Every breath becomes labored under the pressure. There appears to be no beginning or end of this vast desert. Every step is labored under the shifting sand. Looking back, the footprints have disappeared with the winds. Every moment of weakness has brought flesh to the beaks of the circling vultures. The flesh they eat is a testament only to your strength and resolve to survive. Strength and resolve force them back to their ever-present position, circling above, waiting for the next mistake, the next stumble, the next compromise.
As knees meet the hot and grainy sand, they begin their descent. What is knelt in this vast desert is an accumulation of our every action and decision. What is left is up to us. What is knelt in that desert is a has-been and once was. What is knelt in the hot sand is a veteran wandering the desert of society.
When I began my transition back into society my strength and resolve were unwavering. They were what was needed during my time among the giants. They were what protected and destroyed life. They were what was once needed. They were once all I had. With every passing year, I have to stop and wonder who I used to be. I must consider what is left of that man. What has circled has been all those wishing to strip away all that I have been. In one moment of weakness after another, they have asked me to compromise. They sought to strip away, one peck at a time, my strength and resolve. My integrity. My standards. My honesty… They have sought to strip away all that has made me aspire to more. They have sought to strip away all that has made me successful, what has made me… me.
Veterans are often faced with the unrelenting compromise of society. They are faced with isolating resolve or conforming compromise. They must weigh their every action with that balance in mind. There comes a moment when so much time has passed you cannot help but look back and wonder who you were. You have to stop and wonder how much of that flesh has been given to those circling above. The military has bestowed upon many of us the tools necessary for success. These tools have not been without sacrifice and without burden, but they are tools of success nonetheless. The warrior becomes the veteran. The veteran often becomes the tall poppy that stands strong among the others. The tall poppy is the first one struck down.
It is not to say that the veteran must walk the desert without any compromise. No, to do so would be destructive. It is to say that there are always vultures circling, waiting, in our moments of weakness, to compromise our core values. They are there to cut us down, to force us to become a vulture or a skeleton. They are there because they are threatened by our success, our unrelenting drive, at what makes us who we are, a tall poppy. There often come moments when veterans must confront the tall poppy syndrome. Is it isolating resolve or conforming compromise?
Jake Smith is a law enforcement officer and former Army Ranger with four deployments to Afghanistan.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.