You see a vet, and you see an angry, gun-slinging, paranoid, PTSD-stricken lunatic. He cusses all the time and seems to always be looking over his shoulder and picking fights. You see us and think we’re broken, and we will never be the same as we were when you knew us “back in the day.” The truth is, we will never be the same as we were.
We look out into the “real world” and think you are all lazy, immoral, selfish, and superficial. We look out and wonder why we left our brothers in arms, and wonder if we’ll ever fit in. We look at you and wonder why the hell you’re still the same person you were “back in the day.”
The truth is we’re both wrong because we’ve changed in a way you can never understand, a way that took us from who we were and made us who we are. The difference is we were once like you. It was just too many pushups, CQ shifts, airfield seizures, training cycles, ass chewings, and firefights ago to remember. What makes us so different is when you forget to do something at work, you probably get away with it most times, and maybe get an ear full once in a while, but nothing serious. When I forgot to do something at work, I became the last pushup for a private with his feet elevated yelling out: “and one for my Airborne Ranger in the sky” as his team leader is in his face asking who his Airborne Ranker in the sky is as my name rolls off his lips.
We are not angry. We are just aggressive, as we needed to be in order to preserve life. We are not gunslingers. We would just rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Because we have seen what atrocities humans are truly capable of. We are not paranoid–we are vigilant because we had to be in order to make it home. Most importantly we are not PTSD-ridden lunatics. We are changed by an experience you could never understand.
We are not broken. We do not need fixing. We just need understanding. We have to understand you will never truly understand what we’ve been through. And you will never be like us until you have been where we have been and done what we have done. You must realize we are who we are because we made an oath to protect this country, at all costs.
You must understand we made a promise to those to our left and right, that when the bullets started flying, we would gladly pay the ultimate sacrifice for them. We must understand there is no bond stronger than the ones forged in the heat of battle with those brothers now closer than our own flesh and blood.
You must understand we only care about competence, honesty, morality, and respect. If we do not like you, it means nothing, the true test is whether we respect you. We may not have ever liked some of those we served with, but all that mattered is we respect and trusted them. So if we respect and trust you, you know a man who’s willing to die for you.
We must understand we have lived in two different worlds, but are now living in the same.
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
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