By Peter Sessum
June was Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) awareness month and even though it is passed we should still time to look at another way that people contribute to PTS in veterans. Diminishing the service of another is something that military members and veterans are unfortunately as guilty of as civilians are. It is bad enough when a person that doesn’t understand the military experience diminishes us but it is much worse when one of our own does it.
It starts out innocently enough, a person says they are a vet and a civilian asks them what they did in the military. If he says a job that isn’t in Call of Duty he is dismissed for not having a “tough” job. It is worse when someone sees dogtags on a woman and she is asked what her boyfriend does in the military. In both cases, several years of honorable, and possibly difficult, service was dismissed. Someone is being told that a part of their identity isn’t important and people wonder why there are so many soldiers guilty of Stolen Valor.
At a journalism convention a woman heard I had been in the military and asked if I was a “Pee Oh Gee” meaning POG. Sounding it out immediately told me that she didn’t know what she was talking about and was already not qualified to ask the question. She looked confused when I laughed in her face. I told her it was because my grunt cred was well established but the ridiculousness of her question was funny. She didn’t know anything about me or what I had experienced but felt that as a 21-year-old college student she could make judgment about my military service.
Until you get to know a person you really can’t know what they went through. By 2004, a female with the 82nd Airborne or 10th Mountain Division would have deployed more in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) than all the male Infantrymen of the 25th Infantry Division. Long before then, women were regularly going outside the wire so there is no reason to question that women had been put in harm’s way. Even staying on base was dangerous with rocket and mortar attacks.
Recently, I was talking to a vet in a bar about PTS and a woman’s name came up. He was a former Infantryman and immediately dismissed the possibility that a woman could have PTS. He questioned what she could have seen or experienced to negatively impact her. To his credit, he did acknowledge that Military Sexual Trauma (MST) was an acceptable reason to have PTS but it shouldn’t have taken that.
The saying “You’ll never understand a person until you walk a mile in their shoes” definitely applies and that doesn’t mean only walk a mile, it means share their experiences. Some grunts feel that because they have marched more miles than most soldiers that they understand the experiences of those that march less. PTS is a very individual experience and one hardship will not impact a person less because it is not as extreme a hardship as the next person experienced.
Even if someone was in a “POG” MOS, he or she could have seen the horrors of war. Some men in combat arms that ran missions outside the wire never came under hostile fire while some POGs were subjected to the worst war has to offer. When a rocket hit a chowhall in Kandahar everyone inside was affected. A finance clerk, someone that usually never sees the effects of combat, might have seen his friend die in front of him.
Command Sergeant Major Klein, a legend in the Ranger Battalion who was drafted for Vietnam and stayed in the Army into the 2000s, would remind soldiers that medics and nurses had the highest incidents of PTS in Vietnam. Medics see the worst effects of war but they have no outlet. A grunt sees his buddy get hit and he can let loose in the next firefight. Nurses would see a seemingly never-ending wave of young men come in and that would take an enormous toll.
Even outside of combat, MST and death there are other aspects of the military life that can contribute to PTS. Fear, isolation, the distance from family, all have an impact on a person deployed. Danny Chen didn’t die in combat, he died because he didn’t see an end to the torture from his own unit and he took his own life. Even if he had made it back, the mistreatment could have had long lasting effects. If the same things happened to someone that wasn’t Infantry, telling him that he had it easy overseas would be diminishing his experiences.
Veteran status and MOS is not an indicator of type of service. There is no way to determine if someone had an easy or hard time based solely on MOS. Anyone that has never worn dogtags should expect a service member or veteran to be polite when talking about their service. The “My dad/boyfriend/best friend is in the military/a veteran” doesn’t give someone the cred to be able to talk trash to someone that has served. The “you have to do shit to talk shit” is in full effect here. Being related to a Marine doesn’t give someone the right to talk trash to a Navy vet. No one can claim to be a Marine once removed and not expect to be thought of as a dumbass.
Military members that question or diminish the service or another military member are not cool or hardcore, they are d-bags. We are supposed to take care of our own, not make them feel worse. Deploying to Iraq doesn’t make someone more hardcore than then the troops that deployed to Afghanistan. Being in combat arms doesn’t make someone more hard than someone in a POG MOS. The Marine mechanic that tried to get everyone to think he was Infantry and looked down on women saying they weren’t “real” vets wasn’t fooling anyone. The more someone does the less they talk about it so everyone knew he was a blowhard. It ended up costing him more respect than if he had treated fellow vets with the respect they deserved.
If you meet a vet, whether you have served or not, just say “Thank you for your service.” If you haven’t walked in his or her boots you don’t know what he or she has been through. But is he or she has had honorable service they have earned your respect. Don’t be the person that questions or diminishes a veteran’s service. It will cause you to lose their respect that once lost will be hard to recover. And that is just the best case scenario, you might have just diminished the suffering of another person and if they are in pain already, you just made it worse. Don’t contribute to those feelings.
If someone tries to diminish your service, just walk away. No amount of explaining will make them understand and they have lost the right to the details.