He’s your kid’s high school coach. He’s the mechanic that changes your car’s oil. He’s the policeman you call when you hear things that go bump in the night. She’s the nurse working in the hospital emergency room. He’s the homeless guy shuffling down the street in rags. He’s your brother, your sister, your neighbor, and your boss. He’s the American veteran, and today is his day.
He (and when I say he, I actually mean both genders) usually joined the military or was drafted fresh out of school, and started growing up the first time his feet stepped out of the bus and onto the ground at boot camp. There, his head was shaved, he got a series of inoculations, he was shouted at from every direction at once, and he was shoved into a uniform way too big for him. Over the next few weeks he learned how to march, how to salute, how to fire a machine gun, and how to render first aid to a wounded comrade. He lost part of his individuality as the training process broke him down and then rebuilt him into part of a cohesive team. He started to stand a little taller, look a little more confident, and shed a lot of his childhood.
After months of training, he found himself assigned to his first duty station. Sometimes it was a cushy stateside billet. Other times it was to a foreign land where his horizons were quickly expanded. Sometimes it was to a combat zone, and only a few months after he stepped out of a classroom, he was dodging bullets and watching his friends die around him. He finished growing up real fast.
If he was lucky, he finished his time in uniform and came home in one piece. If he was smart, he took advantage of the opportunities his service provided him to get an education and learn skills that would help him succeed in the civilian workforce. Sometimes, after experiencing life outside his hometown, he decided that civilian life wasn’t all that appealing anymore and reenlisted, making the military a career.
He may have seen combat in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, or Afghanistan. He may have been forced to do horrific things just to stay alive. He may have shed his blood for you and for me. Or he may have driven a truck, served food in a mess hall, maintained complex computer equipment, or kept aircraft in flying condition.
He may have come home with a chest full of medals, or he may have earned little more than a marksmanship badge. He may have walked through fire, or been a mediocre soldier who just did his job and put in his time. It doesn’t matter, he (or she) is a veteran. They all stepped up to the plate when their country needed them. He’s a hero, and he deserves your respect.
You may disagree with our current President, but it’s because of that kid that you can express your dissatisfaction publicly. You may be gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor. But whatever you are, it’s because of him that you can live your life the way you want to, not the way some dictator says you must.
If you slept peacefully in your own bed last night, and if you woke up this morning and didn’t have to bow down to anyone, it’s because of that kid I told you about.
You’ve heard it many times, but it is never more appropriate than today. If you love your freedom, thank a vet.
Tags: Afghanistan, American veteran, boot camp, civilian life, combat in Korea, combat zone, dodging bullets, drafted, first aid, get an education, high school coach, homeless man, hospital emergency room, joined the military, machine gun, marksmanship badge, military career, nurse, policeman, salute, Vietnam, wounded comrade