There is only one qualification to earn the 'veteran' label

Many former service members think they need to see combat or deploy to earn the right to call themselves a veteran, and it's not true

By Sgt. Joseph Gunderson

I find it very sad when there are some veterans who say that they don’t feel like veterans - that they don’t feel as if they earned the title because of a lack of certain experiences, awards, or schools. I would like to come forward right now and explain why this entire idea is absolute bullshit.

First, and possibly the most detrimental of these make-believe qualifiers to “be a veteran”, is the idea that the title is only bestowed upon someone that has endured the hardship of deployment or combat. I would like to say that this is not so. If this were truly a largely held belief, then there would be hundreds or thousands of men and women that have honorably worn a uniform and served that would not be considered veterans. Combat is its very own beast.

There are periods of our nation’s history where there was no war for decades, but we still had to maintain a readily available force in order to defend ourselves and deter our enemies. These men and women are just as much veterans as the gruff Marine who has done five tours to the sandbox.

It is not someone’s personal choice that prevents him or her from experiencing the horrors of combat (although for some, they have had the choice and power to stay away from the ordeal). This is dictated by higher commands, ordered to be done by certain units at certain times, and for the young Soldier, Marine, Seaman, Airman, or Coastie, it is pretty much a luck of the draw and out of their control. I don’t know of a single branch manager that would give a crap about some lowly private requesting a particular assignment. Sorry kid, but the needs of that 16-year Sergeant First Class are way higher on the list of priorities.

Second, the idea that a lack of awards or professional recognition somehow makes you less deserving of the title of veteran. I often hear this come from friends of mine that happen to bring awards up in conversation; it doesn’t happen often, but it has happened. Namely with a close friend of mine that served in the Army Reserves. Not only did he never deploy, which of course makes him not claim his veteran status, but he also has remarked that even if he does allow himself to be a veteran, that he is somehow lesser than those of us who have a little more color on our chests. I say that this is possibly even more ridiculous than the combat crap.

Awards are a great way to tell where someone has been, what they have done, and where they stand in a kind of hierarchy when it comes to peer groups. They are a resume that can be worn on your uniform and nothing more. I can tell how far someone is in their professional development as an NCO by seeing how many Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbons someone has. I can use the information gathered by seeing someone’s campaign medals and overseas service ribbons to see how many times they have been to combat and perhaps if they have served in Germany. I had a friend that had a star on his Airborne Wings; he had participated in one of the only combat jumps into Iraq in the past decade or so. None of these make someone more qualified to be a veteran though. These are just things they have done since they came in; stories that they can tell other veterans while they sit at the VFW and tell their war stories. That is all.

Lastly, “I’m not a real veteran if I didn’t do something ‘cool’.” This one is what leads those poor, underappreciated kids to don their old ACUs, go grab some badges from the local army surplus store, and parade around telling everyone that they were Ranger SEAL Snipers. Everyone is a veteran who served in the U.S. military - not just special forces... it takes all types.

The military does not work without us all. A scout cannot use his M3A3 if the mechanics don’t fix it every time it breaks. The radios in my truck don’t work properly when I try to call for fire if the comm guys aren’t there to make sure retrains works and that the fill is properly encoded. That combat outpost will go black on water, food, ammunition, and fuel if the 88Ms don’t come rolling through every few days with LogPac. Not everyone can be the super cool Delta Force Operator, but everyone can play a small role in a very large picture. The machine fails if one portion of it fails. Everyone needs to remember that.

If you raised your right hand and took the oath, laced up your boots and put on your uniform. If you did two years and ETS’d or retired with 20 plus. If you were injured or broken somehow and received a medical discharge. If your DD214 says anything other than “Dishonorable” in block 24, you, my friend, are a veteran. You are my brother, my friend, and my family, and I don’t care what any other moron has to say about it.