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The Individuality of Veterans

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia 
November 3, 2019

In this month’s column, I would like to share a testimonial about our nation’s veterans. They are great when it comes to service, both during their active duty time and as veterans. It’s human nature to serve. In fact, we are happiest when we serve others. When we talk about military members, we often say they are in the service or that they are service members. The various branches of the Armed Forces are referred to professionally as the services. They serve the nation—all of us. I would not be so bold as to try and speak on behalf of all veterans. Therefore, my comments will focus on the individuality of veterans as the great Americans that they are. I hope you come away with an appreciation of the individuality of all those who sport the title of Veteran.

First, let’s visit some areas in which all generations of veterans are somewhat similar. Nearly all the veterans that I meet share a love and respect for inclusion, an American value. Vets have learned over time and through training to appreciate and value each other. As a rule, they don’t care about color, race, creed, gender or any other way to divide and separate people. I am proud to salute the female recruits who are now training to become Army Rangers, Airborne troopers, Infantry, Seals, Special Forces and other combat-oriented fields of military endeavor. Another quality of veterans is that in general, they value education—in fact, they absolutely love it. They tend to be more formally educated than the general population. Veterans lead those achievement stats by 10 to 20 percentage points.

Mostly I have come to understand that being a veteran can feel different according to each veteran’s period of service and for each individual veteran within those eras. For example, World War II vets came home to rousing celebrations and ticker-tape parades in New York City—a hero’s welcome by any measure. The Korean War, generally called the Forgotten War, produced veterans who simply returned to their homes, and in many cases, just went quiet. The Vietnam War was a gut-wrenching, prolonged conflict that tore this nation apart and those wounds are still felt today. Many Vietnam War-era veterans experienced prolonged combat operations almost every single day during their 1-year postings. They came home to a mixed bag of welcome back levels ranging from complete shunning to serene and respectful acknowledgement, usually done in private family settings.

Most of today’s veterans belong to two groups: Gulf War Era I (1990 to 2001) and Gulf War Era II (2001 to present). Gulf War Era I vets participated in a carefully orchestrated battle campaign that involved a powerful international coalition on the left and right flanks that succeeded in driving Iraqi forces from Kuwait. As the Iraqis were being driven back to their own country, they burned as many of the oil wells that they originally hoped to capture as possible. I can tell you this because I saw it happen. The road to freedom led directly through the, “Valley of death,” as we called the main axis of approach from Iraq to Kuwait.

Gulf War Era II vets, whose median age is 29, are seeing more combat and experiencing more injuries over a much longer period. Era II vets seem to resemble Vietnam Era vets more and more every day. Battle stress and fatigue, family separation issues and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are taking their toll on these heroes. 30% of these vets have serious service-connected disabilities vs. 25% of the Gulf War Era I vets.

Sometimes today’s veterans like to remain somewhat in the shadows, not draw attention to themselves and just minimize their veteran status or identity. I think that this happens for several reasons. First, we are taught as military members that the collective win and praise is far more important than individual recognition. Another reason for veterans not seeking the spotlight that I will cite to you today is that veterans take different amounts of time to process what has happened to them in repeated combat deployment, family separations, financial crises and challenges, etc. They can go quiet during this processing stage.


We need to do everything that we can to help Era II vets reintegrate back into their communities. They fought to preserve our freedom. In the words of former Texas Attorney General John Ben Shepperd:

Freedom is old, not young, yet it is born anew in the first cry of an

American son or daughter;

It is not a living thing, yet it dies if we do not love it;

It is not weak, yet it must be defended;

It is light, yet it weighs heavy on those who are without it;

It is without price, yet it dearly costs the one who sells it;

It is not small, but great; yet once lost, it is never, never found again.

Yes, to be born free is an accident;
To live free is a responsibility;
But to die free is an obligation.

Author: Dr. Robert Brescia is a U.S. Army veteran, having served the nation for 27 years as a soldier, NCO, and commissioned officer. He loves helping other veterans when he can. His latest book is Destination Greatness – Creating a New Americanism. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. Please contact him at [email protected].

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