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.