When Did Honorable Service Stop Being Enough?

By: Peter Sessum

Bearded man, wearing a turban, in a sterilized uniform with a rifle in the background, what do you think this is? It would be easy to misrepresent, but that would take away from all the other truthful stories. This is not a Special Forces soldier, just a former grunt turned speaker monkey having lunch with the locals. When given a gift, it is customary to wear it.

With the Supreme Court striking down the Stolen Valor Act and people like Tim Poe making national headlines I have to wonder, when did serving with honor stop being good enough?

I know that it sounds cooler to say you fast roped out of a helicopter into heavy fire to rescue a platoon of pinned down Marines with nothing but a rusty kabar but if it isn’t true, it is just wrong to say. This is about more than just the Stolen Valor Act, it is about the difference between right and wrong.

Some people think there is nothing wrong with embellishing a story over some beers, but it is about the people that are hurt when this happens. Stolen Valor, no matter how little is not a victimless crime. At the smallest level, the people in the bar that believe the tall tales will feel hurt when they find out there were lied to. They then will be skeptical of anyone that actually served that they meet later.

I don’t care if someone buys you one free beer, if they wanted to buy it for someone that defended their country, you denied an actual soldier. However, it rarely stops at a beer. Jason Truitt claiming to be a SEAL and a former POW with PTSD got a free week long hunting trip and won the rifle they give away each trip. When the people who sponsored the trip found out, they were of course hurt by the deception. This might cost them sponsorship in the future and real vets that could benefit from the experience will miss out.

People like Tim Poe and Matt Beck actually served. There is nothing wrong with honorable service even if it isn’t as cool sounding as other jobs, it is still honorable.

Part of this is the blame of civilians. They don’t know any better so they ask what military members would call stupid questions. When I went to buy a car, after finding out that I had recently been in Afghanistan, the salesman asked, “How many people have you killed?” He doesn’t know to never ask a stranger that question. It might bring up bad memories for someone that has pulled the trigger or might make someone with honorable service feel like they didn’t do enough.

At a journalism convention I was asked if I was a POG. She spelled it out as “Pee Oh Gee” which tells me something. I laughed at her as my grunt credentials are well known, but I am not sure what she thought of me laughing. What she didn’t understand is that the question is confrontational. It is a challenge and a lesser man might lie to save face. Of course a more hardcore grunt might point out that with her job she would be considered a POG and shouldn’t talk shit.

Whether it is being confronted by civilians, or wanting to feel cool. Soldiers need to stop lying about their service. It diminishes any service you had; it disrespects the people/group you claim to be part of and it embarrasses any group you are actually a part of.

There is nothing wrong with honorable service. No matter what the job, if everyone does their part, the team will succeed. Everyone that serves honorably is a veteran end of story. Veteran status does not depend on how many deployments or how many firefights a person gets into. The reason that Special Forces are able to do what they do is because they can leave a lot of the other stuff to other people. Pilots fly them into a mission, mechanics fix their trucks and yes, PSYOP soldiers tag along and do the loudspeaker part of the mission.

I have a story or two that I like to tell, but every time it is around someone new, I always express that I did missions with SF, but I am not SF. I make it clear that I am not SF qualified or wear the tab. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea or not give enough information and have someone draw an incorrect conclusion about what I have done or what I am claiming.

Tim Poe was a transportation sergeant. As a sergeant, he should have been a leader of soldiers. There is respect in that. While he was not a trigger puller, his job is an important one and I for one am glad people do it. He deployed to Kosovo, and while not a combat zone, it still really sucks being away from the family. People still have readjustment issues even from the non-combat deployments. He was injured in a training accident prior to his unit’s deployment to Afghanistan. He spent 32 days in country before being sent home.

He could have had pride in what he did. Even though it wasn’t the stuff of movies. It is still more than what 99 percent of the country has done. When he went on America’s Got Talent, or was at a charity golf event for veterans he should not have said that he did multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, was wounded on a patrol and had multiple awards he did not earn. What he should have said was this:

“I spent nine years in the Minnesota National Guard where I proudly served my country in a maintenance unit. I deployed to Kosovo for a year. I was not home for very long before I was alerted to deploy again. Unfortunately, I ended up getting injured in a training exercise when I fell off the back of a truck and broke my back.

While I was on medical hold at Fort Benning, singing kept my spirits up. I felt like I wasn’t doing my job as I watched units deploy to Iraq and I was staying back trying to get cleared by the doctors. Being on medical hold is difficult because you want to tell the docs you are fine so you can deploy, but you have to think of your family and have your injuries properly documented in case you reinjure yourself.

Finally I was allowed to rejoin my unit for a deployment to Afghanistan. Before we could even get settled, I hurt myself again and was sent home after only a month in country. My biggest regret is that I had to leave my friends behind and go home early.

Every soldier wants to do his part and even though it has been because of injuries, I feel like I haven’t done my part. Singing has been the one thing that has helped me through the injury and the guilt of leaving my unit behind.”

I would root for that guy. Everyone in Minnesota would root for that guy. He could have been a spokesperson for National Guard and POGs everywhere about how all honorable service should be recognized and respected. People would shame grunts for talking shit about POGs. Instead, Poe has a new nickname. Tim “The Toolbag” Poe. He is the shame of his unit, his family and the National Guard. He is nationally hated by members of the military and possibly looking at legal action from groups he defrauded and even UCMJ action.

Here is all that matters. Did you serve? Would you have deployed had you been ordered? Did you do your job to the best of your ability? If you can answer yes to those questions, you are a veteran. It should be held against someone that they never deployed. There are millions of veterans that were in the military when there was no war going on. They still served with honor.

Some veterans never deployed. I call them lucky. Who knows, they might not have come back. They might have been in the chowhall when a rocket landed. Even if they survived, that person might not have come back the same as when he left.

What we have to do is get back to a place, culturally, where honorable service is enough. No one has to have been on cool missions, killed Osama Bin Laden or have all kinds of medals and decorations. Be proud of your service and don’t dishonor yourself or those around you. Lying about service is NOT a victimless crime. It hurts everyone around you. It is only a matter of degree. Hurting people a little bit is still hurting people.

Until we can all be proud of what we did, we will have to endure people like Tim Poe, Jason Truitt and even Steve Jordan. And I for one am sick of those guys.

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1 Response to When Did Honorable Service Stop Being Enough?

  1. Rachel says:

    Great post that gets to the heart of the matter.


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