If you ask any current or former service member what it means to be a Veteran, chances are, you will get a myriad of answers. Each person who raised their right hand and signed the dotted line had a different reason to do so.
One Soldier did it for valor, handed down each generation — an obligation of sorts — to carry on the family lineage of a promise made by his forefathers to defend and protect. For him, to be a Veteran means signing a blank check made out to the American people with his life as payment. Coming home means a lifetime of survivor’s guilt and silent victory that he will never speak of.
The Marine to his left did it as an escape, from a childhood more brutal than any drill sergeant could deliver, and an escape from the inevitable small town addiction he is headed for. For him, being a Veteran means discovering a brotherhood of unwavering love and loyalty, a reason to be and give. He will find comfort in the selflessness of his brothers in arms and sleep soundly at night knowing he has found where he belongs.
The Airman to his right did it to become something better than anyone ever thought she could be. To give herself wholly to a cause she believes in while securing her own future. Soaring beyond her wildest dreams, being a Veteran means having doors opened she never knew existed. More than opportunity, she’s now seen the other side of the media and there’s no going back.
And, the Sailor next to him did it for the “free college” education his recruiter swindled him with, only to quickly discover, there truly is no such thing as a free education. The skills and experiences he will gain on his journey to that free education are more than any text book or professor will ever offer. To him, being a Veteran means learning valuable life lessons from the broadside of a fire hose to wake up the following morning and ask for more.
Regardless of why you joined and how long you stayed, being a U.S. military Veteran means you were willing to fight and die in service to this country for the people who call it home. It means being separated from friends, family, and loved ones, missing special occasions and sacrificing your own youth. It means giving up control of your life with blind trust that your well-being will be cared for. It means risking life and limb to complete the mission or just doing what you were supposed to do.
Being a Veteran means you swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies,” and you held up your end. And, because there is no draft, you did all this willingly.
It takes grit, determination, stamina, and a heart the size of a lion. And, even when you’ve hung up your cover, a Veteran always knows:
- Motrin is the drug of choice for a headache, broken heart, and everything in between.
- “Military-grade” is something civilian marketers use to lure non-servicemembers.
- Fireworks sound an awful lot like mortar attacks.
- The term “hero” is used far too liberally.
- No event is too unimportant not to arrive early.
- You have always eaten worse and slept somewhere less desirable.
- It could just be that you forgot, but it could also be the delayed symptom of a TBI they warned you about.
- The surge of pride each time the flag is raised.
- The guilt of waking up searching for your rifle, only to realize you are home safe.
To all of those Veterans out there who know what it means, thank you. For your sacrifice, your commitment, your bravery, and your loyalty, from your brothers and sisters at RuckPack, we thank you.