You Served

Updated: February 4, 2013

“And some brothas always gotta high cap
Showin’ all his boys how he shot ‘em
But real gangsta-ass playas don’t flex nuts
’cause real gangsta-ass playas know they got ‘em”
-Geto Boys, “Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta” (Radio version)

By Jack Mandaville

He walked onto the stage with a guitar hanging over his shoulders, a brown cowboy hat sitting atop his head and a gleaming smile plastered on his face.  He opened his mouth and, with a frustratingly slow stutter, began to tell his story:

After fourteen years in the US Army, while serving as a soldier in Afghanistan (with one tour in Iraq already under his belt), he was wounded by a grenade blast—which, as a result, caused brain damage and gave him the speech impediment the viewing audience was hearing.  During the pre-performance montage, he went into great detail about his wounds (accompanied by pictures of him serving), often holding back tears in the process.  The judges, the audience and the millions of viewers watching from home were awestruck by this man.

And then he gave his recital.  It was immediately obvious he was not only a talented singer, but a great guitarist.  That stutter which had affected him before had magically gone away when he put his heart into the performance.  America wept with joy.  The panel of judges—Howard Stern, Howie Mandel, and Sharon Osbourne—were speechless.  America was, potentially, looking at the next winner of America’s Got Talent.

His name was Tim Poe… and his story was a lie.

Poe hadn’t served fourteen years in the Army.  He was never wounded in Afghanistan, nor had he ever been to Iraq.  And as for the picture shown of him (the one he submitted to AGT), it wasn’t him.

Americans—especially those within the Armed Forces who were following the story—quickly turned on him… rightfully so.  This act of Stolen Valor was not just some braggart at a nightclub or an idiot parading around his small town.  This was national.  This monumental fib had the ability to damage—or, at the very least, dent—the American Veteran population’s reputation as a whole.  People were duped.  Nobody likes being duped.

But this is the thing: Poe had, in fact, served in the Army for eight years.  Although he had never been to Iraq, he had deployed to Kosovo.  And the big one: he had, indeed, served in Afghanistan for a brief period as a supply specialist.
So why did he fabricate his service record?

The high number of individuals embellishing and/or completely lying about their service records seems to be one of the more baffling issues facing the Iraq/Afghanistan generation.  These aren’t people who have never served we’re talking about (which is a whole other issue).  These are people who have done their time and still feel the need to seek unearned accolades. StolenValor1

Tim Poe undoubtedly inflated his story in order to gain a leg up in the competition.  But I suspect there was more to it than material gratification.  This was a man who seemed to have deep psychological issues and, according to many people who knew him, a pathological tendency to lie.

His situation—while not the first or the last of its kind—could arguably serve as a microcosm for this Stolen Valor pandemic we’re witnessing.  By simply browsing through a few months of posts on a blog like This Ain’t Hell—one of many that dedicates itself to exposing military phonies and wannabes—you will find an alarming number of individuals (who have served) wearing unearned medals and making fictitious claims about their service.  The majority of these folks are typically outed after making false claims on the internet, in a local paper, or simply by being caught in public with questionable paraphernalia on.

They graduated basic training.  They successfully graduated from their respective MOS schools.  Many of them had even deployed during their enlistment.  So why lie?

Here’s my take:

I can only surmise—just by the trends I’ve seen—that many of these people have some sort of overwhelming feelings of inadequacy.

We live in a culture that has been saturated with stories involving our war heroes—mainly via film, literature, and videogames.  Whether it’s presented in a fictional protagonist like John Rambo or a real life hero like Marcus Luttrell, the aforementioned mediums have bombarded us with the concept of the “ideal warrior.”  While many of these movies, books, and games do a spectacular job of honoring our troops and Veterans with realistic combat scenes and well-researched dialogue, it can often become unclear where the line between honoring and glorifying their service is drawn.  This sets up a confusing precedent for many.  The fact is, the overwhelming majority of us will never or have never served in the capacity shown in Hollywood.

We all begin our enlistments with certain goals in mind.  And the fact is, if you were like me and only did one enlistment, you probably did not meet many of these goals.  There are many factors to this.  To name a few: circumstance, failure to meet certain standards, and a loss of desire to achieve the goal.

This is a fairly common scenario for Vets.  So our enlistment ends and we go home.  Most of us can walk away from our service proud of what we did achieve—be it the final rank we attained, how we performed in our jobs (in training or in combat), and/or the decorations we left with.
And then there are those who aren’t satisfied.  They carry their service with them into the private sector and construct a forged catalog of accomplishments, both vocally and, in the case of those who wear unearned medals, physically.  They become victim to the primal emotion of insufficiency, which in turn justifies their conscious decision to take what others have sweat, bled and died for and make it their own.  Many individuals, like Poe, do this to get an advantage over perceived competition.  But when you really look at why people do this, it all boils down to one thing: ego.

One of the main things you will see with these prior service posers are low self-esteems.  They bought into the notion that they had to be the typical Hollywood hero in order to matter.  What they failed to realize is by simply taking the oath, completing basic training, and serving honorably, they do matter.  They’ve done more than 99.55% of the American public in the past decade.

You don’t have to be a decorated Navy SEAL, secret squirrel Green Beret or battle-hardened Reconnaissance Marine to be a great warrior.  The absence of a Silver Star or Purple Heart will not detract from your accomplishments.  You made the choice of which branch to serve in and what job to do.  Whether you end up learning how to provide equipment in supply school or fight tigers in Ranger School, be proud of what you do.  Own it.

You serve(d).  You have nothing to prove to anyone—not potential employers, potential mates, your fellow Veterans, or the general public.  You are part of that .45%.




  1. Jinger Brinkley

    February 5, 2013 at 8:23 am


    I am not a hero. I do not consider myself worthy of “Warrior” or any of the other titles hefted upon service members.

    I enlisted in 2003 as a counter-intel spc only to have my student loans jack up my security clearance eligibility and end up the dreaded… “admin”.

    I have spent nearly 10 years serving my country. I deployed “but only to GTMO” and have never even beeen comfortable with the title “veteran”. I have no “combat patch” no “CAB” or any of the other accoutrements that signify true risk of life and heroism… but I’ve never avoided deployment. Never shirked my duty… always WANTED to go, but never got the call ((yes, I volunteered through all the MOB sites and when my unit asked for volunteers)).

    Thanks for writing this. I AM part of the .45%!!!!

  2. Joshua

    February 5, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Thanks for this post. I agree wholeheartedly. I only served one enlistment from 1996-2000. I jokingly tell my friends that have served since 2001 that my time in the Corps was so boring that I don’t even rate a fire watch ribbon.

    As you state in your article though, I did do some awesome things while I was in. I had a great job and while it wasn’t all roses, it built a great deal of skill and fortitude in myself. I have done well after my service not because of the my service record, but because of those skills, ethics, and morals that I was exposed to during my service.

    I’m not a war veteran, but I am a Marine Veteran and I’ll carry that title till the day I die.

    Semper Fi

  3. Bo

    February 5, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Too true.

  4. LG

    February 5, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Completely agree! I served two tours to Iraq. I didn’t really do anything spectacular, except I went to Iraq! 27 of 36 months is plenty of accomplishment for me, no matter what I did over there. I made it back without injury, physically or mentally, and without having to take another life. I was lucky compared to many of my brothers and sisters that were and are out there. You just need to realize it too!

  5. DG

    February 5, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Great article,

    I too have been in the military for 10 years as a reservist. For reasons only the good Lord knows i have watched my friends and unit go to war and return. I am on my first “deployment” and may never see combat as our fellow soldiers have known it.

    I have however done countless other things to serve the our nation, and the nations of others. I have also played a key role in training others to prepare for battle based on knowledge I have gained through others experiences. For this I am proud of what I do and where I have been.

    The truth of the matter is exactly what has been put forth in the article above. Thank you for writing it.

    -Proud 68W28

  6. JOE

    February 5, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    I completely understand and agree with this article. I am an 11B in the Kansas Army National Guard. I enlisted in 2009, hoping to deploy to Afghanistan and fight for my country. I did deploy, just 10 days after graduating basic training, but to the Horn of Africa. It was a fantastic learning experience and I dont regret it, but it was not a combat deployment. We had no TICs, and I got no combat experience. I have been fighting for a conditional release from my contract to go active duty or get assigned to another deployment since I got back but with no luck, while all my active buddies from basic have already gone to Afghanistan. Now things are winding down and hope for my life goal since I was 17 is fading. I don’t see any value in lying about my service record because I don’t care about being recognized for my actions but for actually DOING them. also when you lie about what you have accomplished, you are pissing on the individuals who really did do those things. Having said that I do understand feeling insufficient and unsatisfied. I feel like that all the time. All there is to do is keep trying though. Thanks for writing this.

  7. C.S.

    February 7, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Thank you for writing this piece. I too am disgusted and frustrated by peoples weakness and their need to overcome their inadequacies, wrong is wrong, you didn’t earn it, don’t claim it.
    Try being an infantry soldier with 12 years in, OCS grad, IOBC, Abn, with all the requisite training, but because of a instructor/training background, my “deployments” were to backfill instructor slots. I SRP’ed for deployment 6 times, never went anywhere OCONUS. I was always embarrassed by my lack of a combat patch.
    My wife and kids don’t care, my buddies don’t care, I think most of America does’nt care, it seems its just me worried/embarrassed about my right sleeve.
    I get it, but everyone has to take their own bite of the elephant as it’s presented to them. “You play the hand you’re dealt,” etc.
    What veterans need to know is, like most situations, they arent the first and they wont be the last. Leave the accolades to the people who really risked it all.

  8. 4thID VN

    February 7, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Maybe it’s more evident in the combat arms arena, but nobody who served honorably has any reason to feel like they haven’t been really deployed.
    As my handle indicates, I was 11B RVN 1969-70 and deployed to II Corps, Central Highlands by the Cambod border. Yes, I am older than dirt but still feel the vet’s pull every day and deeply appreciate the sacrifice of every American who serves.
    I fondly recall a time when we were in a bad spot with boocoo dinks to our front when an F4 rolled in and unloaded napalm, the grunt’s friend, right in front of us. A bad day turned into a walk in the sun, as it’s hard to remember your mission when you’re on fire.
    That pilot may have saved my life, as did the armourer that loaded the canisters, the guy that gassed the plane, and the guy that fed them all back at the base.
    I’ve got the stuff: BS w/V device, PH, Arcomm, Air Medal, CIB. I would, however, be a dead MoFo without ALL of the folks that supported and cared for my sorry ass. THERE ARE NO UNNECESSARY VETS!!

  9. Bobby

    February 10, 2013 at 8:25 am

    I joined the Navy straight out of high school and knew it was what I wanted to do my whole life (since I was 6). I knew I wanted to be in engineering and knew I wanted to be on a submarine. I served my enlistment for 6 years but was extended for 9 months to have surgery on my spine. I always tell people I served 7 years since it’s awkward to say 6 years and 9 months. I’ve done some pretty cool submarine stuff while in the Navy but nothing spectacular (1 dual theatre deployment). My boat was a test-platform for all the new Navy equipment so we never were a true attack boat.
    I’ve never shot a weapon outside of the firing range. Never seen combat and my boat has never launched a live weapon at a live target. We just did our thing. I’ve got accomplishments that I am very proud of from the Navy, including E-6 after 6 years, including a demotion during that period.
    I would do it again in a heart beat. I truly loved being in the Navy, but love my family more. I feel akward around people knowing what they have been through (IEDs, mortars, gunfights), but I know my place. I know I would do no good in a situation like that. I want to feel for those people but I don’t know how. I know I was not meant for those missions. I was meant to be in engineering and to push, so I shut-up and push.

  10. Adam

    February 12, 2013 at 10:45 am

    THANK YOU for saying it. All of these Navy SEAL movies, articles, books, etc. can really wear on you. I was wearing an RU tee at the bar and this young chick came up and said “OH-EM-GEE.. are you a Navy SEAL?! Those guys are amazing!” This is a good sample of our culture.. either folks hate us for being us, or they look down on us for not being what the media has turned into the be-all-end-all for military service. I do not condone it, but I understand why some guys feel the need to embellish. Hollywood has created a culture that suggests unless you were a SEAL, you weren’t shit. Hopefully this article reaches some of these guys who suffer insecurity and helps them realize that regardless of WHAT they did, they are something pretty special.

    Personally, I own my regular guy tab with pride. I rarely talk about my service, and when I do I never mention my MOS, my purple heart, or my deployments. When people ask these days I just say “yea,I was a regular guy.. nothing special. Where were you in ’05 / ’06?”

    I guess I never really lost the look. If only I could grow hair…

    Civilians drive me nuts. I miss my brothers.

  11. anastasius focht

    February 12, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    I can remember clearly one of my drill instructors asking us if we were ready to deploy to Iran and get our hostages back. That was back in November 1980. Ronald Reagan became president and we were all amped, waiting for the call to go to war.

    After boot camp, I reported to MCDEC in Quantico, Va. for my basic school – MOS 4034 , computer operator. The rest of my tour doesn’t even qualify as boring and I did get out after only that one tour.

    To this day, I still get a bit embarrassed when my in-laws talk about me. I shot guns, did foot and car and even bicycle chases as a police officer but to that side of my family, I’m ‘the Marine’.

  12. Anthony

    February 12, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Man have I got stories to tell about serving and end up feeling like I haven’t done enough. I served 7 years in the Army National Guard as a Cavalry Scout and even did a deployment in Iraq. Before my deployment I would get questions about weather I’m in the military (wearing boonie hat cannoning or ACU pants while hiking in the woods) and I would always reply back, “Yes, I’m in the Army National Guard (I didn’t want people to think I was active duty).” And I felt proud of that statement because I’m serving while so many don’t and even though I had not been deployed yet I knew I would eventually. So after that statement I would get the reply, “Oh, have you been deployed?” And for the longest time the answer was no. And to see people just lose interest and respect instantly on their face (if not already from being told I’m a “reservist” and not active), and in their voice was like a punch to the gut. As if I had shamed them or was not worthy of their respect any more seeing how I hadn’t been deployed and fought in one of our country’s wars when I knew they never served. Funny how those who have served before are always the most thankful to those who are currently serving. Even if they had made bigger sacrifices like being a grunt infantrymen in Vietnam and you’ve never been deployed.

    So when I had finally did my tour in Iraq, along with a 90 day volunteer extension I came home proud as shit and could hold my head up high. I was a gunner doing convoy security missions based just out side of Baghdad (Taji). Hell I even got a CAB (rocket landed 90m from my vehicle while on a base). But I never did fire my weapon since I never had PID when convoy was attacked. But whatever, I risked my life doing a dangerous job in a war zone and that is something to be proud of and not bitch about the lucky horseshoe shoved up my ass for never being blown up or directly shot at.

    Well like 3 weeks after I came home from Iraq I went to a wedding with a friend and of course I wore my class As all decked out with my awards and combat patch. The groomed thanked me for my service (it was my friend’s friend) and made me feel a bit taken back because you can tell he was very sincere about it. Turns out he was an Iraqi war vet too and I berated my friend for not telling me that because I didn’t even get to thank him for HIS service. Anyways at the end of the wedding while me and my friend were waiting for him to say goodbye to the newly weds a few people came to me (only one wearing a uniform so stuck out like a sore thumb) and thanked me for my service and it was nice of them but unnecessary. And then this old lady came walking over to us. She asked me if I’ve been deployed before and proudly I replied, “Yes, I just got back from Iraq a few weeks ago.” She then asked, “How many tours have you done?” I replied back, “Just the one so far.” She said, “Oh” with her interested lost and an air of disappointment. Without a “Thank you for your service”, “Welcome home”, or “I’m glad you made it back safely” she turned and left. It instantly made me feel shameful that I haven’t done enough for my country. Lucky my friend was there so I could relieve some of my shame with a bit of forced joking about what just happen and how it was unbelievable how she acted.

    Even still I don’t like it when people inquire about my service since I fear their sudden lack of interest or respect when they find out I was never in a “battle” or even fired my weapon at someone during my whole deployment. Or the new thing being that I didn’t serve in Afghanistan but Iraq. Only with a fellow vet will I share my experiences gladly since they don’t make me feel shameful of not doing enough. If anything I feel like they give me too much respect when many of them had done more than I have.

  13. KC in Seattle

    February 12, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Right on Jack!
    I tell people all the time, “I don’t care if you were an Army Ranger or a cook in the Navy, if you’re serving or have an Honorable Discharge, you’re my brother and I appreciate you!!”
    Of course, I said that one time and a guy said, “Hey, I was a cook in the Navy!” To which I responded, “Outstanding!!”

  14. Thomas

    February 12, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    Very interesting article. I believe you are tracking the very reason that these folks feel the need to embelish their service. So much attention is given to Special Operations with regards to Hollywood and the like, that nobody gets to see the rest of the military or what they do.

    If everyone was a SEAL, Special Forces, CCT, PJ or Recon, who would pay them or fix their pay when it’s not right? Who would pilot the helo to get them to the target or fix their broken weapons? Who would get them the equipment they need to accomplish the mission or even make sure they have food to eat?

    I’m always dismayed over the impression this leaves on those very people who may not have that salad on their uniform but do their jobs with pride. They have no reason to hang their heads. I have been serving for the last 9 years and plan to keep serving until they make me retire. I will gladly pass my part of the .45% on to the next generation and I will certainly let them know serving is absolutely something to be proud of no matter what capacity they serve in.

  15. richard.johns

    February 13, 2013 at 1:22 am

    IF you are (or were) a hamburger flipper, a wrench bender, a parachute rigger or an aircrew life support dude (or dudette) be PROUD that you volunteered and DID your job.

    There’s no neeed to lie about your service. You SERVED, 99% did NOT.
    Hold your head high, Thank God you got your ‘Check’ Back (UNcashed by the US Gov!) and let Nothing stand in your way for the rest of your life.
    JUST my .000625 Iraqi Dinars,
    Rich J.

  16. Johnny Atkins

    February 13, 2013 at 2:17 am

    You know, this is actually a fairly brave stance to take, particularly in any forum where there are proud veterans – decorated warriors or not – present. It’s actually counterintuitive at first blush, but after some thought, I’m pickin’ up what you’re puttin’ down.

    I’m a humble little bastard, and I always tell people that I had a “colorful, but not distinguished” career. I love the fact that I’ve got a .500 career batting average at NJPs, and that I have four hashmarks and one Good Cookie.

    The trend I’ve noticed and can grudgingly admit after hanging up my boots after almost 19 years in the Corps: the only people I ever hear saying that I did do some special things, that I did nut up and accomplish some serious shit? It’s always someone I served with. And it’s almost always something I’d forgotten about.

    I hate liars, but you can’t erase facts. Thanks for reminding us of that, Jack.

    Instead of lying, I encourage those who (like me) were not John Wayne to have some pride and a sense of humor, and just embrace it. That said, here’s my most recent “famous” moment:


  17. Tom

    March 20, 2013 at 2:02 am

    I gotta say, this article made me feel pretty good. I’ve not deployed yet, and I might not for the rest of my career. But you’re right, I did do something special by standing up and taking the oath. I serve honorably and there is no shame in that.

  18. Tim

    March 27, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Jack, great article. I was one of President Reagan’s “Cold Warriors” having served from 1977 to 1989. Other than Grenada and the Beirut Marine attack the 80s were a pretty quite decade. Yet as an Army flight medic with Dustoff I still believe that my service had worth. My eyes water up when I read stories about young men and also women coming home from “Stan” shot up or missing limbs. In my opinion all of you that have served should be proud, no matter your branch or MOS. To my fellow vets: you are all national treasures.

  19. Common Sense

    April 18, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    I am so proud of all of you who served! Thank you!! Just making it through basic is an accomplishment 99.55% of Americans don’t have.

    My son, and soon my daughter, is in the Air National Guard. Although they aren’t full-time, I’m just as proud of them as if they were. They stepped up and signed on the line to serve their country. My son is eager to deploy and may have the chance in the next couple of years. Almost everyone in their unit wants to deploy, they actually have to rotate the list so that everyone gets a chance.

    I think military service makes men (and women) out of boys. While my son’s friends were in college, partying and having fun, he was at BMT, then tech school. Now he works full-time while continuing his Guard duties, then he’ll be doing both while in school full-time. He won’t have summers off, or spring break, or long Christmas holidays. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

    It says something when you make a commitment to something bigger than yourself, something that you just can’t up and quit. Every other job anyone can have can be walked away from but not military service.

  20. John

    April 18, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    I was just a Navy Corpsman Stationed with The Marines 1st Bat/3rd MarDiv
    81 – 87…Never saw combat..Miss some of the Leather necks I served with..Best 6 years of my life.

  21. James

    April 19, 2013 at 12:31 am

    A friend of mine and I tried to join (him Army and me Air Force), but neither of us completed training for (different) medical reasons. How does the military community see people like us; people who want to serve but can’t? Are we considered weak because we couldn’t hack it?

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