Not All Veterans Are Created Equal. You Have To Earn Your 'V'

The Long March
U.S. Marines assigned to Fox Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, assault uphill during training operations as a part of Eager Lion 2018 in Jordan April 24, 2018
U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Austin Livingston

Not all veterans are equal. There are veterans, and then there are Veterans. The difference has nothing to do with what we did in the military. The capital “V” is earned after leaving the service.

Take Sarah Wilson. She’s a Veteran — a Huey crew chief who protected her fellow Marines with her door gun during the invasion of Iraq—but you’d never guess it passing her in the aisle at Safeway.

Follow her on social media and you’ll never see posts expressing how many “zero f*cks” she gives about celebrity news, berating NFL players for exercising their rights, or simple-minded memes that belittle others.

She’s too busy being awesome.

Raising two children to be solid humans wasn’t enough, so she and her husband (also a Veteran) adopted a young boy from Ethiopia and hosted a Rwandan exchange student. Still not enough, Sarah volunteered at a local refugee resettlement center, built and operated a working farm, helped middle schoolers with severe behavioral issues, coached cross country, joined the VFW, and started her family’s business: You can bet that she votes—and takes that responsibility seriously.

Bravely engaging enemy troops from a loud and exposed position did not earn her a “V.” Being the cornerstone of her family and community did.

So what’s the point? It’s that we should expect more from ourselves and our peers than just being “veterans.” We need to earn our “V.”

How? Simple. Improve the lives of those around you. Big or small, the scale of your influence doesn’t matter.

What’s important is that you take the time to reflect on your experiences in the military and extract some hard-earned wisdom from it. Perhaps more than ever, America needs this wisdom from her Veterans.

But it doesn’t come with your discharge papers. You have to consciously seek wisdom, apply it to your own life, and then look for ways to share it. Skip any of those steps and you’re sharing “v” status with the guy huffing glue behind 7-11 who got admin-sep’d for cocaine because it was easier than a court-martial.

Yup. As far as most Americans are concerned, we’re the same as glue-boy. We all have DD-214’s. We’re veterans. Don’t like that? Then don’t be defined by your past.

This Veterans Day, take a moment to reflect on which “v” you rate. If you don’t like the answer, strive to be like Sarah. Start with yourself, your family, friends, and neighbors. Become the person they turn to when they need advice, when disaster strikes, or simply want to talk. Learn about issues facing our country instead of parroting someone else’s agenda. Become well grounded so when the winds of change disrupt the lives of those closest to you, you can help.

If you already have your “V,” thank you. Now, please help other veterans find theirs.

America will never ask us to become Veterans. She shouldn’t have to.

Dan Sheehan is a Marine veteran striving to earn his “V.” His non-fiction books examine the human costs of war on those who fight and guide veterans through the challenges of coming home. He lives in southern California and is hard at work on his first novel.

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