When I left the active service in 2004, I was a svelte and very strong soldier and could easily pass an Army Physical Fitness Test. It wasn’t my best score. I had broken my neck and had a fairly significant spinal surgery in 2003. But, I could pass the APFT. The fact that I also wrecked my pelvis would not be discovered until 2005 with another series of spinal surgeries. My deafness was just beginning. Oh, and youth was on my side.
Today, I’m proud I can still drop and give 10, but please don’t ask me to do more than that in a stretch of a day’s time (although yoga is helping me gain some strides there). The VA has acknowledged my ruined hearing, but we’re still fighting for help with the constant pain that my wrecked skeleton produces. I’m not going to get into any PTSD stuff because that’s not the point of this post. But, it’s there, too, albeit I’m dealing with that.
Tomorrow is a community breakfast at our local high school for veterans. I plan on attending, but the question of what to wear was brought up last night. My uniform doesn’t fit any more. My class As are snug and my old BDUs are out of date (servicemembers have gone through multiple changes in the daily working uniform, to the point they aren’t even called BDUs any more) and also are likely snug. Don’t even ask me about my Dress Blues.
But, around here if my husband wears my old Army PT shirt, he’s confused as the veteran (his high and tight doesn’t help). When he proudly says that I’m the vet, people still give him a quizzical look, “Your wife?” Head tilt. Although there are more female vets now, we’re still a curious anomaly in many communities, especially small towns like mine here in Twin Peaks. I was hoping to avoid the question of, “Are you here with your husband?”, which I likely would have first responded, “Pardon me,” because I can’t hear many folks so well anymore.
So what to wear? Wearing my uniform is clearly out of the question, but how do I let people know I am a veteran? I don’t have one of those cool Korean War or Vietnam War Veteran Caps. Also, indoors, I’d be taking a cover off, right?
I just packed away my Class A’s ribbon rack. Seriously, my husband just put it into the foot locker in storage with all my other Army memorabilia that I can’t quite seem to shed. Because that was my first thought about what to wear. Given my time in service, it’s a pretty bit of mental jewelry for those who hold those things important any more. The tie pins they give you with the medals and awards is a possibility. I could wear my Meritorious Service Ribbon. Or do I wear my Operation Noble Eagle award? Which one do I hold most important? They are all equally important.
Holding important. That phrase has been running through my head the last week or so since the invite for this veteran’s breakfast came in. What do I hold important about my time in service to my country, my fellow citizens?
Like any servicemember, I hold important my fellow comrades, those I served with hold a special place in my heart. We can always call on one another for a bit of conversation, to share successes, failures, challenges, and victories. It’s like we don’t live halfway across the country or the globe. Our time together with the target of “some gave all” hanging over us brought us closer than any civilian can imagine.
I also hold important the places the service sent me. It gave me a global perspective so many I know here in the United States do not have, may never. I saw cultures in action that even National Geographic couldn’t accurately capture. I met people who learned that Americans aren’t that much different from themselves and vice versa. It’s the thing that drives my personal philosophy, my parenting, and yes, my writing.
I hold important that the military taught me to look deeper into myself for reserves I didn’t realize I possessed. Although self-reliance gets a bad rap sometimes these days, it was a great thing to learn when I was young. In my life now, especially given #LifewithAutism, I must dig deep for reserves of strength and be self sufficient and courageous.
But, mostly I hold important that my time in the service changed me. It changed me in negative ways and it changed me in positive ways. For the most part the positive outweighs the negative. But I am a changed person. Especially as I look back over my decades of service, both on active duty, reserves, and as a civilian employee for the Army. When I gave up my Army Identification Card in 2011 it was one of the hardest things I had to do. I felt like I was giving up a part of myself. And I was. It was time to move past identifying as a service person and simply identifying as a veteran, which I recognize in 2015 encompasses only a small part of the person I am today.
So, yeah, my uniform doesn’t fit anymore. I wouldn’t expect it to. I’ve grown. Hopefully my fellow veterans will just understand that if I’m there, I’m one of them. We all likely have stories of change that our time in service provided. Hopefully that will be the questions, not why I’m not in uniform or that I even am a vet, because, I am. But it’s not all I am.
Tomorrow and Wednesday I’ll honor that part of my life. But then Thursday, it’s back to what life is today, built upon the foundation that my service gave me. No uniform necessary.