“Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys. Look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death!” – Sun Tzu
As a married service-member, you have two families. You have your spouse and children at home, and you have your brothers- and sisters-in-arms. Each presents its own challenges, opportunities and blessings, and each teaches you about how to be a member of a family.
As a noncommissioned officer, you are charged with looking after the wellbeing of the service-members underneath you and preparing them for the things they will face in the future. In this way, as Sun Tzu noted in The Art of War, Soldiers are like your children. A good NCO will sacrifice to take care of his Soldiers, just as a good father will for his children.
At the same time, as many of us who are parents know, raising children can teach you things about yourself that you otherwise might not have learned. You learn patience of a saint and the steadfastness of the sun: both of which are prime qualities for a military leader.
There comes a time, though, when you have to withdraw from that uniformed family, which has been so central to your life for years upon years. This withdrawal is a significant loss, and just like losing any family member, it leaves a sort of hole in the life of the veteran.
Maybe that is what this journey is all about for me.
I am such a service-member. My name is Brian (or Sergeant to those in my Army family). But my time as a Soldier is coming to an end. Several years ago, I injured myself in a training accident. It didn’t seem too bad at the time, but like many things that are downplayed and overlooked, it made itself known more forcefully as time went on.
After years of pain management, many iterations of physical therapy, trying multiple medical pain remedies, and an ineffective surgery (to put it nicely), the Army has come to the conclusion that the knee is not going to get any better while I am in the service. A Medical Evaluation Board (a bunch of doctors who get together and make decisions about people like me) declared me unfit for service, and I am simply waiting for the process to run its course.
So that’s it. I’m out. I’ll be trading my fatigues for a shirt and tie within the next few months. And let me tell you, it’s scary as hell.
Now some service-members might put on a fearless façade. Some might present themselves in such a way that makes them loath to admit that things like this are scary to them. Things that are normal. Things that are commonplace for civilians. Things that most people who don’t wear uniforms are simply used to.
But I have a feeling that regardless of any façade, most of us (if not all of us) feel such fear. We can handle a lot, but, at least for me, I’d be lying if I said that uncertainty didn’t scare me: especially uncertainty that affects my family.
And that’s where the dad part comes in. Okay, it’s the husband part too, but my wife is wholly capable of taking care of herself. My children aren’t. And my children are much better off if they have their mother there to look after them. But if there is uncertainty regarding the future and wellbeing of my wife and children, then you better believe I’m anxious as hell.
I’m anxious because I’m used to the military. I’m used to a guaranteed place to live. I’m used to zero-premium health care. I’m used to knowing I’ll have a job. I’m used to a built-in support system. I’m used to being the sole-breadwinner.
I realize that this is all virtually military-exclusive and that the vast majority of Americans are on their own with things like this. That doesn’t change my fear and anxiety about the issue. And since I’m certain I’m not the only veteran with a family to feel this way.
These thoughts need to be expressed. Even if no other veteran or service-member reads and identifies with them, I need to express them. Call it my therapy. This Veteran Dad thing is my way of working through this transition process into a new life, and subsequently my reflections on the military, fatherhood, being a veteran and the environment in this nation today for veterans and their families.
So I welcome you to my site. I thank you for bearing with me through my wordy introduction. As I said, this is a therapeutic exercise for me, and those of you who read these posts (and maybe comment too) are my battle-buddies, wingmen and shipmates, and, believe me, absolutely invaluable to helping me transition. I thank you in advance, as a veteran and as a dad.
If you know anyone who can relate to my journey, please feel free to share what I’ve written. I know I’m not the only service-member scared by the journey of transition. I look forward to this journey, and I hope you’re willing to share it with me.