Story by William Selby, Defense Media Activity
As Veterans Day approaches my thoughts turn to the nation’s vets whose service has helped ensure American freedom for over 200 years. In my personal life and in my career, I’ve typically reached out to vets from previous generations to learn about their experiences and honor them on this very special day.
This year, I spent time pondering the fact that my generation has veterans of our own now. Actually, I am one. I decided I wanted to know what being a veteran meant to my peers and how our generation is taking on this identity.
With this curiosity in mind, I reached out to a few Iraq and Afghanistan vets that I knew, to find out what they had to say about being a veteran.
I caught up with my best friend, an Air Force veteran named Chris, whose last name I can’t use for security reasons, this past week. Chris joined the Air Force in 2001 after he made a promise to himself that if he hadn’t become a police officer by then, he would join the Air Force.
“My intent was to enter the Air Force as an Intelligence Analyst and gain valuable experience and a Top Secret security clearance, which would hopefully propel me into a career in law enforcement. I separated from the Air Force in 2005 with four years’ experience in intelligence analysis, as well as a Top Secret clearance. My time in the Air Force influenced me to stick with the Intelligence Community versus a career in Law Enforcement.”
“Being a veteran means a great deal to me,” he said. “The experience I gained and the life-lessons I learned in the Air Force were invaluable. While I am not certain where I would be in life had I not enlisted in the Air Force, I am certain I am in a better place personally and professionally for having joined. I can say confidently that enlisting in the USAF changed my life for the better and set me up for success in my future.”
I’ve yet to speak with someone who joined the military that did not come out a better person. Chris is no different and neither am I. Both of us enlisted with specific goals in mind and regardless of whether we took the path we thought we would, we still reached them.
After talking with Chris I started thinking about all of the other people I know who have served. I thought about Cindy Carr, an acquaintance of mine, because from time-to-time I’ve seen her posts on social media about the military and how much she supports it. Until I spoke with her though, I had no idea why.
Cindy was a military police officer who served as an Army reservist for eight years. She told me the reason she became a soldier was due to a family legacy.
“Several people in my family were service members,” she said. “My great-grandfather and grandfather were in the Army Air Corps, my father served in the Army during Vietnam, my brother was in the Army’s 82nd Airborne and I have cousins who served in the Army and Marine Corps.”
Cindy was proud to say she was the first female in her family who served.
I asked her what being a veteran meant to her and she gave a profound response.
“It’s a family,” she said. “It’s an honor to be part of that family. We all have one thing in common and that’s the love of our country and we are all willing to fight for that.”
Cindy’s statement spoke to me on many levels because I share that sentiment. We all join for an assortment of reasons, but one thing we share in common is our love for our country.
Later that night, I reached out to an old friend whom I haven’t spoken to in probably 10 years. Carlos Garcia is an Army veteran who served from 2003 to 2011. If there’s one thing anyone needs to know about Carlos it’s that he’s a man with many interests, but only one love…helping fellow veterans.
I asked him the same question I asked Cindy and Chris earlier that day, “What does being a veteran mean to you?” Even though he was thousands of miles away, passion could be felt in his inspiring and heartfelt answer. Here’s what he had to say:
“To me, Veterans Day is not just one day; it’s a daily inspiration. It courses through my veins and [is] evident in every beat of my heart. It’s a way of life and a bond of brotherhood found nowhere else on earth.”
“It’s being there for your battle buddy when he reaches his hand out. It’s making sure when our service members come home they are well taken care of.”
“It’s living my life in honor of those who are not able to and ensuring everything I do is for the benefit and betterment of others. It’s maintaining service even after service.”
“It’s a reminder that we still have brothers, sisters, daughters, mothers, fathers and relatives putting their lives on the line. It’s knowing that once their job is done they have a support system ready and waiting to take care of them, the same way they [have] so selflessly taken care of us.”
“It’s a phone call to a battle buddy to make sure they are alright. It’s about getting fellow veterans out and together so they know they are not alone. It’s an email, a text, a visit, just so you know I still got your back.”
“It’s an oath that I took promising that I will never leave a fallen soldier behind [and] keeping that oath even after battle. It’s a vision I have for the future of veterans. It’s a mission, movement and determination to make a change in the lives of our veterans.
“It’s a family, a unit and a fortress. It’s having each other’s back in the face of adversity. It’s coming out of that adversity stronger than ever.”
“It’s my service, it’s your service, it’s those that have come before and those that will come after.”
“Veterans Day is not just a day, it’s a way of life. A life I am proud to live, and a life I dedicate to my family in arms.”
“Here’s to us and those like us. We are a breed unlike any other. Stand tall, walk proud and never forget. I’m proud of each and every one of you who [have earned] the title of veteran.”
After getting in touch with these old friends and acquaintances, I realized that my generation isn’t all that different from the generations of veterans I’ve spoken to in the past. In fact, Cindy is right; we may say it differently but Veterans Day means the same thing to all of us. It’s a day to honor and respect each other, our brothers and sisters in arms who have fought before and will continue to fight for the Red, White, and Blue.
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