Veterans: It's on you to bridge the civil-military divide

Vultures' Row
A Soldier holds an American flag prior to the start of an oath of citizenship ceremony in the General George Patton Museum's Abrams Auditorium at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Sept. 19, 2018. (U.S. Army/ Eric Pilgrim)

Looking at many veterans' attitudes, especially online, you see a lot of complaining about the many failings of civilians. Most of those complaints come under the aegis of "slimy" or "nasty."

The best version of this is, "I worked so much harder than everyone else they fired me for making everyone else look bad."

Let's clarify. No one has ever been fired for doing too good of a job. You were fired for being an insufferable asshole to your coworkers, not because of your groundbreaking excellence in the world of pest control.

Sometimes it's civilians causing the "civil-military divide." But let's be honest, often, or even usually, it's veterans belittling civilians. You never hear a civilian saying,"I can't stand all these freaking nasty veterans around here!"

Many vets find it tough to go from someplace where you say "Jump!" and the answer is "How high?" to a place where you say "Jump!" and they say "That's not really part of my job description." Or when in fact you're not sure they can even jump at all, because they're so so out of shape it looks like the only walking they've done is with their fingers through the pages of the menu at the Cheesecake Factory.

First, many veterans have no place to criticize, seeing as they are on average fatter than civilians. Second, in the real world the number of jobs where run time and pull-ups are part of your performance evaluation is vanishingly small.

Most people at work don't even know you're a veteran, nor do they care. The only thing most civilians care about are whether you do what you're supposed to do and whether you're an asshole.

Unfortunately, some vets spend their lives in "YouTube rant in a truck" mode, and that comes with a lot of connotations of assholery. Of course, not all, or even most, vets are in that mode, but someone is buying all those dumbass "Dysfunctional Veteran" t-shirts.

In truth, those standards civilians apply to vets should be the same ones we apply to civilians. 1) Do you do what you're supposed to? 2) Are you an asshole? In case you are confused, in normal society the answer to "Is this person an asshole?" is supposed to be "no."

Judging people who've been civilians their whole lives by military standards is like judging a Lamborghini by how many bags of groceries fit in the trunk. Being able to talk extremely loud or walk long distances while carrying heavy objects, while handy in the military, are not things highly valued on or off the job among regular people.

I fell victim to this mentality for a little while, mentally categorizing people into "military" and "civilian." There were some good civilians, but they were folks I thought could have done all right in the military if they'd tried. This was while I was working in a police agency, where you'd think nastiness wouldn't be so endemic. I'm not sure I could have dealt with a normal workplace at that point, and I'm not even moto by Marine standards, which is to say I'm still pretty obnoxiously moto by normal standards.

Eventually, I realized that you can either isolate yourself because no one meets your standards or your can learn the right standards for the right time. There are actually people who wouldn't last 10 seconds on the yellow footprints who are amazing at their jobs and more importantly, are great people who are making a difference in the world.

There's indeed some truth to the existence of a "civil-military divide," in that most Americans don't feel the costs of our nation's many wars as they did in some past conflicts. But it's a lot easier to have an honest conversation about that part of the divide and try to repair it when we don't create another one just to pump up our egos. People listen best when they are addressed eye-to-eye, not when they're looked down upon.

Eliminating "nasty" and "slimy" from our vocabularies as vets would be a good start.

Carl Forsling is a senior columnist for Task & Purpose. He is a Marine MV-22B pilot and former CH-46E pilot who retired from the military after 20 years of service. He is the father of two children and a graduate of Boston University and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter @CarlForsling

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