By Paul D. Mooney
These days, with the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan having wound down and those same wars only just beginning to wind back up again, we veterans are more plentiful than we have been in decades.
Yes, not since the end of the draft has our fine country been so wildly overrun with hordes of my lovable brethren frolicking through bars, nitpicking tiny uniform inaccuracies in Hollywood films, and posting memes that most people don't understand all over social media.
For the most part we're pretty easy to spot. What with the wide variety of spiffy "Veteran" baseball caps they sell out front of the VA hospital and the increasingly widespread wearing of lapel pins that has always seemed kinda goofy to me, but whatever. But sometimes it can be a bit more difficult to pick one of us out of the crowd. Like, say, after we've lost our Marine Corps lapel pin after getting blackout drunk at a post-Veterans Day parade party. For example.
So here are a few of the more subtle indicators that you've found a vet in the wild:
On the whole, we're a pretty loud bunch. It's not just yelling (which we're great at), but we just tend to generally speak louder than the average person. We can't help it; we're trained to raise our voices to get our points across, give commands, and express displeasure over getting stuck with the veggie omelet MRE. Also there's probably some hearing loss involved. Guns are loud. Super loud. Like, "bunch of drunken, yelling veterans" loud.
2) The Hair
Does the person (or persons) you're wondering about have a crazy, shaggy, homeless guy beard but a surprisingly crisp, short haircut? Then there's a good chance you've got a veteran on your hands. We love our post-service beards, but we don't really know how to deal with the hair on top of our heads. After all, we've been told exactly how it needs to be cut once a week ad infinitum, so we tend to just stay the course up there.
3) Pack Behavior
Much like wolves or capybaras, veterans tend to move about in packs. Camaraderie is almost always the one thing vets miss most after leaving the service (often tied with the MK-19 and constant access to diesel fumes), so we tend to congregate once we join the civilian world. Whether out hitting the bars, furthering our education, drumming on buckets for change in the bus station or napping on a cold winter's morn, we can usually be found in groups. So chances are if you see a flock of folks exhibiting at least a few of these other traits, they're veterans. Or capybaras.
4) Laughing at Horror
If, in the course of your public eavesdropping, you hear a story end with a shocking twist that chills you to the core but is followed shortly by peals of raucous laughter, chances are you've identified a veteran. Sure, you may be weeping empathetic tears over that poor man who accidentally shot himself in the behind, but those guys or gals laughing uncontrollable over it probably served. Or they're just monstrous human beings.
5) We'll Tell You
If you're not completely sure whether or not you've spotted a veteran, just stare at them for a while. Eventually he or she will bring it up. Trust me, we're the type to let you know about our previous military training if we feel challenged/leered at. We're like vegans, but with punching.
Now that you've confirmed that you're dealing with a veteran, go ahead treat him, her, or them in whatever manner you wish. Laugh at our terrible stories. Buy us a beer or twelve. Agree with us that The Hurt Locker sucked. Punch us right back. After all, it is a free country. You're welcome.
You may be wondering why some of these telltale signs apply only to male veterans. That's because female vets are usually harder to spot in the wild. Something about the added difficulties they face in serving seems to cause them to carry themselves with more... whaddaya call it... dignity. Weird, right?
Tune in for my future article that tackles the appearance of veterans from the other side tentatively titled "Blending In: Get a Normal Haircut, You Schmuck."