I am a Marine Corps veteran. I served four years as an ‘oh-three, fifty-one,’ Infantry Assaultman. The role was explained to me as that of a basic rifleman with the addition of rocket launchers and demolitions, which retrospectively I’d say was accurate, and a damn good recruiting pitch for a 19-year old male.
I live in a day and age when veterans are held high. This has not always been the case, so I am grateful that it is now. I have a GI Bill that will not only pay for my education, but will pay me to get an education. Somehow that’s still not enough incentive, but that’s another conversation. Beyond these benefits, I am compensated monthly for a small bit of hearing loss; I can buy a home with nothing down; and many employers will give me more attention than I might deserve because I endured four years of “standing by.”
I am entitled, America would say, to many things. Money. Thank you’s. A good job. But sometimes I feel these leg-up’s hinder some of my peers more than they help.
I signed up for the Marine Corps because it was a seemingly insurmountable challenge. I didn’t know that I had what it took, but I rolled the dice, climbed the hill, fought the dragon and came out the other side; ranked and ribboned (and cockier than ever).
Now, I find it very easy to rest on my laurels. Many people thank me for my service, but few are bothered by the fact that I and thousands of other veterans are seemingly content to join a life-demanding organization in which we were trained to operate at our peak capacity, only then to be released into a world where I’m tempted to believe my best days are behind me, and few challenges await.
But then there’s those other guys.
Those Other Guys
Just about every recently-discharged infantryman knows at least one dude who’s probably accomplished more than he ever would have now that he’s less one limb. I’ve got a buddy–Linville–who’s probably on top of Mount Everest by now. And no, that’s not a metaphor. He lost his foot to an IED, and now that mofo is huffing it out at 27,000 ft.
My buddy in town has a friend who’s bound to a wheelchair because of a combat wound, and that guy’s got some kind of thriving woodworking business. He makes wall-hung wooden American flags, or something like that. I don’t know. He’s successful.
Another guy I know–Humphrey–got blown up, put in a wheelchair, and started winning skiing competitions.
I’m not saying these dudes have only known triumph. I can only imagine the daily challenges they and their families have endured. But I can’t help but feel like adversity does more to inspire greatness than entitlement ever will enable it. Give a guy every possible resource and no purpose and he’ll likely sit and get fat. (I’m looking at you, Army.) But stand in his way and offer his ego, his anger, his aggression and his manhood something to fight against, and more importantly, something worth fighting for, and he’ll push. He’ll push further than you or he knew he could, and in so doing he’ll inspire those around him to do the same.
Veterans don’t need a leg up nearly as much as they need a distant rung worth reaching for. So please, feel free to honor the service of servicemembers should you so choose. But don’t be afraid to ask: “Now what?”