“My back hurts.” That’s my usual response when asked about my time in service. A simple answer, funny yet deflective enough to not merit a follow-up. I don’t necessarily enjoy talking about my time in uniform, but it’s not as if I have some tragic story or action I fear recalling. Quite the opposite really: I find that my six years in the army were particularly boring in the grand scheme. Aside from a handful of anecdotes I save for casual conversation, I never even bring it up.
Yet, there is still hesitation in mentioning my time in service. For a while after I left the army, I thought it was because I simply didn’t do much and felt no merit in talking about it. There is an imposter syndrome that runs deep in those who never served in combat. It’s a kind of survivor’s guilt that makes one think, “Wow, how could I have gotten off scot-free when others didn’t?” As such, conversations and, by extension, complaints about the negatives of the military often felt unfounded. “I was never shot at, so what right do I have to complain?”
To make matters more complex, I am also truly thankful for what my service earned me. I became a citizen of the United States upon completion of basic training. I also received full G.I. Bill coverage to attend college and many other military benefits that are offered to me now.
To put it bluntly, I did not like my time in service. My body aged rapidly due to the lifestyle, and my injuries linger today. I also saw and experienced a lot of internalized (and often externalized) racism and bigotry. It reached a point at which I had a running countdown of the days left until my last day in the army.
Even though I am willing to admit I am not particularly “proud” of my service, I have gone to great lengths to talk about and ensure other veterans speak about their service. This is because the part of military culture that hurts its vets the most is the mentality that admitting you have a problem makes it worse. Though we all come from different backgrounds and have different experiences within the military, the system itself is designed to make military folk believe that the only place they have is within its ranks.
So I write this article to say to those who were in the military: Seek the help and support you deserve. Pain is not worth hanging on to, no matter if you feel you “earned” the pain or not, it’s there and it should be addressed.