This post by Old NFO at Nobody Asked Me encapsulated it so well it actually made me tear up a little:
To understand a Military Veteran you must know:
We left home as teenagers or in our early twenties for an unknown adventure.
We loved our country enough to defend it and protect it with our own lives.
We said goodbye to friends and family and everything we knew.
We learned the basics and then we scattered in the wind to the far corners of the Earth.
We found new friends and new family.
There’s a lot more and it’s perfect. You may not get a sense of what military life is like from that list, but you’ll get a sense of how we feel about it.
One of the biggest culture shocks of moving from the military to civilian employment after I retired was the absence of the camaraderie that military units share.
Even in units with crappy leadership (yes, there are those) and even with fellow service members that we didn’t like personally, there was just a sense of brotherhood and unity. We always knew that, as a group, when the metal hit the meat, we had each other’s backs. When we had a problem, on duty or off, we could count on our shipmates and our command to help us work through it…even if that involved a bit of “tough love”.
In civilian life, that sense just isn’t there. The job is just that, a job. I live in a “right to work” state…a policy which, incidentally, I agree with…but that means the company doesn’t need a reason to fire anyone. If you piss off the boss bad enough, that’s it; pack up your stuff and get out. I actually work for a very good company that tries to take care of its employees, values our individuality and doesn’t get political at all. But that doesn’t mean they’d hesitate to fire me if I ever became a drag on the company or even got the point where they felt I wasn’t providing the value they’re paying my salary for.
I guess one way to describe it is this: During my Naval service, I held many different primary and secondary roles*. Some of them were related to my Rate (the actual job specialty for which I was trained), some of them not at all related. My career was as a Sailor; my particular work duties at any specific time were my job.
In the civilian world, it’s exactly the opposite. My career is what I do; who I do it for is my job. I can quit my job right now, take my skills and experience and apply them equally to any other employer with a need for my particular skillset. That doesn’t impact my career choice at all, just who I’m drawing a paycheck from.
I think that’s the distinction that’s so hard to describe to anyone who’s never been in the military. The Military career is just that; what particular job we’re doing at the time has nothing to do with the career, that’s just the job we’ve been assigned at the time. Do it to the best of your ability and your career will flourish.
Of course, that’s only a part of it. Part of it comes from the shared knowledge that our very lives depend on each other. I never served in combat per-se. I served in combat zones, but not against a nation with a Navy that could actually threaten our ships. No one was ever shooting at me; but the flight deck isn’t called the most dangerous four and a half acres in the world for nothing. Anyone who’s spent much time up there has seen people die and/or be maimed for life. There is simply too much going on in too crowded a space to have perfect situational awareness at all times. We rely on each other to watch our backs and keep us safe. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been grabbed and pulled out of harm’s way…or how many times I did the same for others. When you are depending on others to help you stay alive…well…that tends to create a bond even with people you don’t particularly care for on a personal level.
Some of it comes from the dedication it takes to work 12 to 14 hour days 7 days a week for months on end. To work for 72 hours straight to get a mission accomplished. To be on call 24/7/365. To miss holidays and birthdays and anniversaries. To be deployed away from home for half a year even during peacetime…much longer during war. To not know for sure that you’re going to make it back home in one piece…or at all…at the end of such a deployment.
By the way, when I retired, we were just beginning to get fairly consistent (if often delayed by up to 24 hours) e-mail delivery. For most of my career our only way to communicate with loved ones during deployment was with written letters and, during port visits, long distance phone calls.
I’m just sort of rambling so I’ll leave it at this: If you’ve never served in the military, it’s hard to grasp what it’s really all about. It’s not just a job, it’s a way of life that’s hard to describe in any meaningful terms.
To all my brothers and sisters in arms who’ve ever served, happy Veteran’s day. Be proud of your service…you’ve lived a life that most can not even imagine.
*When I was in the Navy, my official rate (job description) was Aviation Electronics Technician. My formal training was in repairing communication, navigation, fire control and other electronics systems onboard aircraft. Throughout my 21 year career, I did that primary job for years, primarily during the first half of my career, but also was called upon to do many other things: I worked in the security department as a Naval Police Officer and patrol supervisor; I worked as a formal classroom instructor; I worked as an Ordnance Quality Assurance Safety Officer (QASO) supervising the loading and arming of aviation ordnance; I worked as a final checker and QASO for launches and recoveries on the flight deck; I was full systems qualified meaning I could provide quality assurance inspections on every system on the aircraft from engines and gearboxes to hydraulics and airframes systems (and was the enlisted supervisor of the entire Quality Assurance division at the time); I worked in Maintenance Control managing maintenance and aircraft flight schedules and releasing aircraft as “safe for flight”. And those were just primary duties, we’d be here all day if I started going through all the collateral (secondary) duties I held. The point is that the military was the career, the job description was just in support of that career.