Forgive the cheap FO reference in the title…it’s a bad joke I refuse to stop making. If you play along for a second though, the metaphor actually does fit. Like a Forward Observer, the Talk On is sitting on an OP and looking down at some targets (civilian readers), and I need rounds from the battery (content from Veteran Writers, Artists, Photographers, etc.) to start heading downrange. The Talk On needs contributors, thought leaders, and warriors willing to share their personal stories and experiences with people who would otherwise never understand us, or even worse, could be fed a load of bullshit that represents us poorly.
I won’t often write directly to Veterans…the intended audience for this page is inherently civilian (and there are plenty of great veteran writing pages)…but I want to encourage more Vets to participate in creating content and sharing it here, and that request needs to be justified. Why should you share with an audience of people who didn’t join us in the fight? Why should you care what they think about you and your service (if they think about it all)? Why should they get a look into a world that can only be experienced first-hand through trial and hardship, a look that you had to earn? What benefit would this bestow on you, the contributing Veteran?
I’ve got three basic responses, and I welcome your input (positive and negative) on all of it:
1 – Narrative Control – War is ripe for storytelling. All the elements are there; heroes, villains, trials and pain to overcome, loud noises and explosions, drama, hate, love, the whole package. Stories about these wars are going to be told, with or without us. If we cede the telling to outside parties, even the most benevolent writers, artists, and actors are going to miss the mark. They’ll try to be honest and respectful, but they’ll overstep, underrepresent, and miss the truth of it that only we can impart. Or, more insidiously, they’ll find the loudest voices in our community, which so often paint us as damaged and disgruntled victims and misers and seek to push away those who would engage with us. Only YOU know your real experience, and your personal perspective can add to the GWOT canon in a way that advances our collective interests and simultaneously brings you closer to the community you’re returning home to: a community filled with civilians. On that note…
2 – Targeted Transition- We spend a lot of time talking about transition, and the challenges a lot of our brethren face when they return home to a culture that can often seem individualistic and materialistic. But it seems like we do a lot of that talking amongst ourselves. I’m not saying we shouldn’t support each other or seek to provide good examples of successful transition from within our community, but rather that the main audience of our hopes, fears, and experiences should probably be members of the culture we’re trying to re-integrate with; civilians. You’ve been trained to value team over self, to put others first, even to consider mission accomplishment before you consider your own personal wellness. You were taught these traits in an onboarding process (recruit training) that broke down elements of your civilian life and replaced them with elements of military life. You were asked to call yourself “Recruit” instead of “I”. Your team was punished for an individual’s errors. You had to shed aspects of “me” and replace them with “us”. Now, you have the opposite task. You’re headed back into that world and you need to find a way to break down some of those military elements and replace them once again with “I”, with personal perspective and needs. You can be a little selfish, you need to be. And if you’re looking for help and guidance, you can go to your brothers who know you well, and you can also go to people who have always lived and thrived in the rules of the world you’re entering…the civilian world. And while they may have a general understanding of team concepts, sharing your individual story is a format they are more likely to understand and empathize with than one that favors the team’s story over your own. It’ll help you exercise that muscle (the one you have that cares about YOU), communicate with others more effectively, and introduce you to people outside your community who can help bring you home. If you approach those people with an open mind, without putting your service on a pedestal, you’ll find leaders worth following in places you didn’t expect. Now, as much as it can be healthy to grow up and away from some parts of military life, there are other parts you should carry with you…
3 – Community Leadership – You can tell your story and consider your personal, individual experience in war without abandoning the crucial life lessons you gained from it. Selflessness, courage, integrity, grit. Those lessons should not only be recorded and shared, but they should be applied to your community continuously and generously. It’s great that you served and sacrificed in years past. What are you going to do next? If you come and go quietly, and you stop providing value to your community, what was the point? Tell your story and open the civilian world’s eyes to the benefit you’re going to provide at home. What did you learn? How will you apply it? Fuck the politics and strategy of it all. I know that my time on Route Red in Helmand didn’t do a damn thing for freedom in America in and of itself. But being there made me a better leader, a better friend, a better man, and hopefully, a better citizen. It’s on me (and you) to explain that, and to do our best to bring the better aspects of our wars home to our communities, our friends, and our families.
I hope you’ll join me and share a story, a photo, a picture, anything that can get our rounds on target. Submit content, questions, and comments here.