“Thank you for your service” an expression you often hear when anyone says they have served in the armed forces. A common response, it almost feels like it comes out of peoples mouths automatically without understanding the meaning of service. While I truly appreciate the gesture and thought, I often wonder if people really know the problems and challenges our soldiers face not only while serving but most importantly once they come back home. It is imperative that as society members we start understanding what our soldiers go through.
When we sign on the dotted line, there are many unknowns, but the sense of adventure, pride, and thrill to join something bigger than you is so satisfactorily overwhelming that the unknowns and possible danger fall all the way to the bottom of the list of things to be worried or concerned about.
Believe me, when I say when once you ship out and you step onto service grounds, the reprogramming begins, you start being wired to do as told and follow rules…you do not even own your thoughts, you now belong to Uncle Sam. The service does not care about who you are, what family you came from, your family values or lack of, your skin color, nothing…for that re-wiring process to take place nothing matters. Now, the majority of those who enlist are joining upon high school graduation, around 18 years old, meaning not even an adult yet, since the human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25, which makes me think, considering that teenagers are more emotional than rational, what do you think will happen? The armed forces does not allow you to develop that emotional side, you are not allowed to be in touch with your emotional side, in fact, even if you wanted to, there is no time for emotions, they train you to quickly start thinking rationally. While as a soldier, this definitely helps the mission, as a human being, the emotional link is a very important piece in becoming an independent and productive person in society. This is a problem, one that is not spoken of!
There are all kinds of steps in place to transition back in the civilian world, there are established health care services to ease that transition, there are a lot of benefits that veterans can take advantage of, that have been put in place to help throughout that transition and even as a ‘thank you for your service’, but what is rarely addressed is what happens to the mind when you are forced to be rational and have been forced to suppress feelings and emotions, its almost like if you are expected to continue on thinking like a robot instead of a human being. A perfect example is what is portrayed in the Rambo movies, but the reality is you can not go through life with suppressed feelings. Sooner or later it will catch up to you. Sadly, this is one of the main reasons for veteran suicides. Our soldiers are coming back home to a world that never stopped in their absence and that once they are back they are expected to jump onto its moving train like nothing ever happened.
Now let us throw into that package some traumatic experiences, war experiences, death of fellow soldiers and the constant demand to be part of the world that was different than when you left. Add into that mix family expecting us to be ‘the same’ after all you have been through. Mix all of these ingredients, and you have a recipe for disaster! Upon your return, people expect us to readjust like nothing ever happen. The fact is no one understands what is going in your mind, mainly because not even we understand it. For God’s sake, I remember I could not even shed a tear when I got out of the armed forces! Can you imagine a person not able to just cry, something that is so innate, something you do as soon as you are born into this world? Our soldiers are not robots, they are human beings, completely capable of defending our country but often unable to cope with social demands. Inevitably there are missing links, not everyone comes back the same, as everyone that goes in is at different levels of maturity…some are able to cope and canalize situations more than others. My point here is that the younger you are the higher chances of not being able to close that gap.
Sadly, we join the armed forces wanting to belong to something greater, and then we leave it and run back to our society, our people, our family, and everything is so different that we feel lost, lonely, no defined direction, and most importantly those brothers and sisters in arms that we depended on are not there anymore; at this point: where do we go? who do we turn to? what do we do?
It is very difficult to reach in for someone that does not even know their purpose, their meaning, who they are, that have lost their way…imagine how difficult is for him/her to reach out for help. Keep in mind, we are trained to take care of others not to focus on themselves. Remember, rational vs emotional?
As a society, we need to create awareness of this, we need to understand, care and do more. More importantly, we also need to understand that while many come home just fine, this is not the case for all. It is not a matter of one being able to handle things better than the others, it is a matter of how one processes the change compared to the other.
Chances are you either have a family member who served, a neighbor who served, friends who have served…chances are you know someone. Can you think of someone right now? The best way to honor those who have served is by taking action, talk to them, invite them to share some time. This will give you the opportunity to see how this person is…to kind of see if the person seem ok, most especially if they recently left the service. Create awareness amongst the surrounding friends and family. The next thing to do is learn about the agencies that can help…we, society, need to take a more of an active role in this issue, we need to pay more attention. Granted, while this is not the ultimate solution, it can certainly help.
Next time you tell someone “Thank you for your service” make sure you mean it, make sure they are not just automatic words to check that box, make sure you remember that person may not be as mentally healthy as they look. Please keep in mind that you never know what battles that person may be going through. Truthfully, as a society, we need to be more compassionate, because that person that you have right in front of you may be the next veteran at the brink of suicide. Your actions and words, as small as you may think they are, could make a difference!
Some great organizations out there where you can learn more about helping our soldiers: