Our military service taught us and molded us in multiple ways. We know how to work hard, learn difficult things quickly, and make difficult decisions with incomplete information. But we also learned not to stick out. There is a reason we wore camouflage uniforms. We all looked the same, which reminded us that we were all small parts of something much bigger than ourselves. Drawing attention to yourself is just distracting from more important things.
We are good at hiding: our observation posts from the bad guys, our fears from our battle buddies and families, and ourselves from the Sergeant looking for young soldiers sleeping in the barracks when they are supposed to be cleaning their vehicles. We did these things because they kept us safe.
We learned to protect and focus on others. That’s both good and bad
For some veterans, these now-innate abilities can cause problems. Think of the veteran who discloses to her doctor that she has nightmares about Afghanistan three times a week because she doesn’t want to take a referral that could go to a veteran “who really needs it.” There is also the veteran experiencing homelessness who didn’t mention his service in the Gulf War when asked by the police officer checking in on him because he is embarrassed by the “fake veterans” panhandling at intersections with signs proclaiming military service. And the Khe Sanh veteran who became one of the “20-a-day” lost to suicide because he believed asking for help somehow made him less of a Marine.
There are many veterans who could use some serious help. We offer that at Jefferson Center 720-826-4283). But please don’t forget most veterans aren’t hiding on the margins of society. We are your neighbor. In your yoga group. Teaching your kids. Giving you a ticket on Wadsworth when you were only going 6 miles over the speed limit.
We’ve done great things. We are doing greater things and will continue to do so. We generally don’t spend all our time hanging out in our dens looking at old military mementos like they are prized trophies. If we do, that’s where you, our members of the community, can help. We don’t want the spotlight and don’t want to be your “veteran neighbor/ friend/ yoga teacher.” Continuing to have a purpose, whatever our individual paths, keeps us going.
How You Can Make a Difference…That Matters
Introduce us to your buddy looking to hire an experienced mechanic with a track record of high performance in high-stress situations. Share the flyer from your kid’s school about the need for math tutors or mentors. We don’t see ourselves as “heroes.” Hiding in plain sight is more comfortable.
But Veteran’s Day is different. Hopefully, you were able this last weekend to heap on that praise and serve it with a side of free cheeseburgers, BBQ, or coffee. Please remember, the veterans in your community–of all eras–appreciate your good intentions, but not at the cost of living in the spotlight. That’s a lonely place to be. Instead, welcome us as valuable members of the community who have both strengths and challenges. That’s how you can directly help in a way that matters most to us.
Carl LoFaro is the former manager of Veteran and Military Family Services at the Jefferson Center. He served in the Army and deployed to Iraq as a member of a Combat Stress Team. He has been working with the military and veterans for 10 years and is passionate about assisting communities to be welcoming places for Veterans to come.