This is a speech was prepared by Miss/Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer Bollinger Retired and crithinkalreview for a special Veterans day event at IBM Headquarters in Austin Texas. We dedicate it to all of Americas veterans.
The Veteran Does Not Take a Day off
Many of the things that we take for granted in our daily lives can be directly linked to the unselfish dedication and work of our nation’s Veterans. When we lay our heads to rest at night, we do so secure in the knowledge that our democracy will not suddenly be overcome by those who wish to threaten our nation. We fall asleep, quite confident that we will not be overrun by a foreign power, and that the nation to which we say good night is the one to which we will awaken, if we are blessed with the gift of life in the morning. That security that we feel is not something that people often ponder; we take it as a matter of course. The thought of brave men and women standing at the vanguard, ready to give their lives in the defense of our founding values should the unthinkable happen, is not something that is at the forefront of most people’s minds. If it is, most do not give it a second thought. We value our freedom, and are grateful that our military is the world’s best.
Although we recognize Veterans Day as a holiday, the veteran never has a day off. His sense of duty, and the call to serve others, does not end when he takes off the uniform. The pride with which so many Veterans have worn the uniform is the same pride they carry with them out of uniform. As many transition from a life of Military Service to a life of public service, serving in the private sector, or serving their communities, they take with them the same dedication that were hallmarks of their Military career. In moments when they are not physically at work, they labor to honor the memory of their fellow service members; the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and others whose lives are forever scarred by the physical and psychological wounds that they bear from their service, who paid the ultimate price with their lives. No, for the Veteran, taking a “day off” is difficult, as the reminders of his past confront him every day. Sometimes it is the baseball cap on the head of an older warrior with the words “Vietnam Veteran” proudly stitched across the front of it. Sometimes it is the beloved flag tattoo that they had indelibly marked on their arm because they never wanted to forget. Veterans hold no delusions that our country is perfect, but they understand that we are always striving for better. In their minds, Veterans are still fighting for our Nation’s shared values.
Perhaps you have heard the popular one-liner that says “A Veteran is someone who, at one point in his/her life wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America’ for an amount up to and including ‘my life’. That is an apt description of what a veteran is, but it does not address the more salient question of “WHO is a Veteran?” When considering this question, your mind may be drawn to many of the stereo types portrayed in popular media today where veterans are portrayed as irrational, labile, and traumatized by the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Most Veterans, however, are simply average Americans like us…except that many carry a heavy rucksack laden with the things they wish they could have done for their battle buddy, their team mates, their unit, and their country. They always ask themselves the question, “what more could I have done?” It’s a burden that they will carry forever. Rather than worrying about having to “take a knee and drink water” as they say in the Infantry, Veterans struggle to find a way to continue serving. Rather than pride themselves on their accomplishments, they look with longing at those who still serve, envious of their status. They long to continue being of Service to the country, and to one another. They do not focus on past injustices, or current injustices as reasons to denigrate their country; instead, they see America’s redemptive work to correct past mistakes. Most of all, they see the promise, and the potential of America. For this cause, the Veteran is unapologetic in her love for her country. She believes America’s best days are ahead. Veterans never take a day off from making their country better, because of their desire to ensure that this nation continues to hold its honored and cherished position as the freest nation in the world, and in the history of mankind.
May I suggest that we can best show support to our troops and Veterans in very simple ways. Like the veteran, find a cause that is bigger than yourself and help to make our country a better place. Make patriotism cool again! We have much to be proud of as Americans. The concept that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights is an idea that America introduced to the world, and it has served as the catalyst of modern day democracy across the globe. From this simple statement, a new respect and appreciation for human rights was born. Today, these rights are preserved, quite literally, by the blood, sweat, and tears of America’s Miltiary. While we do not need to hear “thank you” for the job that we do and the service that we so willingly offer, Veterans would rather thank you for your patriotism. Remember our long-standing traditions by honoring the Nation and our Flag. In doing so, you make no claims that ours is a perfect nation. It is simply a time to reflect on the ideals of the country, recognize what is good about it, and pay homage to those who have paid the ultimate price in defense of it. We encourage you to learn the proper protocol to follow when the National Anthem plays, and by all means, replace that tattered flag on your front porch. It means something. Honoring your country is the best way of saying thank you to troops and Veterans. While it is easy to find fault with our country, there’s a point upon which we can all agree: We love our Veterans who have so selflessly chosen to serve us, and this great nation.
Some believe that one sure way for peace to prevail in the world is for each nation to lay down its arms, and that there be no standing Armies anywhere in the world. In a perfect world, that indeed may work; however, experience has taught us that human beings are flawed, and the history of mankind bears witness to the fact that the powerful often seek to dominate the powerless. This is true of individuals, of institutions, and of nations. It is in this reality that the veteran stands tall, ready to face and overcome our nation’s challenges. He is always ready to confront America’s enemies, be they foreign or domestic. His only criterion to bring the fight to the enemy is that our way of life is threatened by any of these forces. Who is the Veteran? Much like our nation’s other public servants, law enforcement, firefighters, EMTs and First Responders, the Veteran will never take a knee or say “I can’t” in the face of danger…he will say “send me”.