Every year, Veterans Day gives us the opportunity to reflect on the sacrifice made by those who have served in our Armed Forces. While Veterans Day is not intended to commemorate those lost their lives in service to their country (that’s what Memorial Day is for), it does hold the space to acknowledge the contribution made by all Veterans. Commonly, Veterans end up feeling as though their service fell somewhere on a continuum of sacrifice. Some entered the military only to spend their service stationed at a base somewhere in the United States. Some others may have seen the full extent of the horror of war and mankind’s awful capacity to commit violence upon one another. Some volunteered, others were drafted. Some only served one enlistment, some others chose military service as their career. What all Veterans have in common is that they abandoned the comforts, freedom, and relative safety of civilian life and entered a world of rigor, sacrifice, and potential danger.
As a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and former Naval Officer, I exist somewhere on the continuum I mention above. I am proud to count myself with the individuals who decided to trade some of their individuality and join a larger whole, in service to their country. My story began two months into my Plebe year (freshman) at the Naval Academy when the unthinkable attacks were carried out on 9/11. As I drew closer to graduation over the subsequent years, I watched the war that I and my classmates would eventually join, unfold in front of our eyes on CNN. Within a month of graduation, I was deployed to the Arabian Gulf on board USS Princeton (CG 59) in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and would subsequently deploy twice more before choosing to end my naval career. I was lucky enough to never experience any of the horrors experienced by many other service members onshore in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, though I do know other forms of sacrifice shared by many. I know what it is like to leave family and friends for months at a time. I know the exhaustion of long hours spent at sea. I know the stresses of trying to balance the intensities of an operational tempo with trying to stay connected to the experience of those left at home. While I always wanted Naval service to be a part of my life, I also knew I did not want it to be my entire life. What I did not realize was how much I would carry my Veteran experience with me every day. The military experience is transformational. For many, the military was the first thing that they ever committed to. Subsequently, it was the first thing that they ever decided to quit. What remains are the experiences, the camaraderie, and the values instilled through military service. This was certainly the case for me.
Like me, every Veteran has their story. I encourage us all to take Veterans Day not only to celebrate and reflect, but to lend an ear to those stories. Many have written about the current gap in society between veterans and their families and those who are not connected to the military experience in any tangible way. By sharing these stories, I hope that we can bridge that gap and create a better mutual understanding between the veteran and civilian experiences. Perhaps then, we can all know the nature of each Veteran’s sacrifice more intimately and engage more closely as a society as to when we ask that sacrifice to be made.