A few months ago, I read Phil Klay’s book, “Redeployment” — a collection of a dozen short stories. One of its unifying themes was that young people, and young men in particular, seek validation through combat. There are myriad consequences to facing combat — some good, and others bad. Others who never face combat, but expected to, are often left with intermingled senses of regret and embarrassment. There’s a selfishness in the sentiment: service is about “We.” Validation, potential regret, and its attendant embarrassment are about “Me.”
“Military veteran” is one of the few terms — and experiences — that binds people from different backgrounds who don’t know one another. The question, “Where’d you serve,” is a social level-setter, and points to something much deeper than being alumni of the same school or having grown up in the same hometown. It’s such a strong bond, in fact, that many military vets have trouble connecting with people who haven’t had that experience.