was my parade. I also recognized the pity for “us poor pitiful saps” and the questioning looks — is he going to go off? More recently, I think I am singularly pissed off by the condescending “thanks for your service” efforts by people who haven’t a clue and think it makes a difference and suddenly everything is right and good. I’ve never said it and don’t know of a veteran who would.

    While, like Aesop, I may have already crossed the cranky line, I agree wholeheartedly that instead of suffering because of military service, most of us are better people, parents and citizens because of it.

    Looking forward to reading more of your stuff — keep writing.

    • Thanks for the comments and for your service, Mikey. The only thing about your post that sounded odd to me was, I think, veterans not thanking anyone for their service. If I misunderstood that, please correct me. I’ve had a very different experience. One of my favorite memories of homecoming after Iraq was landing at the Bangor, Maine airport. We were exhausted coming off the plane and I just expected to fall asleep in an empty terminal, like we had in Germany. But when the door to the terminal opened, at 3 am, two lines of about 30 people each were waiting to greet us. A lot of them were wearing VN or Korea vet hats. I was, to say the least, pleasantly surprised (more like shocked). I’ve had a lot of vets thank me, and I’ve thanked a few, especially the WW2 vets I run across.

      Glad you’re enjoying the writing, hope to see you here more often.

      • It’s good you had a positive experience in Maine. I might feel differently if such sentiments were not 40 years late and expressed by the “you poor sap” crowd. I don’t wear vet hats, so it rarely happens, but instead of a condescending “thank you” I’d rather hear something on the order of “welcome home, Brother, let’s have a beer.”

        Thanks for putting into words what a lot of people have thought and lived with.

        • Mikey,

          I think the sentiment across the country has changed. Today I was in my Army uniform in a gun shop, and an old cowboy came in, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Thanks for your service, son.” When I went outside I saw a “Vietnam veteran” bumper sticker on his truck. I don’t think there was anything condescending about it. I’ve run across one or two people who seemed to say thanks while holding their nose in disgust, but that’s been really rare.

          If you’re ever in my neighborhood, I’d be happy to sit in a bar and listen to your stories. I don’t drink, but you can have all you want. And Hooters serves great tea.

        • Mikey,

          I think the sentiment across the country has changed. Today I was in my Army uniform in a gun shop, and an old cowboy came in, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Thanks for your service, son.” When I went outside I saw a “Vietnam veteran” bumper sticker on his truck. I don’t think there was anything condescending about it. I’ve run across one or two people who seemed to say thanks while holding their nose in disgust, but that’s been really rare.

          If you’re ever in my neighborhood, I’d be happy to sit in a bar and listen to your stories. I don’t drink, but you can have all you want. And Hooters serves great tea.

          • Point taken — guess I haven’t felt the sincerity. Don’t have much in the way of stories — just signed up, did my job, came home and did/still do my job. Come to think of it, that might just be the Clif Notes version of your article.

          • Bam. We did the job willingly, accepted the bad and good aspects of the experience, kept the pride and moved on with our lives.

            Good summary of my essay.

  13. 46 Harold Edwards


    Thank you for putting into words what so much of us feel. When I read your words I can identify with them so closely, being in law enforcement and been lucky enough to have served with you in 2005, they strike a cord. I retired in 2009 with 21 years in the military, 12 active and 9 in the National Guard, and like someone said above, I miss it everyday. I can wear several different combat patches, and after several years, I put the 36th ID patch on my uniform and took the 1st CAV Patch off, although it to holds memories and honor in my eyes. I suffered from the “active duty” view of the National Guard, until May of 2004, when I joined the Texas National Guard, when I realized there was a large group of VERY Professional Soldiers in the Texas National Guard. Not being from Texas, I actually drove 5-6 hours every drill weekend to be a part of a very proud organization.

    Thanks again Chris, be safe Brother and I hope you continue to write and publish your wisdom.


    • Thank you, Harold. I’d really like to read your perspective of the Diwaniya ambush someday. Let me know if you ever want to post it here.

      By the way, as proud as I am of the Guard, I have no problem admitting the regular Army is better trained and more proficient. They do this stuff every day, we’re weekenders. I think our strengths come from our civilian experience, maturity and especially from our ability to think for ourselves rather than rely on doctrine. But if I had been regular military I would be damn proud of it, like I know you are.

  14. 48 Sapper

    Here is a reality, I grew up poor, but as far as I could remember I wanted to be a soldier. Ive had many childhood friends die on the streets in the South Bronx of Ny, and I joined the military to get away from that. I served honorably as best as I could. 14 Soldiers that have served with me have committed suicide. I struggle but I continue to try and percervier, I try to be the best father, man, and husband that I can. I find myself lacking, When I try to use my benefits that Ive earned with blood mines and others, im told its not feasible for you to go to school and join the work place and a place in society, I cant run and hunt with my sons, I cant carry my granddaughter longer than 5 minutes. I cant make love to my wife. I feel sad or regret a number of things that ive done. Yet my greatest accomplishment is that I was/ and still feel like im a Soldier, but it has cost me. I never asked for pity, I only ask to be whole and for what I earned.

  15. This was a GREAT response. I truly liked the last part where you referenced the myriad of worries reduced to only 3. I feel like life here is SO much harder than life in Afghanistan or Iraq. The way I described life over there was the ONLY thing I had to do was not die and everything else was taken care of. Now in America we have so many other stressors that I wish on a daily basis to go back to Afghanistan.

    • Jay,

      I’m really happy being home with my wife and kids, but as far as my work goes, nothing I’ve ever done has compared to what I did in Afghanistan. I miss it, and have to fight the desire to go back.

      Thanks for your service, Jay.

  16. 52 Alex

    The thing is, as a soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq, the chances of getting out without injury are very good compared to “real” wars of the past. I served in the mechanized infantry, never had to go into real combat, just training. Still, we learned our chances of survival pretty fast. You attack with your IFV, tank hits you, you are dead before you get out. When you manage to get out, machine gun fire mows down half your squad. When you survive this, experienced enemy marksmen will kill you with ease from prepared positions. They will hit, they are as skilled as you are. Lets face it, when there is an “equal” enemy, war becomes a lot less of an “adventure” compared to when there are a few inexperienced guys with a 40 years old rifle firing a couple of rounds in your direction. Don’t get me wrong, of course there are occasions also in afghanistan, where it will be almost the same for some individuals, that happen to experience such situations. But those are rare compared to other wars. In wars like vietnam (and that was no equal enemy either), there were more or less conventional armies fighting. The casualties speak for themselves. + in general, a guy who lost both legs and half of his face will have another opinion about the war, than somebody, who got lucky and survived without injury.

    • Alex,

      I don’t see any way you can characterize Iraq or Afghanistan as anything other than “real” wars. In the entire history of warfare, most wars have been low-intensity rather than huge conventional force-on-force fights between organized armies. Having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, I can assure you those wars were real.

      Please step back in time with me and walk into the Alasai Valley in March 2009 or the Shpee Valley in August 2009. After that, please tell me you weren’t in a real war.

      Regarding your comment, “You attack with your IFV, tank hits you, you are dead before you get out. When you manage to get out, machine gun fire mows down half your squad. When you survive this, experienced enemy marksmen will kill you with ease from prepared positions. They will hit, they are as skilled as you are,” you remind me of an instructor we had in Marine boot camp. He taught us about Soviet HIND helicopters, and told us that if we saw one, “Just give up, you’re dead already.” That was from someone who I don’t think had ever been to war, and believed everything they heard in training.

      In real life, your script for combat doesn’t necessarily happen the way you think it will. If it did, I would’ve been shot by the sniper I made myself an easy target for. The .50 rounds my gunner fired at a suspected car bomb would have killed everyone inside, instead of leaving someone alive to drive away. RPG rounds would annihilate their targets. Armored vehicles wouldn’t be defeated by IEDs. War is not a mathematical equation; numerous factors affect the way things are “supposed” to happen.

      You sound like you’ve never been in combat.

      And by the way, I do have a close friend who was severely wounded in Afghanistan. He is still extremely proud of his service.

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