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THE GREAT DIVIDE

What is the civilian-veteran divide to you? Readers respond

What does America need to know about its veterans? What’s the biggest divide between those who have served and those who haven’t?

We asked readers to weigh in on those questions, and here’s how you responded:

Steven Moscoe, Army veteran

America should know that above all we are still committed to serving our country. I think the biggest two divides are culture and life experience.

While I was in Iraq, my high school classmates had jobs or were in their second semester of college. To expect them to understand how that has shaped me would be a folly. To expect me to understand how college or a minimum wage job right out of high school shapes someone would be that same folly.

So Americans and their veterans should do their best to understand what they can about each other. The end problem is veterans no longer fit into society in a socially acceptable way after years of deployments. This shouldn’t be the seed of a new law or the cause for a veterans only community. It should be the starting point of both sides integrating, not re-integrating veterans into society.

Veterans are as capable of re-integrating into a fully civilian style of life as a civilian is of fighting a war. Both are possible, but neither is optimal.

America, for lack of a better term, needs education. The average civilian should understand the positives about veterans. All we ever hear is veterans are crazy, veterans need help, veterans should be deified. Those messages are not only conflicting, but they also bring out bad feelings on both sides.

Richard Martin, Army veteran

While there is a divide (as you call it), I do not feel it is the others that need to bridge the gap. The veterans are those that have experienced both worlds, so it is they who are best suited to make analogies and comparisons.

The rest of America only knows second hand versions or worse —  what is portrayed by Hollywood or television. To say it is an unfair fight only serves to polarize more and does nothing to bridge the gap. It is veteran who has the task of translating their experiences and skills to civilian terms.

Human resources and hiring officials have jobs to do already and it is time consuming to determine how to translate hundreds of military occupations into related terms in the civilian world. It is the military that uses these terms and jargon, so it is unreasonable to expect the civilian world to learn it much less become fluent in it.

Jason Blagos, active-duty soldier

The majority of U.S. citizens don’t understand the basic concepts of sacrifice, self-discipline and accountability. These concepts are the norm for most military personnel.

When veterans transition to the civilian world, they are surrounded by people that don’t understand why the vet thinks and acts the way he/she does. It’s because most veterans have had to do without at times. They’ve had to restrain themselves on a regular basis in order to focus on what’s good for the team. They’ve been trained to understand that with mission failure there are consequences.

That, if you don’t do what you are supposed to do, you are held accountable for your actions and/or failures. For many Americans these concepts are foreign. They’ve never had to sacrifice. They’ve never had to focus on the greater good. And nowadays, in modern America, most people are not held accountable for their actions.

David Lucier, Vietnam veteran, contractor in Iraq

The first thing I believe a non-veteran needs to know about veterans is that they are neither “Rambo heroes” nor are they “psycho killers.” They are people who have unique range experiences. They are our father and mothers, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles.

The biggest divide between the veteran and non-veteran communities is that most non veterans don’t even know there is a divide. Education and mutual communication at the most basic levels are needed to close the gap.

First, we have to define the parameters, that is, service in the armed forces is inherently dangerous and inherently debilitating. Secondly, most veterans serve their terms and return to civilian life without retiring from service after 20 to 30 years, so reintegration from an extremely intense environment is crucial to their future success. And lastly, public policy should be designed to support these unique men and women who have served under some of the most difficult conditions imaginable and we all have to reach out to connect and participate in their reintegration process.

Jeff Hensley, Navy veteran

We are not charities or people to be pitied. Nor are we comfortable being called heroes. We are simply men and women with something in common: We were unwilling to abdicate our responsibility when the country needed us.

We didn’t ask for a pinch hitter — we raised our hand and stepped up to the plate. We did our duty because that is what Americans are supposed to do.

Yes, we often need some support navigating the tricky transition to civilian life. That doesn’t make us broken. It doesn’t make us weak. It simply makes us human.

The best tribute civilians can give to us is to follow in our footsteps. That doesn’t necessarily mean enlisting in the military. It means accepting your responsibility to be engaged. It means being informed. It means devoting at least a portion of your energy to a cause greater than yourself.

In short, it means joining with us to usher in a new era of American citizenship.

Charles DiNatale, Vietnam veteran

Some, along with the media, make veterans out to be feared. Anyone who had a severe trauma can get PTSD. With proper medical help, we live very normal lives. We are not your enemy, we are friends needing friends to understand.

shane.leo@stripes.com
Twitter: @LeoShane

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