The Holiday Shopping Survival Guide For Veterans


It's a familiar sensation for all veterans. That tense, roiling pit in the center of your stomach. The pounding of your heart in your temples. The first twitching sensation of sweat beginning to bead all over your body. All wrapped around the big, twisting ball of tension that you know means something big is about to go down, and not only can you not stop it, but you know you'll be swept up in it and have to struggle with all your strength to get through. And all while you’re surrounded by an impenetrable fog of pumpkin spice and hordes of shrieking, greedy children. That's right, it's holiday shopping season. And hell hath no fury like a youngster without just the right Lego.

If you're a recently detached veteran, I can assure you that you're unprepared. Your carefree days of strolling through the PX for 20 minutes and walking out with a shipping container's worth of Camelbaks and moto t-shirts for your friends and family are over. (Frankly, they all hated when you'd get them those gifts, but now you don't even have the option.) And if you thought flying home to see your family across the country was bad, then I invite you to try walking into the Macy’s flagship store any time between Thanksgiving and New Years. It's the most terrifying experience imaginable, and I lived through two Red Sox championships as a Yankee fan living in Boston.

But fear not, because I've got four points that will help get you through your holiday purchases in true veteran style.

1. Maneuverability is key.

In military situations, there is generally strength in numbers. This does not apply to holiday shopping. Trying to keep a big group together while pushing through crowds of fellow shoppers will just end in you all being split up anyway, at best. At worst, you'll end up focusing way too hard on trying keep your little infantry square together that one of your friends or family will end up clubbed unconscious by an Elmo-wielding, helicopter mom. Go solo, get what you need, and get out. And moving fast will help you get in, get home, and avoid those aforementioned terrible kids.

2. Adjust your camouflage.

Sgt. Anthony Ward, dressed in the Santa suit, and 1st Lt. Philip Vrska, in the Christmas package, bring some holiday cheer to a 5K "Jingle" race sponsored on Camp Ramadi, Iraq, Dec. 20, 2008.Photo by Sgt. Emily Suhr

After years of wars in desert/third world urban landscapes, the concept of camouflage beyond your regular uniform has fallen by the wayside. Sure, we all have those wacky photos of ourselves in training with our best 'Nam-style tiger-stripe face paint, but that's probably the extent of your use of camouflage. The holidays, and the shopping that goes with them, is absolutely the time to bring it back. Yes, there's the standard red and green, with dashes of silver tinsel and maybe a few bells. But really think through where you'll be doing your shopping. Going to Best Buy for some electronic goods, for example? Match the omnipresent blue and yellow logo; maybe tape a few iPhone cases to your coat to blend into the displays.

3. Children are terrible people.

I'm going to go over this just one more time: youngsters are monsters. Okay, maybe not all the time, but when it comes to the year-end flurry of gift purchasing, even your own precious little angels become voracious maws demanding to be sated with toys, clothes, and copies of Call of Medal of Duty 12: Bloodsplosion Plus Kevin Spacey For Some Reason (or whatever it's called). They're feisty, fight dirty, and are low to the ground. Think of them as fleshy IEDs that can sprint and urinate. Treat them as such, and avoid them as best you can. You may think that you can avoid dealing with their tiny, grabbing little hands and surprisingly powerful kicks to the groin by shopping during school hours. But remember, most of the adults there have one or more of those critters at home, and they'd rather fight you for the last blue lightsaber than deal with a toddler who will settle for nothing else. So be alert. And wear a cup.

4. Just do it all online. Months ago.

Come on, have you even heard of the Internet? It's great. And why are you still shopping in December? Think it through.

And there you have it, another holiday saved by yours truly. If you've read this far and still have no idea what to do and are grumpy that you didn't use back in September, then I recommend you exchange the same gifts my family does at Christmas: checks and liquor. Can't beat it. Especially with a stack of USMC golf shirts or a gross of shot glasses with "Hooah!" printed on them (seriously, those of you out there know who you are, knock it off with the PX crap).

Happy Holidays!

Photo by Capt. Thomas Cieslak
(Courtesy of Jackie Melendrez)

Editor's Note: The following story highlights a veteran at Iron Mountain. Committed to including talented members of the military community in its workplace, Iron Mountain is a client of Hirepurpose, a Task & Purpose sister company. Learn more here.

Jackie Melendrez couldn't be prouder of her husband, her sons, and the fact that she works for the trucking company Iron Mountain. This regional router has been a Mountaineer since 2017, and says the support she receives as a military spouse and mother is unparalleled.

Read More Show Less
Photo: U.S. Army

Master Sgt. Larry Hawks, a retired engineer sergeant who served with 3rd Special Forces Group, is being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on Friday for "valorous actions" in Afghanistan in 2005.

Read More Show Less

The Iranians just blasted one of the US military's most sophisticated and expensive drones out of the sky as tensions in the Strait of Hormuz reach the boiling point.

Read More Show Less
(Reuters/Lawrence Hurley)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A 40-foot-tall (12 meters) cross-shaped war memorial standing on public land in Maryland does not constitute government endorsement of religion, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in a decision that leaves unanswered questions about the boundaries of the U.S. Constitution's separation of church and state.

The justices were divided on many of the legal issues but the vote was 7-2 to overturn a lower court ruling that had declared the so-called Peace Cross in Bladensburg unconstitutional in a legal challenge mounted by the American Humanist Association, a group that advocates for secular governance. The concrete cross was erected in 1925 as a memorial to troops killed in World War One.

The ruling made it clear that a long-standing monument in the shape of a Christian cross on public land was permissible but the justices were divided over whether other types of religious displays and symbols on government property would be allowed. Those issues are likely to come before the court in future cases.

Read More Show Less
(Associated Press/Facebook)

A relative of the man who opened fire outside downtown Dallas' federal building this week warned the FBI in 2016 that he shouldn't be allowed to buy a gun because he was depressed and suicidal, his mother said Thursday.

Brian Clyde's half-brother called the FBI about his concerns, their mother Nubia Brede Solis said. Clyde was in the Army at the time.

On Monday, Clyde opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle at the Earle Cabell Federal Building. He was fatally shot by federal law enforcement. No one else was seriously injured. His family believes Clyde wanted to be killed.

Read More Show Less