Monday, April 30, 2012

1-17: A year in the life - and much death

CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA; The Associated Press • Published June 01, 2010   

FORWARD OPERATING BASE FRONTENAC, Afghanistan - It was Aug. 10, 2009, in the Arghandab River Valley, a hot and dusty day full of unknowns. 

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An American battalion was swapping in with a Canadian garrison. As the Stryker troop carrier rumbled toward the riverside orchards, a Canadian soldier warned 1st Lt. Vic Cortese, 24, of East Quogue, New York: “We don’t go in there.”

The American troops clambered out of the Stryker’s cramped confines into the raw sunlight. The soldiers spread out, started walking.

Less than 20 minutes later, snap, snap, snap in the air. A Taliban ambush. Cortese’s first firefight, and he went numb.

“For a split second, I was like: ‘Oh man!’” he recalled. Then training took command. He pushed against the earth, lifted his M-4 rifle and pulled the trigger.

• Twenty-two men in the U.S. Army’s 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment of 800 died in a yearlong Afghan tour ending this summer. Most were killed last year in the Arghandab, a gateway to the southern city of Kandahar. About 70 were injured, all but two in bomb blasts.

The death toll was one of the highest in the Afghan war, and the tough fight in the Arghandab drew the attention of America’s leaders. President Barack Obama was photographed saluting the coffin of one of the soldiers on arrival in the United States. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told soldiers at their base in March that their efforts had helped push back the Taliban.

However, the battalion failed to dislodge insurgent cells entirely. A similar outcome is emerging in the southern town of Marjah after a bigger operation led by U.S. Marines in February. An even larger campaign is unfolding in Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual capital.

The battalion’s story is an extreme example of the challenges American soldiers face in Afghanistan.

The battalion is part of the 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, which originally trained for urban combat in Iraq. But the mission changed in the final months of training, and the brigade’s 130 Arabic students took a crash course in Pashto, the language of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic community.

The battalion’s Stryker vehicles, prized for their speed and mobility, were making their debut in the Afghan war. But they could not operate in rough terrain where soldiers had to get around on foot.

The timing was bad; August is the height of Afghanistan’s fighting season.

Perhaps most treacherous of all, the battalion had very little intelligence. The soldiers didn’t know it, but they faced an entrenched enemy willing to stand and fight for a sliver of territory vital to the Taliban’s goal of seizing Kandahar. They needed more manpower.

Before dawn Aug. 7, the battalion rolled out of Kandahar to Forward Operating Base Frontenac, just northwest of the Arghandab.

A “perfect storm” awaited, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Neumann, the battalion commander, from the tiny town of Baker, Mont.

• Spc. Troy O. Tom was the first. A 21-year-old Navajo from Shiprock, N.M., he smiled serenely through tough camp training and told friends he turned down scholarships to serve his country. On Aug. 18, an explosive on a footbridge killed him.

Within five minutes, Pfc. Jonathan C. Yanney, 20, of Litchfield, Minn., died the same way. Soldiers say he stopped, stooped to adjust his heavy backpack, and took his last step.

Fear of more attacks delayed the search for the bodies. The next day, a bomb struck a convoy. The shock wave thumped 1st Lt. Kyle Hovatter of Tallahassee, Fla., in the face – “like a ton of bricks,” he said. Soldiers spotted a dozen muzzle flashes in the undergrowth. Sixteen Strykers unloaded 50-caliber machine gunfire and other ordnance. Helicopters flew low, unleashing at least 100 rockets.

The barrage subsided, and the Americans found Tom and Yanney.

• In photographs, Capt. John L. Hallett III of Concord, Calif., resembles a diffident schoolboy, his ears poking out awkwardly.

Once he visited Afghan police and balked at his hosts’ yogurt drink in a communal bowl. They gave him a glass. Too polite to decline, he held it for the entire meeting and dumped it in the bowl when nobody was looking.

CPT John Hallett A Co Commander KIA 25 Aug
SPC Dennis WIlliams KIA 25 Aug

On Aug. 25, an IED in a culvert flipped a Stryker, killing 30-year-old Hallett and three others. Six days later, more deaths. A medic tried to resuscitate a soldier who lost limbs, then announced it was over. 1st Sgt. Charles Burrow ordered the medic to continue until the helicopter arrived for the flight that would carry the dead man away. He didn’t want to give up.

After the evacuation, a void settled inside Burrow. It was as though there was nothing left to do. He turned to the Protestant chaplain, Capt. Gary Lewis, who arrived to counsel the soldiers.

“Chaplain, be quick. I’m sending these guys right back out. I don’t want them dwelling on it right now,” Lewis remembers Burrow saying.

Again and again, the battalion tried to close out grief. Focus on the task. Look ahead, not back. Each time a soldier died, the base flag flew at half-staff, but only for a few hours. Death became normal, a jarring routine. It meant loss; it meant everyone else was still alive.

• There are versions of what Staff Sgt. Michael Brown, 27, said when a mine severed his right foot on Oct. 15. It’s part of Alpha Company lore. It was either “Man, this is really going to affect my jump shot” or “This is going to affect my golf swing” or “That was my accelerator foot.”

Always upbeat, Brown stayed in character. A medic tied a tourniquet. “Doc, is that tight enough?” inquired Brown of Staten Island, N.Y. The pain floated away with the morphine.

Life could end anytime. In the early days, soldiers exhaled in relief every time a boot sank harmlessly into the earth.

“Every step is, ‘When? When? When? When is it going to happen? When is it going to happen? When is it going to happen?’” said Alpha’s 1st Sgt. Gene Hicks, 39, of Tacoma, a former Marine who will retire and move to Boise.

CPT Bushatz XO, me 1SG, CPT Michael Kovalsky CO, and LT Chris Tran FSO
This photo was taken after a very long operation in the Arghandab Valley.

And then, he said, it would be: “Boom! It just happened.”

U.S. commanders were fighting an estimated 200 or more Taliban who always removed their dead.

One platoon adopted a dog, named Staff Sgt. Bear. One night, Bear barked at the darkness. A daytime search unearthed an IED.

• Oct. 27: The boom was muffled, possibly because the IED hit square underneath the Stryker.

But the radio call was clear and final. Eight KIA, killed in action. Seven Charlie Company soldiers and an Afghan interpreter. The blast had driven the armor plate under the Stryker through the roof, peeling it off like a can opener.

A firefight erupted. Afterward, troops found a man’s corpse and drag marks, probably an attempt by insurgents to remove the body. A young boy sobbed nearby. He told an interpreter that the man was his uncle and brought him along as a human shield.

“He thought you wouldn’t shoot us,” the boy said.

• Grousing is common in any army, but a deeper resentment brewed in the 1-17. In November, brigade chief Col. Harry Tunnell replaced Capt. Joel Kassulke of Charlie Company, which had suffered the most deaths – 12 men – of the four companies.

The soldiers fumed. They thought the captain was made a scapegoat.

In December, the battalion took a new mission to secure area highways. Fighting had ebbed, and a unit from the 82nd Airborne Division took over most of the Arghandab. Some 1-17 soldiers were emotional – they thought they were winning, and felt defeat at leaving.

A month later, an Army Times newspaper article included assertions by Charlie Company junior leaders that they had not trained adequately for the Afghan mission, and that the battalion had not focused enough on civilian concerns.

Neumann said civil development was hardly the first option in a heavy combat zone, but acknowledged he could have done more to convey command thinking down the chain. As for Kassulke’s transfer, he said, the brigade command believed the man and the company were close to a “breaking point” and needed change.

• With the deployment nearly over, Sgt. Richard Thibeault of Bravo Company remembered Aug. 10, 2009, when he and Cortese first tasted combat. A bullet struck Thibeault’s ceramic chest plate but did not penetrate. He went somewhere else: a dream, a bubble.

“It knocked me back a couple of steps and I hit the ground,” he said. “It was like hearing everything through a can, being way off. It was like being five miles away and hearing gunfire. Everything was real faint, but I was right there in the middle of it.”

Thibeault crawled, and a soldier grabbed him by the collar. “I got up there behind the wall … and said, ‘Hey man, I got shot,’” Thibeault recalled. “He looked and he said, ‘No, you didn’t.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I was.’ He was, ‘No, you didn’t. Start firing.’”

The soldier shoved his hand under Thibeault’s vest and yanked it out. No blood.

Thibeault, 22, of Cornelia, Ga., got a tattoo of a crosshairs with a wisp of smoke where the bullet would have entered.

At Frontenac today, photographs of the dead line the corridor in the headquarters. A concrete memorial bears their names.

Our Battalion Memorial on FOB Frontenac

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

SVA Names For-Profit Schools with Revoked Charters

Do your homework before applying to any school!!!!

WASHINGTON, DC –Today, Student Veterans of America (SVA) published a list of 26 for-profit institutions whose SVA charters had been revoked. The removal of SVA chapters resulted from a routine, annual review of all chapters.
"SVA chapters must be established and led by student veterans. Student veteran organizations in development, or created by university administrators, defeats the fundamental spirit of the SVA chapter,” said Michael Dakduk, Executive Director of Student Veterans of America. "In addition to being a peer support group, SVA chapters exist as campus and community based advocacy organizations. It appears that some for-profit schools do not understand our model, or worse –they understand our model and they choose to exploit it for personal gain.” This is important because:
1) it defrauds veterans seeking advice from SVA’s student leaders;
2) it deters veterans who would otherwise form chapters at these campuses;
3) it misrepresents these chapters as being a point of contact for veterans seeking out their peers who can help them with transition issues and introduce them to a community of individuals that share similar experiences;
4) it undermines the legitimacy and reputation of SVA.
Many military and veteran-friendly school lists cite having a SVA chapter as a criterion for becoming ‘veteran-friendly’. The term ‘military-friendly’, or ‘veteran-friendly’,as it relates to academic institutions is ill-defined.
"I am concerned that certain for-profit schools may be taking advantage of the SVA brand to legitimize their programs. This may be an example of certain schools establishing fake SVA chapters to appear on a military-friendly list. By being featured on these lists, those schools can then advertise their programs as accommodating to veterans –although the term military and veteran friendly lacks any real definition. This is an extreme example of misrepresentation. There is a pattern of impropriety among certain for-profit institutions of higher learning.”
35 chapters at for-profit schools are currently under review with SVA, representing 8% of SVA’s chapter base.
All chapters submit a statement of understanding – in part, it states the following:
I attest that my organization is officially recognized as a student organization at an institution of higher education.
I attest that my organization’s primary mission is aimed at the general welfare of student veterans who are enrolled or intend on enrolling at an institution of higher education.
I give authority to SVA to verify my organization’s eligibility for chapter affiliation.
I understand that SVA reserves the right to revoke chapter membership at any time. I also understand that my organization may remove our affiliation with SVA at any time.


VA mental health system sharply denounced at hearing

I think the need for a "breath of fresh air" throughout much of the VA staff and mental health providers is warrented. It also boggles my mind that there are 1,500 vacancies with a soon to be additional 1,600. Why is the VA not looking at those seperating (retiring) from the military train them and put them to work? This just really annoyes me because this is the where I want to work and where I want to help veterans but there is no availale information about it. It is like hitting your head against the wall.... 

By Steve Vogel, Published: April 25 | Updated: Monday, April 23, 10:00 PM

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ mental-health care system suffers from a culture where managers give more importance to meeting meaningless performance goals than helping veterans, according to testimony before a Senate committee Wednesday. The hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs followed the release of an inspector general’s report Monday that found the VA has greatly overstated how quickly it provides mental-health care for veterans.

“They need a culture change,” Linda Halliday, the VA’s assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations, told the committee. “They need to hold facility directors accountable for integrity of the data.” VA facilities used practices that “greatly distorted” the actual waiting time for appointments, Halliday said, enabling the department to make claims that 95 percent of first-time patients seeking mental-health care received an evaluation within 14 days when, in reality, fewer than half were seen in that time. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairman of the committee, described the findings as showing a “rampant gaming of the system.” Nicholas Tolentino, a former mental health administrative officer at the VA Medical Center in Manchester, N.H., told the committee that managers at the facility pressed the staff to develop ways to see as many veterans as possible while providing the most minimal mental-health services possible.
“The plan that was ultimately developed gamed the system so that the facility met performance requirements but utterly failed our veterans,” said Tolentino, a former Navy corpsman who went to work at the Manchester facility in 2009.
One manager directed the staff to focus only on the immediate reason for an appointment and not to ask the veteran about any other problems because “we don’t want to know or we’ll have to treat it,” according to Tolentino.
“VA is failing to meet its own mandates for timeliness and instead is finding ways to make the data look like they are complying,” said Murray, who requested the report.
“It’s mind-boggling,” said Sen. Scott Brown, (R-Mass.), who raised concerns that the long waits that veterans seeking mental-health services face leaves them at heightened risk for suicide.
“We fully embrace that our performance measures need to be revised,” William Schoenhard, deputy under secretary for health for operations and management, told the committee.
The data was often based on available appointments, rather than the patient’s clinical needs, according to the inspector general’s office. If the patient was given an appointment two months later because of a lack of openings, the veteran would still be recorded as having been seen within two weeks of the desired date.
The office issued reports in 2005 and 2007 raising similar concerns that the VA was using faulty data to calculate wait times.
“This has been an issue for many years and hasn’t been resolved,” John Daigh Jr., assistant inspector general for health-care inspections, told the committee.
Under pressure to reduce waiting times for veterans, the VA announced last week that it plans to hire 1,600 mental-health workers, an increase of more than 9 percent.
But the VA already has about 1,500 vacancies in mental-health specialties, positions that have been hard to fill given better pay in the private sector. “How are you going to ensure that 1,600 positions . . . don’t become 1,600 vacancies?” Murray asked.
Schoenhard said the department is studying ways to better recruit and retain mental-health professionals.
“In the interim, you have soldiers who are killing themselves,” Brown said.
Tolentino, who said his complaints “largely fell on deaf ears,” resigned from the Manchester facility in December.
“Ultimately, I could not continue to work at a facility where the well-being of our patients seemed secondary to making the numbers look good,” he said.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Rest Easy and in Peace First Sergeant Bordelon

A dispatch from our days in Mosul, Iraq from Michael Yon. I will always remember 1SG Bordelon smiling face, he had this air about him that made talking with him so easy. He was a genuine leader whose care for not just the Soldiers in his company but all Soldiers was displayed with an affectionate slap on the back and a "how you doing?". The family of "Deuce Four" misses you everyday, even 7 years later.

By Michael Yon

First Sergeant Michael J. Bordelon was conducting combat operations in Mosul, Iraq, on 23 April 2005 when a suicide car-bomber rammed into his Stryker vehicle. Though mortally wounded, Michael Bordelon lived for another two weeks before the injuries claimed his life. With every passing day, here on FOB Marez, men who had known Michael Bordelon for years, men who had fought with him in the streets of Mosul, would ask about his condition. The veterans here have seen much since they arrived in Mosul, and they understood well that the odds were against their First Sergeant surviving, yet they would ask the commander hopefully, “How is First Sergeant Bordelon?”
The commander would often answer variously and tersely, “Fighting. Who else could hang in there so long?”
The commander seemed to prepare his men for what might have been inevitable, while not betting against his friend. But everyone knew the reality.
“The doctors say he has a ten percent chance,” I heard the commander say during the last few days, “He’s still fighting.”
And finally the word came that Michael J. Bordelon had run the course. The men here at 1-24 Infantry began to prepare a memorial service from scratch. Though they had known the odds two weeks earlier, nobody seemed to want to bet against their friend by preparing a memorial, so in the nights leading to the ceremony, men worked late to prepare a farewell while conducting ongoing operations.
The auditorium was nearly packed, but the empty seats in the back were the most prominent, empty seats that would have been filled by men who were gone, men who were wounded or killed in action on the same streets where Michael Bordelon ran his last mission, and finished the race.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dr. Phil: Vets with PTSD Are “Damaged Goods”, “Monsters”

April 20, 2012 By
Posted in Military Life, Military News, Opinion

PTSD: civilians just love to paint veterans as riddled with this disease, causing them to become violent, unhinged lunatics who will explode at the slightest provocation. Look at just about any news story where a violent crime is committed by a veteran, and PTSD is almost immediately floated as the reason. In the media narrative, violence and PTSD go hand-in-hand. At the same time, troops are criticized for not coming forward and admitting they have a problem, and seeking help for it. (Gee, could it possibly be because we paint veterans with PTSD as homicidal lunatics?)
Dr. Phil, arguably one of the most popular talk show hosts on the planet, decided to feature this issue on his show this week. And while he could have taken a reasonable approach, he went straight for the gut instead. Titling the show “From Heroes To Monsters”, he painted a picture of vets with PTSD as ticking time bombs of violence, describing them as damaged goods who “destroy families” and “dismantle marriages”.

One of Dr. Phil’s guests, Matt, is a former Marine who struggles with PTSD. He speaks about how, while deployed to Afghanistan, he repeatedly stabbed an enemy combatant in the face, even after he was dead, to get his anger out. He also claims he saw “lots” of innocent people killed, including women and children. (His last name isn’t given, so it’s impossible to verify his claims of killing women and children while deployed to Afghanistan.)
After Matt, Dr. Phil featured Mark and Heather. Mark is another veteran with PTSD who admits he has violent rages, says his life has been destroyed, and is afraid of what he will do to his family. Heather’s husband, Duane, had PTSD. He beat her and set her on fire.
The common thread between all of these stories: violence. Did Dr. Phil ever stop to point out that most veterans with PTSD don’t end up setting their wives on fire or stabbing people repeatedly in the face? Of course not. Indeed, recent research has found that the link between PTSD and violent behavior is actually weak. Another dirty little secret Dr. Phil didn’t feel was necessary to point out: civilians get PTSD, too. In fact, anyone can get it — anyone who has been through a trauma. According to the VA, about 7-8% of the general population will get PTSD at some point in their lives. For veterans, the risk is slightly higher, although not by much at 11-20%. And, believe it or not, the symptoms of PTSD do not include sudden violence such as setting your wife on fire or stabbing people in the face. Common symptoms include reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind you of it, feeling numb, feeling jittery, suddenly being angry or irritable, having trouble sleeping, etc. Setting your wife on fire? Not so much a normal occurrence. While relationship problems and violence may occur, acting as if it is a foregone conclusion (as Dr. Phil did) and saying that vets with PTSD are “monsters” is ridiculous and offensive.
It has been noted time and again, including here at You Served, that there is a stigma associated with veterans who have PTSD. While things may slowly be getting better, we still have a long way to go. And clearly, that goes for civilians as well. When the leading daytime talk show host runs a show calling veterans with PTSD “monsters” and “damaged goods”, it’s no wonder that there is a stigma attached to PTSD. The media gleefully paints vets who struggle with it as ticking time bombs, as stereotypes of lunatics about to snap at any given moment. The narrative isn’t new… but I don’t ever recall seeing veterans being so blatantly insulted by being called “monsters” and “damaged goods”.
I’m curious if Dr. Phil honestly thinks it’s helpful to paint such a negative, violent picture of veterans struggling with PTSD. I would wager he doesn’t care at all about how this affects our military. Because if he did, this show wouldn’t have existed. What he has done is continue to spread a false and harmful narrative about our troops, which spreads the stigma associated with PTSD even further. And what does that do? It encourages veterans who are struggling with symptoms of PTSD to become even more reluctant to come forward and seek help. Why would they? They’re being told that they’re monsters, damaged goods, violent abusive lunatics. While Dr. Phil is by no means the only perpetrator, this is by far the worst example I have seen in the media.
Having PTSD does not make you “damaged goods”. Does having cancer make someone damaged? What about depression, or bipolar disorder, or any number of other diseases? Telling someone who has PTSD that they are a monster and therefore need to get help makes about as much sense as telling a woman who has breast cancer that she’s damaged goods and therefore needs chemotherapy. It’s not going to encourage anyone to actually seek help. What it will surely do for vets, though, is reinforce the idea that they are somehow broken, that they’ll be judged and punished for having PTSD, and make them think that they are right to not tell anyone and to not get help. None of our troops who are afflicted with PTSD are monsters, they are not damaged, and 99% of them are not violent, homicidal maniacs about to snap at any moment.
The men and women who serve in our Armed Forces give up so much. They sacrifice their time with their families, their bodies, and their lives. For some, they sacrifice their mental health. This does not make them broken, or crazy, or violent, and it especially does not make them monsters. Meanwhile, here is Dr. Phil, taking the sacrifice and exploiting it, calling our troops — who have already given up so much for us — monsters. He should be ashamed of himself.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The next chapter...involves school..lots of it!!

As you may all remember I completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology from Saint Martin's University in Lacey, Washington last year. The same year that I retired, well the continued strive towards achieving the next step and goal has begun.

I am very excited today because I have learned that I have been accepted to the University of Southern California for the Masters in Social Work program. I have been busy taking care of paperwork and scheduling my Cultural Immersion workshops. I am excited to get the educational credentials that will help me reach my final goal; helping our veterans. 
I have thought about why Soldiers commit suicide and with the death of my Soldier this week I could come up with several reasons but the reason that keeps coming back to me is the lack of professional support. Many of the veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have very few professionals in the field of counseling or social work that understand what they have been through. I have a unique understanding of the experiences they have seen in combat.  I can relate with them as well as empathize with them about the feelings they have experienced and teach them that they do not have to be ashamed about their feelings. In the Army today, especially among the combat arms, there is an unfortunate stigma that revolves around seeking help. By asking for help you were considered weak and or an ineffective leader. Since early 2009 the Army has been trying to change this perception by providing counseling for Soldiers pre-deployment and post deployment stand downs. While I have been too numerous of these I have not once talked to a counselor. The counselors are usually civilians who have never deployed or are social workers brought in from the community. While they do a good job I have seen firsthand veterans and Soldier’s come into the Veterans Center and asks for a counselor that has served in the current wars. At the Boise Veterans center there is only one such counselor and his schedule was packed every day. I hope I can be one more social worker that these Soldier’s and Veterans can turn to for help.
The curriculum is going to intense and the time and dedication will pay off in the end. I am excited to begin my first semester on May 7th. My first two classes are Human Behavior and Social Environment and the second is Policy and Practise in Social Service Organizations.
Wish me luck all and if you have any questions about how to get started in school or any question in general do not hesitate to contact me!!!
Go Trojans!!!!

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Veteran's Perspective: What Makes a Hero?

By Chris Marvin
When I was young I read comic books. Superman and the Fantastic Four -- they were my heroes.
In school, I learned about courageous acts performed in the face of injustice by American heroes like Patrick Henry, Susan B. Anthony, and Dr. Martin Luther King. I knew what the word hero meant and how to use it. But recently I have become confused by some common uses of the word "hero".
For many in this country, the term hero is now used to describe any American who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Understandably, it's a way to express semantically the feelings of gratitude and admiration  that a large portion of the population holds for the few who have endured 10 years of combat.
No doubt these military men and women are all brave, selfless, and commendable people who are dedicated to service. But, lest they perform some heroic feat, I would argue that they likely fall short of being true heroes.
A hero is determined by individual choices and behavior, not by chance or circumstance alone.
Dakota Meyer is a true American hero. Four consecutive trips into the kill zone of an enemy ambush to save the lives of 36 marines and soldiers made then-Corporal Meyer a hero and earned him a Congressional Medal of Honor.
Another Medal of Honor recipient, Michael Monsoor, is a hero. Petty Officer Monsoor threw himself onto a grenade and gave his life to save the lives of his Navy SEAL teammates.
And a small group of passengers aboard United Flight 93, who downed an airplane under the control of terrorists, are American heroes.
When a sniper's bullet hits one soldier and misses the person next to him, that alone does not make the wounded soldier more heroic. When a vehicle is struck by an IED, it's more likely to find heroic feats amongst those who come to the aid of the wounded than among the wounded themselves.
And in August 2004, when my helicopter crashed in Afghanistan and effectively ended my military career, I behaved no more or less heroically than I had over the past 40 combat missions. After hearing my story, many people have felt compelled to label me as a hero simply because I endured a helicopter crash. I politely disagree.
More importantly, most people that I served with in the military will reserve the term "hero" for a select few. It's held for those who have performed truly amazing acts in the face of grave danger -- many of whom have given their lives in doing so.
As a society, when we call all veterans and military service members heroes, we are calling them exceptional. But by making them exceptional -- by setting them aside -- we are segregating them from the rest of the population. We are placing this sub- population farther away from the norm; we are separating them from the rest of us. And with separation comes misunderstanding.
By creating a divide between the civilian community and the military community, it becomes increasingly difficult for veterans to successfully re-integrate into civilian life.
As our veterans return to our communities, we should welcome them with a hearty thank you and a pat on the back, but it might be best to avoid the term "hero." Instead of elevating our veterans as exceptionally different, let's invite them to reconnect with us here at home.
It is civilians who have the most important role to play in veteran reintegration. Our communities should be open and foster understanding. And, to show appreciation and respect for the military, civilians can find ways share in the service and the sacrifice.
Volunteer at a local nonprofit. Give blood. Mentor youth.
Veterans understand the importance of these types of service, and they appreciate civilians who take opportunity to serve and sacrifice here at home.
By casting off the superlatives and taking action, our country can show our military veterans what we really think of them; while at the same time, we can make a difference in our communities. Let's make it clear that veterans are part of our community here at home. Let's stop inadvertently setting them apart, so that we might get to know them after their uniforms come off.