Author’s Note: This is the cleaned up fancy-pants version of my Facebook rant while I sat in agonizing pain in the parking lot of my daughter’s school. A lot of it was disjointed and out of place for obvious reasons and a few other parts needed clarification if you don’t know me personally. This is the end result (while I sit at home in still some relative pain but much better now, thanks to my amazing support system).
This is written as Caitlin Elam, MA2, USN(ret.) and no one else. Not as a wannabe writer searching for an outlet, that chick who interviewed Hugh Jackman once or even that girl who got kicked out of the stripper store in Lexington, Kentucky for breaking a mirror by tripping when trying on stripper boots (all my greatest professional accomplishments to date outside of the military). I’m writing this as myself and from my own personal experience, from what I’ve gleaned from talking to vets and BEING one. Don’t like it? I’m not really in a caring mood outside of advocating for my fellow veterans. I’m not the Lorax, though – I don’t speak for all the veterans. If this doesn’t apply to you, sorry? You write something, then. This is my thing.
With all the NFL Trump Eminem whatever the hell is going on shit-fest stuff going down, would you like to actually hear from a veteran instead of assuming what we feel and using us as props in this patriotic “anything you can do, I can do better” show? Then read on. Otherwise, go back to whatever the Kardashians are doing this week; I’m sure it’s a hoot.
Why did I join the military? Spoiler alert: it wasn’t heroism. Boredom, mainly. No, seriously. Boredom. I was working two jobs (pizza place and comic book store because I love both in tandem and still do) and partying my ass off nightly with my friends. I was also living at my parents’ rent-free after my “illustrious” C-average semester at Georgetown College (not the University but still a very good college) because I figured a semester was all I really needed. I was a WINNER. One morning, while hungover and discussing for the 50th time what the hell I was going to do with my life with my mother, I got a call from a recruiter. A man named Staff Sargent Guy. I accused my momma of orchestrating this seemingly serendipitous call but she plead ignorance; I’m still not quite sure I believe her today. Whether she was the mastermind or it was fate, I’m glad it happened. But, at the time, I wanted a free frisbee so I made an appointment and headed over.
I wasn’t even really aware there was more than one branch to the military. I’m embarrassed to admit that because this was a scant three years or so after 9/11 and I was so close to Arlington/The Pentagon on that day in Alexandria, VA (boarding school), that I could feel the tremor from the plane strike. From this, you can kind of tell where my current affairs mindset was at that time – 19 and ignorant as hell. Even having a momma that was of a trailblazing county prosecutor and a father with a masters in political science, I wasn’t really aware of the world I lived in outside the fact that I knew everything, my parents were idiots, and I just had to suffer their bullshit until I moved out (for the second time because I failed the first time spectacularly – super winner). Good Lord, why didn’t they disown me? I was so freaking dumb. I had all the privilege in the world, squandered it, and I’m still playing catch-up whereas my husband had next to nothing growing up on a tobacco/cow farm and now makes a damn good living – so take from that what you will.
My myopia lead me to the Navy recruiting office, which is why I ended up enlisting in the Navy instead of the Army (their office being next door). Sometimes I imagine Staff Sargent Guy being pissed off I never showed but I doubt he remembers me but I’ll never forget him. He was the catalyst that made military service a tangible thing instead of being a loser who pissed away every opportunity that had come her way up until then (boarding school, piano, saxophone, softball, horseback riding, college, being a debutante, et cetera). I have no regrets but I certainly made mistakes – I reckon that’s just life.
Wam, bam, thank you Petty Officer Skees (you slick git), and I was off to Great Mistakes, IL. I missed my friends but I think the best of them knew I wasn’t thriving and wouldn’t thrive where I was or with what I was doing. I received college money and had the opportunity to get the eff out of Lexington and make something of myself (not that staying makes you bad or anything – just wasn’t working for me). I got to be a cop, which was one of my two dream jobs, the other being journalism. I didn’t go into journalism in the service because PO2 Skees decided to withhold the knowledge that a journalism job was an option – the man had quotas to fill. Through my training, I learned that I know nothing, my parents weren’t the dumbasses I believed them to be, and the world really owed me jack shit, when you came right down to it. The military truly is the great equalizer – we were all equally huge piles of crap until we put on our dress blues and graduated…and even then it was a coin toss. While in, I gave as good as I got (for good and ill) and developed a fair deal of love for my country and esprit de corps – but also a fair deal of cynicism (or realism, depending on how you view the thing). Above all, I had purpose. Motivation. A mission. A future. They took the most lazy, unmotivated person on earth and turned her into a semi-competent human being that has kept a human child alive for seven full years now – which, I still assert, is a defiance against God and nature because what the hell am I doing and who the hell decided I was qualified for this?!
To the meat and potatoes of this piece: this kneeling thing during the National Anthem. I don’t care if people sit, kneel, or do a backflip (and, as I type that, I find myself really wanting to see it). It’s a distraction on both sides from the shit ton of other bigger stuff going on. It’s a dog and pony show where both sides are proving how patriotic they can be. Want to be patriotic? Stop using a piece of cloth as proof you care about veterans. Give to veteran organizations. Go feed one at the VA. Take one of us out for coffee and a chat so we don’t feel lonely. Hell, we’ll pay just for the conversation and time. And don’t Instagram it to look good – just do it because it’s decent.
To those who kneel specifically at sporting events. As previously stated, do I really care if you do it? Not really – you’re like gnats buzzing in my face and try as I might, I can’t get you to find a window and leave me the hell alone. You’re an annoyance, at best. The venue pisses me off, though and not in a patriotic way. Please stop using a game as a world stage for your anger over police. I am damn sure police guard your ass when you’re exiting the stadium and fans get drunk/violent because you can’t rush to the end zone. You’re that angry? Go BE a police officer. You’re in good shape, yeah? Go work a beat. Be the change, you overpaid assclowns. I’m disabled and try as I might, I can’t pass the cop physical test without damn near dying from the effort and I would LOVE to be a cop again. I want to be a investigator. But I have mourned the loss and I’m trying to find my way in the world, same as anyone else. I’m not special – I’m actually one of the very lucky ones. I would do everything short of breaking the 10 Commandments to be a cop a again. For those that don’t want to take a pay cut in exchange for being shot at and vehemently distrusted and hated by the public for the felonious actions of a few, I submit that maybe you get active in your communities and try to enact some change. A lot of NFL players, to be fair, do this but most of them are Johnny Come Lately on it and yeah, “better late than never”, but also “too little too late”. In short? I don’t care if you kneel because you’re perfectly within your rights to do so – I just think you’re dumb. My own personal take on the situation, if you care.
I love history and I do very much love my country. Not in the supercilious ass-kissing way – I don’t really get choked up over “America the Beautiful”. I get choked up when one of my brothers/sisters in arms dies in battle or in a waiting room because the Veterans government system is abysmal and doesn’t take care of medical costs/diagnose things properly. We were promised a very simple thing when we got out and waited years upon years for medical care and disability pay that barely covers a box of bandages – “we got your six.” Oh, really? Because when it takes 6 years to diagnose kidney stones that are right on the damn scan and noted in the radiologist’s report numerous times, I don’t feel a great swell of comfort. I’m sitting in a parking lot of my kid’s school because I cannot move without pain. And I’m LUCKY. I have RESOURCES. I’m just too stubborn to ask for help right now because I want to be there for my kid as much as possible – that’s my own deal. If I’m one of the lucky ones, imagine what it’s like for someone with no family, no friends, no home, et cetera. As long as I can use what little voice I have to speak for THEM, I will. I’m fine – this is for them.
A lot of very amazing men and women I know and love (or don’t know and still love) fought not for the flag but for each other and their country. Or they fought so they didn’t die – there’s nothing wrong with that either. They didn’t join to die – they joined to live and fight (or, as my Scottish clan motto states: abide and fight). The flag is a symbol and symbols can be tainted – especially when both sides are only using it when it suits their personal agenda (or voting/fundraising is coming up and everyone loves a dramatic debate). As veterans, as much as we are trained in the military to inherently know the world owes us nothing, conversely, a very small portion of the world does owe us something: our former employer…and therein lies the distinction. All we ask is what we were promised and we’ll do the rest. We don’t need people getting weepy eyed at a magic song – just a little compassion. We don’t crave respect for the job for which we volnteered – we can earn respect very well on our own, thanks so much.
In summation (cue the sigh of relief):
- I recognize there are good people who do care about veterans and only have the means to express that through sentiment. That’s cool. The economy is rough…but you can always give your time, as I’ve cited above. Please, even if you mean well, stop using us as talking points whenever the “other side” is doing something with which you disagree. Most of us fought and died so they can do whatever the hell they want.
- There are also good people who are fed up with some of the cops that make cops in general look like gorilla-chest-beating assholes. I get that, too. As a former military police officer and a criminal justice degree holder/enthusiast, I don’t like those “bad cops” any more than you do. Likewise, go get involved with your city council, use your votes wisely, campaign for people who reflect your interests, and for a very small number, stop using cops as a scapegoat because you or those you know broke the law. Scream “injustice” every time you steal something and get caught and guess what? Boy who cried wolf. I wake up every morning and don’t have to think twice about not breaking the damn law. It’s not hard. I know many from every socioeconomic walk of life and none of them break the law, either – this isn’t privilege, it’s morals, and trust me when I say that I am not a great bastion of morality.
- To those who have the means, health, income, resources to help who get all indignant when someone kneels for some dipshit reason or another (I.e. Politicians, etc) – eff you. I’m not your pawn. I take comfort knowing that you’re one indiscretion on Tinder (or Grinder) getting leaked from losing your career.
- For those that kneel, get paid thousands per game, and throw money at a charity after the fact to CYA when people get pissed off at your stupidity (I.e. Aforementioned overpaid ass-clowns) – eff you too. I take comfort in knowing that one blow to the knee for you ruins your life far more than mine – I still have a brain and marketable skills.
- Petty that I take comfort in these things? Maybe. To the latter, plan your life better so you can do better than selling used cars when you get used up physically. You’re more of a pawn than I am. You have the money to get an education that others would dream of having. I had the GI bill and I still had to pay out of pocket to get my degree finished…dick. To the former, you have the power to affect real change instead of talking about bullshit ratings/headline-getting issues. Do more for veterans – you’re civil servants and you, too, are overpaid ass-clowns.
Love, A Veteran
P.S. Feel free to share – a lot of this was written out of anger and pain. Or ignore it – I’m pretty used to that, too. *cue world’s tiniest violin*
P.P.S. I get more respect as a woman than I do as a veteran so this isn’t a feminist rant – I’m egalitarian and moderate and libertarian (if you need a box to put me in).
P.P.P.S. No disrespect to the people within the VA who ARE worth a damn and do their jobs well. Y’all are the backbone and deserve far more respect (and pay) than you are given. You keep veterans alive and you are loved. Trust me, we know who sucks and who doesn’t.