It’s funny how time takes us as innocent, doughy, moldable beings, kicks the shit out of us time and time again, ultimately transforming our brains into something else altogether. “A perspective shift” I guess they call it.
I’m a veteran. It’s something that I’m rather ambivalent about now because all I did was volunteer, took an oath, trained, did all that was asked (or demanded) of me…did my time, and then left that life to raise my girls. I resigned my commission just before September 11th happened, and so my military service was basically a peacetime service period – nothing like military service is now and nothing like it was long before my time.
Maybe that means I’m lucky. I don’t really know what it means anymore because compared to so many others, I had it easy. Actually, I get a little embarrassed that my status of “veteran” is equivalent to Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Lineman Alejandro Villanueva: 4 time tourist of Afghanistan, Army Ranger, your basic hero. Right. His service is eons more “veteran” than mine. But we are both “veterans” nonetheless.
So, instead of thinking so much about what I did and didn’t do or get to do while serving in the Army, I focus instead on what my service to this country brought into my life. Obviously, I had great experiences, met some incredible people, made profound bonds, learned so much more and widened my view of life and the world, challenged myself beyond what I thought I could ever do, grew up, saw new places…all because of the Army. But the biggest thing that the Army brought me was my husband. And therefore it brought me my life, my family, my everything.
Eric and I were both junior grade officers serving in different units at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and we met on a blind date at a Denny’s for lunch one day. Both wearing utility uniforms, I remember hoping he wouldn’t think I was fat because the BDU is the most unflattering uniform for a woman of my height and build. He later told me that he knew I wasn’t fat because of the size of my wrists. So, yes, he was looking, trying to figure out what I had going on underneath.
We ended up on a two hour lunch break that day and a day long date to Washington DC the next day. Later, a four hour phone conversation where he would be throwing a tennis ball to his little dachshund named General, the entire time, General running up and down the hallway of his town home. That dog and that town home would eventually become mine, too. His life, my life. And on it goes.
Without being a veteran, there would be no “this is us” for us. There would be no Ally. And really, what kind of a shitty world would it be without her in it? Abby wouldn’t be the same person she is today. There would probably be no Stretch and Slinky. There would be no lifetime of memories stored up in the folds of my heart and mind and deepest pores. There would be none of that. I don’t know what would’ve been in its place, either.
If I was invited to speak to students in a school, and someone asked, “what does being a veteran mean to you?”…. I think now I’d say that being a veteran means that choosing to serve my country brought to me more than I ever brought to it.
Serving my country brought me my family, my life.
So, therefore, it brought me everything.
Want to make a difference for some worthy veterans this Veteran’s Day? How about a donation to The Eric DeJong Memorial Fund at the Gary Sinise Foundation. This fund provides smart adaptable homes to severely wounded veterans.
Thanks to all the real veterans out there who did a hell of a lot more than I ever had to. You know who you are. Thanks for reading.