By: Peter Sessum
On Monday, a person got on stage of America’s got talent and told a sob story about how he survived an RPG attack in Afghanistan and was worried that he would not live to see his kids grow up. Because of his injuries he stutters but when he sings, the stutter disappears. It was moving and touching. People in the audience cried and he moved on to the next stage. After the episode aired, the story came out that he had lied about his service.
My initial response? Are you kidding me? Are you fucking kidding me? This is why we can’t have nice things, because of stuff like this. It is because of things like this that you have to pay attention when someone tells a story about their military service.
Tim Poe, the Minnesota National Guard member that lied about his service on America’s Got Talent is not alone. He is part of a culture that dishonors the military and people that legitimately serve, get injured or earn honors. Like others, Poe has a history of lying about his service and awards. Unlike most, he went on national television and talked about it.
People that lie about their service are pathological liars. The problem with telling tall tales, and I have heard some good ones, is that they have to grow. They always start out in truth, but at some point, the starts to change. Sometimes is it because the truth is embarrassing. Sometimes it is because the attention starts wane and the person is addicted to the attention. Either by intention or situation, the story gets out of control.
Poe’s lies are extreme, but not any greater than what so many other people out there are saying. There are some very wrong things going on in his head to tell some of the lies that he has told. I can’t even imagine why he would even say that he was in the military for 14 years when he only served from 2002-2011. Maybe he was so cool that some of his years counted for double.
At a Defenders of Freedom golf event, Poe lied about having a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge (CIB), two tours to Iraq and two to Afghanistan. Poe added the extra tour to Afghanistan, the Iraq tours and the extra medal because he felt out of place with what medals he had. Some people think that their service isn’t “real” because they were not in combat or in a combat job. I will say that as long as you did your duty with honor and integrity, it counts and it was important.
There is a guy that always introduces me as an Iraq vet. Each and every time I correct him. Part of it is because I don’t want to mislead anyone, but also because I think my time in Afghanistan is enough to be proud of. Guys like Poe don’t feel the same about their time. They think it will sound cooler if they say they were in Iraq and what is the big deal?
Reports are coming in that Poe’s ONE tour to Afghanistan lasted only 32 days. It is said that he hurt himself falling out of a truck his first few weeks in country. On US Army W.T.F. Moments Facebook page a person claiming to be from his unit says that Poe was sent home because of an ear infection. When he got home I doubt that he was rushing to tell everyone that he tripped while getting out of a humvee. When everyone kows you have deployed and you come back in a back brace, you better have a good story. What sounds better than “I fell” how about “I almost got blown up saving lives.”
Of course, since he told stories about being on patrol, it will sound better if he says he was Infantry. Keep in mind, in the National Guard, soldiers are not collocated. Poe might live hours away from other members of his unit so no matter what he says in the bar, none of it might make it to the ears of people who know the truth.
What every real soldier knows that POGs always seem to forget is that the success of the military is because of the team. That means everyone. I know that sitting in a supply office or behind a fuel truck sucks. But I appreciate the troops that do those jobs well so that other people more cool than me can go out and do what they do. Without chopper mechanics, Intel weenies, armorers, fuel jockeys and a whole host of other people, Osama bin Laden would still be watching old reruns of Power Rangers, Friends or whatever in Pakistan.
Pop quiz, which is the more hardcore trooper?
#1 “I was in the Marines. I deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Thunder, Operation lightning as a machine gunner.”
#2. “I spent some time in the Army.”
If you said number one, you were picking up a big fat POG on your grunt radar. This is the kind of stuff I hear all the time. First, “machine gunner” is not an MOS or military job. It is a position in the squad. Saying you are a machine gunner is like saying you have the keys to the executive bathroom. You want people to think that you are one of the corporate executives but really you are the guy that cleans the toilets.
Every platoon in the Army has vehicles and crew served weapons. Saying “I am a machine gunner” could mean a hardcore Infantry soldier that carries a machine gun on foot patrols and hunts bad guys, or it could mean a cook that is issued a machine gun and has to carry it to and from the chowhall every meal on deployment.
Next, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) was the overall mission in Iraq. Everyone that deployed to Iraq was part of OIF. Operation Thunder and Lightning are specific missions within the deployment. Keep in mind, when the Marines do anything they call it operation something. So they may go one a two week mission, come back and head out on another week-long mission and call it something else. All on the same deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Another important point is that everyone, even the support people can say they are part of Operation Whogivesashit. So the troop that loads MREs in a chooper to be flown to the guys in the field can say he supported Operation Chowtime. This hardcore machine gunner Marine was not a grunt, he was a jet mechanic. Pilots do not sleep on the ground. And Jets do not sit on the dirt strip of a FOB in the middle of nowhere. Jet mechanics do not go on foot patrols and kick down doors.
The guy who says, “I spent some time in the Army,” most likely has some skills. That is what the Special Forces guy in the corner is going to say. He is going to let everyone else POG out and tell bullshit stories while he quietly sip his beer.
So how can you tell if someone is full of crap? It is actually pretty easy. Vets will talk about everything with people they know, but close hold most information around strangers. If someone brags about having PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or number of kills, they are attention whores. If they have cool stories but never tell you what their actual job is, they are full of crap. I know a cook that was allowed to ride in the turret for one convoy in Bosnia. He wore the dust goggles on his helmet for the rest of the tour.
If you are impressed at the first meeting of a trooper, they might be full of crap. If they insert themselves into as many events, organizations and causes as possible, they might be full of it. I knew a former Infantry soldier that was a complete attention whore. He wanted to be in as many interviews and talk to as many people as possible. The problem was that he was not very good at doing the job; he just wanted to look cool.
When interviewed, he claimed to be the veteran club president, and even kept it as his email signature even though he had long since passed on the responsibility. When it was confirmed that he was lying, he changed his signature to be with another student veteran organization. One that he didn’t do anything to help veterans, just wanted to be able to say he had a cool position.
You can tell when someone is hardcore when other people have to brag for him. Or, you earn his or her trust and they tell you some of what they have seen and done. But if you ever come across someone claiming to be something they are not, be sure to call them out. Just be careful how you do it. I still laugh about the time a woman asked me if I was a POG. I was polite and only laughed, if anyone else asked, I would most likely tell them to fuck off. I have earned my grunt status.