On Being a Veteran

I have a lot of trouble with the concept of God’s will. Some folks use this concept to bear up under hardship. My mother, for example, would find comfort in that notion whenever she reflected on the deaths of her mother when my mother was 6 as well as her two daughters. Often, too, I would hear words about God’s will in the Third Step of the 12 Step program and would hear others talk about peace they found in accepting God’s will.

I suspect that for me the issue has been that I have seen too much senseless suffering to be completely at ease with the concept of God’s will. Having said that, however, it occurs to me on this Veterans’ Day eve that it was God’s will that I serve in the U.S. Army.

At this point in my journey as a helper, I sit with many men and women who have served in combat and who have seen and done things unimaginable. The majority of these folks apparently find it comforting when they see my Honorable Discharge hanging on my wall. I always let them know that I am not a combat veteran. But, as one combat veteran said after I told him this, “It doesn’t matter. You’re a brother.” Then he gave me a hug.

Mind you, I had a pretty bad attitude about being a soldier. I marched in the peace demonstrations. I wrote letters of support for friends becoming conscientious objectors. When I graduated from college, to my utter chagrin I was assigned to the Infantry. Thankfully, I was later transferred to the Medical Service Corps in exchange for giving the Army 4 years. My bad attitude continued. I made the mistake of volunteering and was made Battalion Commander of my training battalion at Ft. Sam Houston. After a brief adjustment, my attitude took over such that I would do such things as instruct the troops to whistle the Mickey Mouse Club theme song as we marched by the faculty. (By the way, for the rest of my Army career, I never again made the mistake of volunteering!)

When I got to Ft. Bliss, I loved the work but my attitude about being a soldier continued. For example, my clinic commander once commented that it looked like I polished my shoes with a candy bar.

My first lesson being a veteran was one of being humbled. My lungs became a problem when I was on active duty such that now the VA provides medical care for me. Ironic and very humbling. But then the God of my understanding knows I am in need of ongoing humbling.

Moreso, though, my status as a veteran apparently puts these soldiers and veterans at ease. I see that our veterans often feel quite marginalized and having to explain to a counselor such things as MOS or the difference between a Specialist and a Sergeant only heightens that sense of marginalization. The fact that I remember being told time and again “Stay Alert. Stay Alive” reassures veterans that I do know how functional hypervigilance is in combat and why it is so difficulty to turn that off. I also know what MOS means and can recognize a Sergeant Major from the way he/ she presents himself/herself.

Mind you, I am more opposed to war now than I was even back in the 60s. Then it was pure idealism. Now my opposition is based on seeing hundreds of men and women returning to American society with physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds that are deep and permanent, all caused by war.

Recently, though, my sons and I attended a baseball game in Kansas City where the Royals faced my beloved Redsox. As people stood for the Star Spangled Banner, the announcer invited veterans to salute. That I do remember how to do and so I snapped a salute as planes flew over head. I got a lump in my throat and realized that apparently it is indeed part of God’s will for me — that I embrace with pride my status as a veteran so that wounded ones will feel more safe in my office and will feel they can talk.

Reflection: 1. If you are a veteran, how has that impacted your spiritual journey?

2. If you are not a veteran, are there any in your life who have affected your spiritual journey? How so?