Hello to my ADHD peeps and ADHD loved ones living with ADHD. Today I am going to talk about my personal experience of being a veteran and explaining a little bit as to why I don’t always associate with this term.
The big reason I want to write a story about this is because a lot of people don’t understand my relationship with my veteran status. I hear a lot of the time that I should be proud of my time in the military and that I should represent it with pride. In this series I will fully explain why I don’t do that and I will explain why I will probably always somewhat hide those four and a half years of my life. It is much easier for me to talk about this by writing than trying to explain to people face to face, which is why I only tell people that are pretty close to me that I served in the military.
So before I jump down the rabbit hole of talking about my veteran status, I will tell you a little bit about my time in the military. From a very young age I decided I wanted to be a solider, and that conviction never left me as I grew up, so I joined the military straight out of high school at 17. As soon as I was old enough to sign a contract I went down to the recruiter and talked to them. I ended up getting everything set up and ready to join, I just needed to get my parents to sign off because I would be going to Basic Training while I was only 17 years old. My parents knew that this wasn’t a rushed decision and they happily agreed to sign the paperwork and I was ecstatic. I was signed up to be a Combat Medic (AKA Health Care Specialist, whatever they decide to call it now)
I started the military and went through Basic Training at Fort Sill Oklahoma like it was nothing. I made sure before I joined that I was able to pass all the standards so I didn’t get yelled at much because I was decently low maintenance for a new soldier. I did my time and moved onto Fort Sam Houston. I had to complete 16 weeks of training and pass my EMT-B to become a medic. This is something that I really wanted and these 16 weeks flew by, at the end I got my certifications and my paperwork to move up to Fort Drum New York. I was going to be working in a light infantry unit as a medic. I was so excited for this assignment, it was exactly what I had signed up for, I wasn’t interested in being cramped in a hospital.
My medical unit at the time was top notch we had great leadership, we were a family, and I felt like I could make a run at a career in this. I ended up making great friends some of which I still talk to frequently. After training for a year I was moved from the medic platoon over to my infantry unit that I was going to be working with. I loved my platoon (around 30 guys). I was able to speak freely with the leadership and they respected me enough to make medical decisions for the platoon without complaints. I loved it, I worked great hours an actual close 40 hour work week unless we were training then the hours were sucky, but I was happy. We got our orders to deploy in 2013 and we had high spirits because we had been training for this for so long, we knew we were ready. We deployed in 2013 to Eastern Afghanistan did our time and came back. During my time in Afghanistan I messed up my back and ended up having issues and wanted to get it checked out when I got home because I didn’t want to live on a diet of Flexeril (muscle relaxers.) This decision alone is what turned my future career into my prison sentence.
Before deploying I was running two miles in 11 minutes and 40 seconds. Coming back from Afghanistan I was running two miles in 18 minutes. My back was hurting and when I brought it up to the new leadership of my medical platoon they told me to work out more. Trust me, working out wasn’t the issue, I went from 85 sit-ups in two minutes down to 25 before I started getting sheering pain. My run went from two miles in 11:30 up to 18 minutes. I ended up seeing my Physician Assistant because I felt like my back was deteriorating and he asked me what I had been doing to treat it, after discussing my problems he decided it was time for MRI’s and physical therapy. I then spent my next two years going through the same cycle over and over of X-ray, MRI, physical therapy, orthopedics rinse and repeat. This is not my providers fault, the military has guidelines and my PA is still my favorite provider of all time, he was doing his job with the guidelines that the military gave him. I ended up getting medically separated from the military, but not before getting a new provider who told me that he was going to do what he could to make sure that my process was stalled and/or thrown out because he decided that my issue was a non-issue.
After getting treatment for my back in the military a lot of things ended up changing for me. I had leadership mock me. I was constantly belittled because of my back. I was constantly asked do you think you can do that the box looks heavy we don’t want you to hurt your back anymore. I went from being a near ideal soldier to being crapped on by people, and being under a boss who didn’t know how to treat patients because he spent his time not training, but ensuring that he was in position to get promoted. I could go on for days about this, but it doesn’t matter and it’s not the point of this story. I ended up getting out and getting treated through the VA, which don’t worry I have horror stories about that also, but those will have to wait for another time.
I ended up getting out and I was finally free from stress. I didn’t wake up knowing that I was going to have to deal with bosses, things were looking up for quite some time. Even though I hated the second half of my time in the military I still had fond memories for the times before the military flipped and I was exiled by leadership. I ended up going back to school after getting out, I went to a small community college in my hometown and I was open about my time in the military for about a week.
I lived in a small town and there are really two distinct groups of students at the community college. Those who are going back to school to strengthen a resume or pursue a new certification like an LPN but have significant life experience, and those who are straight out of high school. Immediately I realized I don’t fit into either of these groups. I want to socially drink with a friend and talk about memories from the past but I don’t want to go to a party and see how many beers I can drink before I fall into the bonfire. I also don’t want to hang out with someone who sits back and complains about how back in their day they didn’t drink Seltzers.
I meet a couple people that are in my age range and naturally they are curious as to why I’m going back to school and what did I do during my time away from school. I start with being open about being in the military… and then the questions flood in.
“How was it? Did you kill anyone? Did you see crazy things in combat?”
Obviously I go with the bare minimum and brush off the questions that I am not comfortable with, but I noticed that people start to talk to me a little differently. I don’t get asked after class how to do things. I start getting treated differently because I am not a typical college student. I get set on the outside of social groups because I don’t have a typical story. I seem more stand offish because I don’t talk about my time in the military. When I do talk about it I tell vague stories that are not jam packed with excitement. I talk about times that I found funny like when we put surgical lubricant all over a box and one of our bosses brushed by it and yelled at us for two hours trying to find out who would put surgical lubricant on a box like that, waiting for someone to bump into it. These are not the stories that people want to hear, but they are what we did most of the time and what we did to pass the time.
You may ask “why don’t you hang out with veteran friends or meet friends that went through the same experiences that you went through?” That’s a great question and you would think that in most cases that would work, but whenever I went to things like the local school clubs for veterans, I ended up being around people that served in office jobs, which though an important aspect of the military, these people are not like me. I also went to the local veterans hall but the people there are 30-60 years older than me.
This is why I don’t tell people about my veteran status. I have been asked “Did I kill anyone?” more times than I have been thanked for my service. The military isn’t a fun place, it’s a job and people need to do it and it is extremely important, but I believe that with TV shows it’s so glorified and people see veterans on the extreme sides of the spectrum. You have the individuals who are crippled with issues from what they did all the way to people who sat in an office chair his entire career but he is going to tell you how he went on a mission and shot 327 people because orders is orders (always use a random number to throw people off the scent.) Most of us are going to end up somewhere in the middle of these extremes.
Since I got out of the military, I have been extremely careful who I tell I’m a veteran. The main reason is not because I am ashamed of my time in the military. It isn’t because I think I am better than the military. The main reason is because being a veteran puts you in a weird position in society. When people find out you are a veteran most people will treat you differently, whether they realize it or not.
I believe it is also extremely difficult to come back from a deployment and not many people talk about what it is like coming back. I came back from my deployment to Afghanistan and I was on top of the world. That first week was bliss. I went to a bar and my buddies would tell the bartender we just got back and this bartender starts pouring shots and shouting “these boys just made it back from deployment!” Random individuals are coming up and telling you that you are the coolest person in the world. Old friends are calling you asking to hang out whenever you get home because they missed you. Don’t forget, these are the same people that never bothered to send you a message asking you if you were doing alright… eh at that point it doesn’t matter you are the hottest VIP in the area, and everyone wants to talk and hang out with you. Fast forward a month or two and its quiet. You call up a friend and just want to talk because you haven’t talked to another human all weekend. He doesn’t answer probably, doesn’t want to talk because he is busy with his life. My VIP status is gone and I am down to a few friends because I am “different” after coming back. Instead of being active and the life of the party I get sad after a couple beers. People don’t get it, so I get frustrated. I don’t blame them, and I never will, I did come back different. The boy that went to Afghanistan came back a man with issues that can’t be resolved overnight. I feel a lot better now and I don’t know if he knows it but one of my best friends J.F. helped me get past a lot of my demons. I know that he felt bad about not deploying with us, but I think him staying back was probably one of the best things for our unit. I know he ended up helping a ton of people and he probably saved more lives than anyone did on that deployment. So shout out to him and as always much love to you bro.
Yes, I am proud that I served in the Army, but I am more proud of the man that I am today than I ever was while in the military. I never wanted people to glorify me, I don’t want movies made in my honor. I want to be treated like everyone else. Yes, I had a job that is not very typical, but when you are asking questions from people, think about what you are asking. We don’t go around asking fire fighters how many charred bodies they have pulled out of buildings. Why do you think that is? The reason is obvious, that is a screwed-up question that probably haunts that man or woman day in and day out. So why is it okay to hound me about how many people I killed or what other crazy things I saw/did in Afghanistan? Being in the military is a part of my life, I learned a lot and grew a lot as a person. In the military I went from a boy to a man. But I am no longer that person, the military has nothing to do with my life anymore. Since leaving I have earned a bachelors with a minor, gotten married, and am going to start medical school in August. My time in the military helped me to get where I am, but it is not who I am. So am I a veteran, yes, but it is not my identity.
Thank you for sticking around and reading this long entry it does mean a lot that people are interested in my stories and want to know my thoughts on things.