By: Peter Sessum
Looking at pictures of a military airplane bone-yard I couldn’t help but think that is what it felt like to be a veteran. Made for a specific purpose and once the purpose is served, discarded and left to unceremoniously age. No longer wanted or cared about.
I joined in the early ‘90s at a time of relative peace. At the time, many soldiers I served with had never seen combat. The only ones with combat patches in the conventional side were troops from Desert Storm, a few from Somalia and the odd high ranking Vietnam Vet nearing retirement. We trained for a war that may never come during our enlistments. Not like the soldiers today that expects to deploy to Afghanistan as soon as they graduate bootcamp.
I never fit the stereotype of the Army Infantryman. I was raised in a very liberal family, I wasn’t allowed to play with toy guns and practiced a life of nonviolence. In middle school I deescalated a situation with the school bully by removing his desire to fight through dialogue. It is considered my first act of PSYOP against a hostile force. Needless to say my mother was not at all pleased with my decision to join the military.
I found myself a natural fit in the Infantry and later into Psychological Operations. I liked to push myself and test my limits. Somewhat competitive, I always pushed to be the best I could be. Despite how I was raised, I turned out to be good with weapons and tactics. Scoring expert with every weapon system I touched. I was skilled at land navigation and I was best at fighting at night in small teams. This isn’t bragging, with the caliber of people I served with it was pretty standard. Excluding some knuckleheads, most of the soldiers were good at their jobs.
Unfortunately, these skills do not translate into civilian life. When I left active duty service there wasn’t a large emphasis put on transitioning soldiers. As far as the Army was concerned, you were leaving so they didn’t care about you anymore. It is like breaking up with someone. Once you get your stuff out of their place, they don’t care what you do or where you do it as long as it isn’t around them anymore.
The lucky few exit the military with a marketable skill. Many have to figure out the next step on their own. Vets like me feel cast aside like the planes in the bone-yard. A lot of time and money was spent into training and molding me into a good soldier and as soon as my time was up I was left adrift in the world.
When I look at the aging planes I see aircraft built for a single purpose, to defend the nation in conflict or war. Once outdated they have no more purpose and are left to rust. Planes that flew missions over Germany and liberated Europe from tyranny now sit neglected in dust. That is what I see when I look in the eyes of old vets in the VA hospital. They had a grand purpose at one time and all those skills that were called upon all those years ago are left to degrade from reflex to faded memory. Each year, we lose a step and get a little bit slower as those skills no longer put into practice wither away.
Attending college is like being one of those old planes while surrounded by mopeds. Everything else is moving around while your skills lay dormant. And I would have to listen to the scooters prattle on about how dangerous this old plane is. Like if the engines sputter and crank over one last time they would talk about how dangerous it is. When really the plane is safest when it is on the ground. They are only dangerous at altitude, when they are in their element that they operate in.
Anyone that has ever been overseas understand Rules of Engagement (ROE) and while veterans have a particular set of skills, we only use them under very specific circumstances. If you are not a direct, physical threat to me, my family, or innocent people around me no harm will come to you. It is as simple as that.
So while some look at the airplane bone-yard (or veterans) and see the potential for mass destruction, I see equipment created for a single purpose and cast aside by the very organization that spent so much time and energy creating them. This is why some vets feel lost. For so long we had a role, a mission, a purpose and then suddenly, nothing.
I don’t want to speak for other veterans, but that is how it feels to me to be a vet. Service members and young veterans should treat the older vets with respect. They were in your shoes at one time and you will be in their shoes someday. It would be nice if civilians would have some respect for vets because since the formation of our country, men and women have been willing to shoulder the burden of freedom so that others wouldn’t have to. If nothing else cut a vet some slack because they have earned it.