America’s current obsession with veterans and supporting them has seeped into our daily routines since the initial invasion of Afghanistan almost twenty years ago. Eateries and oil change shops offer discounts; furniture stores back their commercials with rippling red, white, and blue graphics; and there is always a pro-military bumper sticker in the afternoon rush hour tangle. In the wake of September 11th, national and global corporations quickly realized that flying an America flag at their restaurant or posting a yellow ribbon in the window was an easy way to drive up sales. Charities began to emerge, with some having raised hundreds of millions of dollars since the initial invasion. In short, despite being approximately one percent of the nation’s population, veterans have become a big business.
- Americans do not care about veterans; they are just obsessed with us.
While I served in the military from 2009 to 2013, this cultural obsession resulted in the obvious conclusion that civilian life would be simple and profitable. All businesses were “committed to hiring veterans.” I was a well-trained and experienced combat medic with deployment experience. There was no doubt that I was going to be successful. I was wrong. After being medically discharged I interviewed for medical positions at hospitals and with ambulance companies only to be told that my military experience was irrelevant. Despite working in the sands of Iraq, I was qualified to drive the truck and take vitals for twelve dollars an hour. So, I walked into one of those chain restaurants that proudly flies the American flag and waited tables, where my tips resulted in about twenty dollars an hour. More money but a blow to the ego. In July of 2013 I was responsible for the medical care of one hundred and fifty soldiers and more than half a million dollars of medical equipment. In November of 2013 I was being lectured by a balding manager with a penchant for the, as he put it, “servers that fill out their jeans” about my lack of margarita sales. I should have realized when I was scheduled to work on Veterans Day that America’s obsession with the veteran is general rather than specific.
- The word “veteran” does not have an exact meaning and corporate America knows it.
Much like “Make America Great Again,” the word “veteran” can contain multitudes depending on everyone’s personal experience, perspective, and environment. To most Americans I’ve conversed with the term veteran conveys military service, but more specifically hardship and exposure to combat. People often associate veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and physical disability because of this immediate connection between veterans and combat. These connections, and assumptions, do not jive with the reality of military service. The overwhelming majority of service members never see combat, and many do not experience anything traumatic that could not also occur in civilian life. Thousands of military jobs have direct connections to civilian sector jobs where the only difference is the uniform. Those veterans that operate in non-combat capacities and leave the service unscathed are the veterans that America is committed to hiring, employing, and promoting. The company receives a tax break, a qualified employee, and positive press based on the assumption that the hired veteran fits the public’s perception rather than the reality. That reality being there are no risks or liabilities in hiring a well-trained, qualified, and healthy twenty-something former logistics officer.
- So What?
Buying goods or services from businesses simply because they support veterans is short sighted and lazy. If you are interested in supporting the military, I encourage you to support spaces and operations that have a long-standing record of putting boots on the ground in communities that matter. Charities like The Telling Project support veterans and champion issues such as migration. You’re much better off attending one of their shows then drinking Modelo because of their military themed commercials. If all else fails, buy yourself a banned book. After all, that is what soldiers are supposed to fight for.
Wallace is a poet that honorably served in the U.S. Army as a combat medic. His
work has been published in The Deadly Writers Patrol, Typehouse Literary
Magazine, North Dakota Quarterly, and The American Journal of Poetry. His poem
‘The Blue Angels at Naval Air Station Jacksonville’ was named as an Honorable
Mention in the 2019 edition of Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, where
several of his poems were also anthologized. Aaron currently resides in
Jacksonville, Florida, with his wonderful wife Darby and their dogs, Bailey and