Veterans are unique members of American society. I believe this, not because veterans receive specialized combat training or make extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of this country. I believe this because, while serving in the military, volunteers from small country towns and big urban cities acquire new experiences and perspectives that most Americans go a lifetime without.
On this Veteran’s Day, I would like to offer my reflection.
I am a 29 year-old veteran Naval Officer. I have never spent time under fire in Fallujah, but I have been deployed as part of the United States’ response to North Korean missile testing. I have never flown reconnaissance missions in the Middle East, but I have challenged territorial claims made by Beijing in the South China Sea. And I have never worked with the United Nations on peacekeeping missions in West Africa, but I have stood in the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial and explained the architect’s intent to Admiral Viktor Chirkov, Commander of the Russian Navy.
In saying this, I mean to convey that the average American misunderstands what it means to be a veteran. Being a veteran is not about being a hero or sacrificing by any great measure. That honor is reserved for the nearly 6,000 men and women who lost their lives fighting in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, as well as the countless others who sustained battlefield injuries, including those who suffer from post-traumatic stress.
Instead, being a veteran should mean being a leader in society. It should mean imparting one’s experience and perspective on those who haven’t served in the military. Don’t thank me for my service; thank me for my perspective. Thank me for having a learned opinion that differs from the rest of my community. From my time in the military, I have witnessed firsthand global issues and current events, and I have seen the immediate impacts of climate change, ISIL, and energy insecurity.
So on this Veterans Day, talk to me. Ask me questions. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates there are 22 million veterans in the United States. That is 22 million unique perspectives and opinions formed on a world of experience.
On this Veterans Day, don’t buy me a cup of coffee; pick my brain. Demand that I reflect on what serving this country has taught me.