The Soldier’s Load

In his life he had air and winds, sun and light, open spaces and a great emptiness.             – T.E. Lawrence

It is with humility and some reluctance that I begin this web log to address the challenges faced by our nation’s military veterans as they attempt to reintegrate into civil society.

I am humbled because my knowledge of the subject is bounded by the limits of my education and experience; there are some veterans that undoubtedly have a greater depth and breadth of both and are therefore more qualified authors. In their absence I will do my best.

I am reluctant because the content of this blog will be true and therefore unvarnished, inglorious, and uncomfortable. War is a terrible condition and it stains its practitioners with the indelible ink of regret. I bear that stain daily and am in no rush to share it with the world. But perhaps it can do some good, if another veteran learns that the stain – if not the color – is universal.

It should be noted that as a former Marine I am aware that in the United States military, “soldier” is officially an Army moniker. I selected the term due to its popular and historical usage, where the reference is often to any member of the military service. I intend it in the same manner.

What is the Soldier’s Load?

1. The soldier’s load is physical hardship: encompassing every facet of service life from entry-level training to separation – but perhaps best represented by the overloaded infantryman’s stoic grunt as he leans forward to adjust the crushing weight of a pack. This is a burden that cannot be shared by the civilian, but it can be respected.

2. The soldier’s load is moral imperative: obedience to duty and the defense of one’s nation – perhaps best represented by the soldier’s oath of service and loyalty to his unit and colors. This is a burden that cannot be shared by the civilian, but it can be honored.

3. The soldier’s load is emotional baggage: the memories that condemn many old soldiers to a life of fear, bitterness, and alienation from a society that so often offers thanks without understanding and then abandons the veteran to the distant sound of the guns. This is a burden that the civilian can and must share, if we are to bridge the widening gap between civil and military experience in a free society.

The soldier’s load has been borne by the few for the many, but hardly in isolation: the consequences of that load have ripple effects throughout society. The physical, cognitive, and emotional scars of war are not just embedded in the minds and bodies of combat veterans; they are leached out into society through the morass of veteran unemployment, alcoholism, mental disease, homelessness and suicide. Lawrence’s “great emptiness” is the curse of the combat veteran, whose excruciating experience is by turn patronized or demonized – rarely memorialized – according to the whim of a Hollywood director or the thoughtless remark of a citizen.

Strengthening the fabric of our society by promoting civilian understanding of the soldier’s load is the primary purpose of this blog. Providing a forum for veterans’ issues is a secondary purpose.

Once shouldered, the Soldier’s Load is for life. We would do well to remember that fact when designing veteran policy or sending off our young to war.

About Nate

A 2003 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and former Marine infantry officer, Nate is the Chief Operating Officer of Hire Heroes USA, a nonprofit organization that helps veterans get jobs. He holds a Master's in Public Administration from the University of Georgia. Nate lives with his wife and dog in Alpharetta, Georgia.
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7 Responses to The Soldier’s Load

  1. Steve and Teresa Smith says:

    Very well-written and well thought out. Thanks for sharing with the world, brother, and using your experience and silver-tongue to benefit others – both military and civilian. Proud of you. Keep ’em coming.

  2. Casey Grim says:

    Nate,
    You’re an amazing writer and an even better human being. I’m excited for more posts, and thrilled with the opportunity to share these with my small (relatively) family of military members and civilian loved ones.

  3. Yasmine says:

    I look forward to reading more posts and commend you on taking this approach to use your personal not always pleasant experiences to impact the lives of others. Through your gracious and quolent words our “soliders” will hopefully find peace in knowing they are not alone. Thank you for your service and thank you to all that are currently serving.

  4. Sgt Nowak says:

    I hope that this will one day be called the first. I.E. the first public record of; Senator, representative, president, Smith. I mean, I would vote for you. However, politics doesn’t seem to be your game, maybe military or political advisor?

  5. Doug Smith says:

    Thank you, Nathan, for this blog and for the value that it has been and will continue to be to soldiers & to civilians (such as me) in understanding or at least getting a glimpse of the soldier’s load. I have read your first three blogs and agree that some of us civilians heap accolades upon the warriors of our country without understanding even a shred of the hardships of soldiering, no matter the duties or branch.

    And may we all remove our masks & live lives of conviction, integrity and courage.

    …a very proud and humbled dad

  6. My spouse and I stumbled over here from a different web
    page and thought I might check things out. I like what I see so now i am following you.

    Look forward to finding out about your web page for a second time.

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