Friday, July 26, 2013

Even Heroes Get Bullied

Regardless of how some may attempt to distort perceptions and deny it, the majority of our nation's military service members are heroes. Those who have deployed to combat, served honorably under those nightmare conditions are even more so. Those who were physically injured or disfigured are even higher on the totem pole.

If you research many of their stories, you find inspiring stories of valor. Chris Kyle spoke (and wrote) of one of his SEAL buddies who lost his sight in a battle. If you read his tale, after being shot, the SEAL refused to be carried to the corpsmen (medical personnel), despite the fact it may have saved his sight. Choosing to walk, he further risked his life. But he did so in order to keep more SEALs in the fight. He did so in order to prevent other SEALs from exposing themselves, which would have increased their risk. Regardless of that SEAL's other acts of valor or bravery, this one alone makes him a hero.

Well, sometimes these heroes get bullied.

They get bullied by the increased bureaucracy in the Veterans' Administration. Care, benefits, and compensation are backlogged. Many times these delays aggravate the conditions, making them worse, and increasing the damage as well as the cost of the care.

They get bullied by those who use them as pawns to push their causes. There are several NPOs that claim to support wounded veterans. They keep most of the donated funds, using just enough for their purported cause to legally justify remaining as a viable charity organization.

They get bullied by those who spit on them and call them "baby-killer".

They get bullied by those who look at them as less than what they are -- heroes.

It's tough not to look. Having served in multiple combat tours, I admit I find it hard to not look. Seeing them is tough because I see what could have been. I see that I was lucky.

I also see my friends, brothers, and sisters that are no more. The injuries change people. Sometimes it is for the good. Sometimes it isn't. I know Soldiers who are lucky to not have died due to their injuries who are still serving. One is a US Army Ranger who lost a leg. He fought the system and returned to duty, as a Ranger, despite a prosthetic leg. I see him and the word "can't" becomes an excuse meaning "too lazy or scared to...".

I look at my friend Chris Edwards. Chris was blown-up and badly burned. It has been a few years since I last spoke with him. However, last I spoke to him, he was still on active duty, working long hours, as the leader I have always known. He adapted and changed. His motivation and determination were not just renewed, they were emboldened. Still, my brain gives a little short when I see pictures of how he looks now. It doesn't match "the Chris" I knew. Still, inside, he is much the same, just more, well, Chris.

They gave up parts of their body. But are not less of a man or woman. They are MORE. 

Not all can return to duty. That doesn't matter. What matters is that they have the drive to live. They have the drive to do. They have the drive to make the most out of the life they have. They plan to win the game with the hand they have been dealt. They go "all in".

Such a hero uses the same gym I do.

My wife should tell this story in her own words. This is her story as much as it is his.

I do not know the circumstances of what happened. I did not see the extent of his injuries. My wife went to the gym alone this morning. She relayed the tale when she got home.

Three over-grown boys were staring at this hero, whispering about him. The term "over-grown boys" refers to the fact they were biologically adult men, but socially immature. The hero was there, at the gym, getting fit and getting back to some aspect of "normalcy". Yet here were three bullies shining a spotlight of ridicule onto the man.

My wife had enough. A disabled veteran herself, my wife could stay silent no more. She walked up to the boys and told them off. She gave them a piece of her mind about the sacrifices, valor, and bravery of this young hero. Just the fact he was wounded as he was and still managed, despite the stares and ridicule to which he'd become accustomed, to walk into a public place and workout. My wife hit the boys with hard questions. "Did you serve? What have you done with your life? What have you been willing to sacrifice? This man here has already given more than any of you have the balls to risk. You owe him an apology and your eternal gratitude."

So, here's to another hero, who stands up to those who bully heroes. Here's to my wife.

Thank you.