“A good soldier is always trying to improve. Always striving to be better.” That was part of my husband’s response offered to a civilian co-worker who asked if he (my husband) thought he (the co-worker) would have made a good soldier. My husband, a US Army veteran, spent a portion of his career as a Drill Sergeant, so shaping men and women into “good soldiers” was the air he breathed. He still walks into a room as if he could call an inspection on his troops at any moment or as if at the ready to respond to high expectation handed down by command. It’s not been unusual for his civilian colleagues to become interested in his veteran status. No matter what the tasks have been in his civilian jobs since transition, he’s always striving to be two steps ahead of the game. A good soldier doesn’t abandon his leadership stature once the mission is complete.
“A good soldier is always trying to improve. Always striving to be better.”
We’d viewed the movie “Thank You For Your Service” just prior to his sharing about the exchange with this colleague. It was a natural shift to begin discussing the challenges facing veterans. We both agreed that, as much as a Hollywood movie can, it did a fairly good job of highlighting some of those struggles. I knew his disclosure of the dialogue represented one of those. Veterans are sometimes wary of civilians asking about their time in service. Reluctant to believe anyone could sufficiently comprehend the life of a soldier, many of them will avoid those conversations at great cost. With little full understanding of what service members face on a daily basis, let alone in a war zone, the questions and attention sometimes create more isolation for them in this new territory (civilian status). Not only do they want to protect us from the egregious stories of combat, they know that we may not understand the mindset with which they approach most every endeavor – one filled with high standard and the need to exercise highly-developed leadership skills. For a good soldier, every single moment is important. That’s not to say civilians don’t or can’t have the same standards. However, the drop from being called on to live those standards with every breath to being unable to feed one’s family is a long fall for a veteran.
Even without the invisible wounds of PTSD or moral injury, the fall from leadership to underling is a distressing jolt.
I’ve witness in my clients the need to continue being leaders once they’ve separated from the service. Unfortunately, for some there is no unit to lead once they’ve discharged. Many must once again start at the bottom of a pay grade even after spending years managing more than most of us manage in a lifetime of vocation. It’s a difficult move to go from 100 to zero so suddenly. When your every day revolved around training to stay alive, having the primary goal of enrolling as a college freshman or working to stock shelves for the local retailer can leave a veteran feeling everything from confusion to shame.
I’ve worked with both active duty and veterans closely for some years. Underneath the invisible wounds that bind them and the physical wounds that stifle their movement are always the positive attributes that helped them serve. While we commit ourselves to helping them heal, we should unequivocally develop ways to remind them of the good they still carry upon transition into their new civilian reality.
The next time you meet a veteran, regardless of what visible needs you see, know that one of those needs is to exercise their traits of strength. This veteran that you meet is someone who is goal-directed, has a need to improve, and is able to have an incomparable allegiance. Chances are you’re standing in the presence of a leader who needs a new team to lead. Let’s work together to make sure they have more than enough of those opportunities.
The Hollywood film, “Thank You for Your Service” was, at times, an eerily and necessarily accurate portrayal of what many veterans face upon transition. It wasn’t comfortable to watch. Yet, if you have any proximity to veterans and care about the nation’s response to their homecomings, films like these are necessary to see. I look forward to finally viewing the documentary of the same name. I want to be a ‘good soldier’ in my efforts to serve those who’ve served our nation. Let’s be a nation of good soldiers when it comes to supporting our veterans of all branches.
To our veterans, thank you for your leadership.
If you are in a position to honor veterans by reminding them of their leadership status in our nation, but aren’t sure what to do, please consider the following resource:
PsychArmor Institute (www.psycharmor.org) – a free resource that offers training on how to effectively engage the military community. PsychArmor has an extensive library of trainings that includes helping corporations/business leaders engage our transitioning veterans, as well as trainings for veterans on how to offer valuable peer-to-peer support.