The New Veteran, A Culture of Entitlement and Peter Pan
By Toby Nunn
President John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what can you do for your country.” If only he had done that for today’s returning veterans.
It appears to me that we have created a strange new culture within the Veteran community and perhaps I am alone in seeing it but honestly it offends me. How did we get from being men and women of honor to a subclass of entitled and counter-culture, whiny, wussified leaches?
First let me “validate” myself before the dick measuring, self-loathing folks tell me I’m not qualified to speak on this matter. I am a former Sergeant First Class Infantryman who saw his share of combat leadership time.
For those of you that feel you need to know more—you don’t! That should be enough. In fact just signing your name, raising your hand while you swear and mean it, should be enough. Not knowing you or being inside your head, how can I honestly apply judgment or comprehend your emotional experience known as “combat”?
Since getting back I have continued to feel the call of duty. Not the pull of the video game calling me but instead ensuring my job as a leader is still being accomplished. I’ve held jobs ranging from Non-Profit leadership to peer counseling positions and contract work in addition to owning a veteran-centric company and partner in another.
With this exposure I have seen an increasing trend that has made me question why I would continue to work in these realms. The majority of Veterans I come in contact with are perpetrating the greatest defacing of the uniform and of their service.
Yes, I know the statistics about how many have served during the Global War on Terror and that .45% of the general public is carrying the lion share of the security and safety load for the rest of the country and society. Yes, I feel offended when some inexperienced college kid tries to lecture me on the power of diplomacy and how we brought this all on ourselves by being so awesomely powerful and successful as a nation.
The majority of Veterans I seem to constantly come in contact with tend to think that, because they are a very small percentile of those that served, they deserve more than the paycheck they received doing it—and the true gratefulness of the nation that is constantly finding ways to express that without including the two federal holidays.
Since the Global War on Terror we have seen a cultural shift in Veteran behavior. Guys and Gals are not coming home and joining the Veteran of Foreign Wars and American Legion in droves. In fact they are not joining at all.
I would say the biggest reason for this is because those organizations have an expectation of support. Your service qualifies and validates you to join but you have to contribute to become a member. As a member it’s highly encouraged that you participate in initiatives.
“How dare they ask for more than I have already given” seems to be a reoccurring theme. This is even more supported by the countless number of new Non Profits that start up daily whose sole purpose is to give back with no expectation other than receiving what ever it is they are offering. These offerings range from small dolls to dogs, free beer, money, cars and houses and even amazing family holidays and adventures.
These are all bad-ass things but what happens when we tell our brothers and sisters they can have them without continued effort? People start expecting to get and have what they want without earning or deserving it.
The message of gratitude is lost and the badass thing that’s being received has become the price tag for ones integrity. The moral fabric that stitched together our uniforms and the basis of service is being sold out for..stuff.
Now, in defense of many organizations that are doing great and wonderful things at the call of the country—PLEASE DO NOT STOP! The former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullins, had to navigate the waters of support without the funding or backing of the country’s leadership. Like many great leaders he was entrepreneurial and created a job position and office that took well-spoken leaders with extensive experience in the wounded realm and put them to work speaking with non-profits and NGO’s to raise the money and support the Department of Defense and the Veteran Administration were unable to secure.
This also facilitated the faster moving civilian market to address, work on, and solve complex and unique needs. This was and is still needed in several ways. However, the downside of this is the perversion of the intent by those that feel entitled.
I absolutely agree that all of our service deserves note and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am truly thankful that those experiences color the lens I look at life through.
However, when is the moment we stop leading each and every conversation with how we served ensuring everyone we meet knows that we did? In addition to saying it, there is also the “in-case-I-haven’t-told-you-what-a-bad-ass-I-am-t-shirt-and-operator-ball-cap” to make sure you got it.
Is there anything wrong with this? No, but there are some similarities to the TAPOUT phenomenon that went global with the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts. When all of a sudden all the fringe athletes that dedicated their lives to training and sacrifice had their efforts devalued by a bunch of fat douche bags presenting the appearance of being more than just an athletic fan.
We learned a lot of lessons with the treatment and return of the Vietnam veterans. Especially since the majority had no choice but to serve and 58,000 died. Especially since the big result from their return was a generation of silent suffering that seems to be culminating with a lack of infrastructural support, suicide, a lifetime of substance abuse, and high levels of homelessness.
Those that have escaped still hide their experience to avoid stigma but have moved forward and achieved in many cases great things. And they have done so humbly.
How is it now that our generation of Veterans feels that, like those that preceded us, we deserve leadership roles by default and success without effort? I have always understood that Success is the sum of Effort and Opportunity. Why do we feel it necessary to not move forward and reintegrate with everyone else?
One of my favorite demotivational posters is the one with a warrior shooting his weapon in combat and the caption reads “P.T.S.D., What happens when you get home and realize you will never be this awesome again.”
Serving in combat also doesn’t limit our potential. Of course everyone is a hero, operator, or the second most over-used and misunderstood word, “Sniper.” Professional trigger puller is a very limited career field that’s already filled by the few highly qualified guys that actually are. The majority of those guys are translating their skills into PHD level tasks, moving forward, taking the skill sets of leadership, critical thinking, audacity and are building companies.
These, however, are few in number in comparison to the many that have transitioned from the military into the civilian world. Some, instead of trying to create and rebuild, find excuses to remain in a predeployment mentality. While others have found inventive ways to apply skill sets like helping defeating poachers in Africa, responding to natural disasters, and being a true help and support structure to those in need, many just want to be recognized as someone that did something most others did not.
While we spend a lot of time and effort making sure everyone in the military knows they are appreciated and their current sacrifices do not go unnoticed, they are the ones still officially serving. For us as a Veteran community trying to continue to claim those sacrifices and accolades is borderline disingenuous. Why do we not feel that our service would mean more if we applied it to the future? Why is past glory holding us back and retarding our growth?
I belong to several veteran groups and forums and find myself at odds with many of the members because I want to use my service to compliment and create my future—not be the sum of my value and identity. Both of my hands, legs, and mouth work, so I do not need a service dog to help me navigate through a shopping mall.
While I still dislike crowds and feel anxiety in public, I am emotionally present. So when I find myself struggling, I meet the challenge as I did “over there “ and press forward.
We are not victims. So why do we portray ourselves as such?
We didn’t flinch in the face of the enemy—we shot them in the face and turned their heads into canoes. So why must we flinch in the face of adversity or challenge here?
We use programs and organizations as crutches and validate our need for them with a “poor me” attitude. Is it because success is not as sexy as failure? Where and who taught us that? What military school was that in? Apparently I missed out on the Shit Bags and Thieves School.
Stop being a victim and become a victor. Grow up and stop becoming a modern day Peter Pan living in a fictitious video game world.
Find noble purpose; serve your community, God, and family. Enrich those around you and stop being a parasitic byproduct of something that is honorable and just.
Be a Man! For you Ladies, that simply means put childish things behind you.
Be a contributor and honor your service with success. The beauty of the American Dream is you decide how to measure success. Regardless of your personal metrics, I guarantee past glories are only a foundation—not the finishing work.