I am an invisible veteran. Because, in part, I am a woman. And because I am a spouse of an Army Reserve officer who deployed last year to Afghanistan. I wear the t-shirts about PTSD, the wounds that are not visible, and most assume that is for the man standing next to me. And it is, but it is also for me.
And for the most part, I am okay with that. Being in the spotlight for any reason makes me very uncomfortable. But there is also that part of me, much like being an adult survivor of childhood abuse, that I want to be more visible because I feel it’s essential.
People need to see female veterans, veterans of different ethnicities and beliefs, to realize that not all veterans are white dudes. That there is diversity within the military, and underneath the uniform, underneath it all, we are human.
Being More Visible
I started wearing a hat that identified me as a veteran. I don’t see many women wearing the ball caps that say ‘veteran.’ I am not sure why that is. In part, I think that women don’t tend to wear ball caps as much as men. And most of the hats affiliated with veteran status are made with guys in mind.
For me, it was a start. A start to coming forward and being more visible. When I wear my hat, I do get the ‘thank you for your service.’ And I never know what to say. So, I say ‘thank you.’ And usually leave it at that. But during this time, with Veteran’s Day being today, the day that this post is published, I wonder if there is something different I could say.
I thought about what military service means to me and how those experiences shaped me today. What I have realized is I don’t need or want thanks. What I would like is for everyone to be good humans. To be kind and compassionate to our fellow people.
Being a good human means taking care of your neighbor, showing kindness, and compassion, even during times of conflict. Especially during times of conflict. We are all people, after all. We may look, speak, have different traditions, but we are all people.
Humanity First, Soldier Second
During my Iraq deployment, I spent a lot of time providing security for missions. I volunteered for every mission I could. On one of those missions, we came across a woman and man walking in a park. Under normal circumstances, there would be nothing wrong with that. But those were not normal times.
The military had issued a stay-at-home order for the civilians at that time. It was very early on in the military’s entrance into Baghdad. It was safer for people to stay off the streets. Without further details, we put them in the back of our vehicle.
As they were sitting there, the woman got my attention. She points at my finger, my engagement ring, which I had forgotten to take off for that day’s mission. Then she points at her finger, then at the young man sitting next to her.
Language of Compassion
Aha! They are engaged! She wasn’t wearing her ring because it wasn’t safe to wear jewelry. But it was a beautiful day, and they had been stuck inside their respective homes with their families for days. They wanted to see each other. And so they met at the park.
I gathered all of this from gestures and facial expressions. Because I am a human being first, soldier second, their story rang true to me. And so we let them go, told them to be careful the best way we could.
Lead with Humanity
And that is what I would like people to think of when they think about military service. It isn’t about defending our country all of the time. It is certainly not about how many people a soldier may or may not have killed. You have no idea how many times I have been asked the question, ‘did you kill people?’. Ugh, it is a disgusting question.
It is often sharing our humanity with other humans, who need us to be that kind and compassionate person during times of conflict. Like the recent moments during the evacuation in Afghanistan. It is that stranger who hands their baby over to a military person on the other side of that wall. That is what it is.
And so I ask this, pay that compassion forward. Pay that service forward. And next time you see a veteran, or a service member in uniform, tell them how their service inspired you to pay that forward. Tell them that you showed a stranger kindness and compassion when in that moment when the easiest thing to do was to turn away.
That is how you can genuinely thank veterans and service members.