I had several other opportunities to assist with morale and welfare events for the airmen in “my” command. It was rewarding to be called upon as part of the team and trusted to complete an important mission. My introduction into their world was warm, open and genuine. They did everything possible to make me feel like a member of their “tribe.”
But I knew I wasn’t and never would be.
So all the way around the barn and through the cow pasture we come back to the quiz; what is worse than pissing off a General? The answer; pissing off a General’s wife!
During my remarks at an evening barbeque to bid farewell to Mr. & Mrs. General, I made the mistake of repeating those words. “I am not one of you and will never be.”
The look that she gave me was one of absolute shock. As if she was thinking “You ungrateful lout! After all we have done for you, we welcomed you into our home!”
I stand by those words.
You see, I HAVE knelt next to a bleeding man and witnessed the very moment when the soul departs the body. However, that experience took place on the hot asphalt of an Arizona freeway, not on a dusty or muddy field of battle.
While I HAVE been in a situation that taught me a rifle sounds very different when fired at you than it does when you are squeezing the trigger, an angry rancher will never compare to a fanatical enemy combatant.
My wife asks me to be careful each day when I venture out into city traffic. But while testimony before an elected body can sometimes get pretty sporty, the likelihood of me losing my life doing my job is infinitely smaller than those who don the uniform each day.
And, as a wildland firefighter I learned that on occasion things can go sideways and one’s life may depend on the training and situational awareness of the man or woman in the line next to you. (On two blazes it did.) I know the one of a kind bond that is cemented from being tested on the razor’s edge of a life and death situation. I know that when you have “Been there done that” you don’t have to wear the t-shirt. If you know, you know.
But I have never worn the uniform and taken the oath. And I never will. I have not volunteered to leave my family so that civilians could spend time with theirs. I have not pledged decades of my life and perhaps life itself, to defend the freedoms which so many civilians take for granted. I will never be one of you.
“My” General was promoted to several higher positions of authority and my time as an Honorary Commander came to an end. After “retiring,” I experienced a great sense of loss. While continuing to support local military families at every opportunity, I was no longer operating at that level of impact I felt I had as a General’s civilian counterpart. It stung and created a hole in my life.
Recently I had a 20 year Delta Force Veteran on American Warrior Radio. He spoke of his struggles transitioning to civilian life. He had lost his “tribe” and no longer felt a sense of purpose. During the interview my wife texted me two words; “Sound familiar?” I assumed she meant that those sentiments expressed by the guest were ones I often heard when interviewing retired military members.
But upon arriving home she clarified. “No… that is YOU! You have been feeling the same lack of purpose with the loss of your tribe.” Perhaps my new purpose was a plain as the microphone in front of my face; to continue and expand American Warrior Radio’s broadcasts so that as many civilians as possible can hear these important messages and begin to understand those who serve. To use my three decades of experience supporting the military to serve as a translator between those who have taken the oath and those who haven’t.
Thanks to my wife’s superior deduction ability, that Delta Force operator brought new purpose and energy to my own life as a civilian. This was just another example of how he and countless others like him have given me far more than I could ever return to them and their families. It is a duty I take seriously and hope other civilians will as well.
Ben Buehler-Garcia is host of American Warrior Radio. He is a friend of The Havok Journal who shares the stories of those who protect us at home and abroad as a way of educating the civilian populace.