A year ago, I attended my first military event since I had left the military behind. Even though I had transitioned out of the military five years earlier I was still processing my loss of military service. And going to this event turned out to be an eye-opening experience.
Crucial in the healing process.
When one leaves the military behind, they lose a part of themselves. And you also lose the uniform you wear that distinguishes who you are. I had never attended a military event where I had to correct people that I was not only a military spouse but also a veteran. Before I left the military, I had never had to tell someone my rank, my job or what I had done. They could quickly look at my uniform and ribbons and know so much more about me than I even realized I was sharing.
Talking to each person I had the same realization, no one knew anything about me from just shaking my hand. More than likely they had already made assumptions about me and my military connection. I began to find bitterness feeling my body. I struggled to not get frustrated with continually having to correct people about my military service. I missed my uniform more those 3 days than I had missed it since I left.
And in my frustration, I felt myself isolating myself away from the veteran community as I was about to embark on a journey where I would begin sharing the stories of one key group of military veterans.
And I hoped military women would be encouraged by me taking this step of faith to share their stories and have women be center stage instead of lost and forgotten. But what this year has shown me the most is that even though my experience at the conference was different than my male collages, it also was the same.
My frustration almost led me to believe male veterans were the enemy and not an ally. And yes, I have had more than one occasion where I have solid evidence that my hypothesis was true. But the number of men who have stood beside me. Shared their experiences and listened to the challenges I have faced has taught me a valuable lesson.
All veterans are more alike than different.
Our gender might be different.
Our skin color may not be the same.
Our life choices or lifestyles might be drastically different.
But somehow our commitment to join the military has changed us and molded us into who we are today and our struggles are not different.
Instead, they are actually the same, just with minor shifts in words or actions. We might deal with our emotions in different ways and find it hard to relate. But we are all veterans. All transitioning from our military life to a civilian one.
And when we work together, we can make real change. It isn’t a battleground. It isn’t a place to compare in our struggle or gloat in our success. Instead the team mentality we learned while serving beside each other can and should continue as we go our separate ways and on to our “normal” life.
I’m heading back to that same conference I attended last year.
But my mindset has changed. I have learned we all have stereotypes and assumptions and even though people might not know about my service until I tell them. I know when they learn about my time in the military that the bond of military life can still exist. If only, I open myself up to the possibilities ahead.