One thing I’ve heard too many times is “You don’t look like you were in the military!” I was never quite sure what people meant by that because what is a military veteran supposed to look like? When I came to Norway I also discovered that apparently some people believe that if you join the military, especially the U.S. military, that you just want to fight, kill, and that you love guns and aggression.
I started digging and found that there are other misconceptions about military veterans, and I thought I’d clarify a few here.
1. People that join the military are aggressive, want to fight in a war and love guns.
I’ll first begin by saying that for some of us have no choice. I grew up poor, in the barrio in Puerto Rico. My mother was on welfare and food stamps. No one was motivating me to do something with myself, but deep down I knew I needed more. I wanted to go to college, but didn’t know how to. When I was sixteen years old, I had a part-time job, and I walked by an Army recruiting office almost every day to get there. As I brainstormed and searched for guidance, I started thinking that the Army could be my way out. I would train, serve my country, travel the world, be provided with lodging and meals, and education. Because of the Army, I learned teamwork, leadership, how to work with different types of people, how to be strong, resilient, patient, how to work hard and not complain. I took college classes almost full-time at nights when I had the time and by the age of 21, I was a sergeant, a squad leader with five soldiers under me, had an associates degree and traveled the world by being stationed in Germany and South Korea.
Anyways, my point here is that I am not a fighter, and I do not like aggression, and I don’t own guns (although I did enjoy shooting them). I joined the U.S. Army because it was an opportunity for me to grow as a human being, to get an education that I otherwise would have had a hard time getting, and it was an opportunity to travel. I am proud that I served and would do it all over again. To me, I had no choice if I wanted to be all that I could be, and I’m not the only one.
2. All veterans are broken and have PTSD.
“PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.” – National Center for PTSD
So PTSD affects all walks of life, not just military servicemembers. With the right treatment, love and care, veterans affected can return to a healthy mental state. Several studies and data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics show no evidence that military veterans — including those who witnessed or waged combat in Iraq and Afghanistan — are more prone to lethal violence than the general population. Unfortunately though, veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as a person who has never served. This breaks my heart and for a while now, I have been working on something that I hope can help with healing and shining the light on this issue.
A bit of statistics here –
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, PTSD affects:
- Almost 31% of Vietnam veterans
- As many as 10% of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans
- 11% of veterans of the war in Afghanistan
- 20% of Iraqi war veterans
Here is a direct link to U.S. Department Of Veterans Affairs if you want to learn more:
3. By joining the Army or Marines, soldiers will be infantry – trained only for war.
Okay, so Basic Training (or Boot Camp) covers infantry skills, and for me in the Army it was two months long. This doesn’t make every soldier or Marine an infantryman though. After Basic Training, they are taken to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) to to train in the job they will perform. The military has many support jobs such as administration, cooks, mechanics, electricians, finance, maintenance, intelligence, etc. While serving in the military, soldiers still have to qualify with their weapons, conduct physical fitness tests, and field training exercises to keep the infantry skills sharp.
4. Veterans have a limited skill set and usually pursue careers similar to that of their military jobs.
This is not true. Most veterans I’ve met have pursued and trained for completely different careers, but of course, there are obviously people that continue to have jobs in the same field as in the military. One of my best friends who retired from the Army after twenty years, went on to continue working in the same field, but gets paid a lot more money as a civilian.
5. The military is a homogenous population.
Quite the opposite – The military is one of the most diverse, ethnically and racially diverse organizations. Yes, the majority of veterans are white and male, but women are the fastest growing group of veterans, and there are more and more veterans with all kinds of backgrounds today.
These are just five myths about military veterans that I know of, but I am sure there are more. If you know of more misconceptions that you think I should share in this blog post, please feel free to write me. All of this reminds me that we should not judge a book by its cover. We are all different and the world is constantly changing.