A little more than ten years ago, I stood in a room with a small crowd of people as all raised our right hand and recited our Oath of Enlistment for the first time. We were all there for different reasons. Some wanted to defend their country, some wanted to see the world, some were just there out of desperation. I always used to say that I ended up in the Army because I stood in the wrong line at the mall. But from that moment on, we swore to put the welfare of the United States before our own and we became a part of something together.
What I’ve discovered over the past couple of years that I’ve attended Case Western Reserve University and other schools is that the people I stood in that room with on that Saturday and those I share classrooms with now are really pretty similar. Young. Loyal to their friends and organizations, focused on the future. Both groups even deal with similar struggles every day, like watching Netflix until 2 in the morning and then trying to struggle through eight hours of PowerPoint training, or faking your way through a lecture only to realize that the lab portion actually requires that you know what you’re doing. Except in the military, no one’s allowed to sleep through class, and the application of theory can be life or death. Military veterans of the latest conflicts are volunteers. They signed up for the chance to serve their country, in whatever capacity they were asked to do so.
In the course of my eight years of service, I met some amazing people. I saw first-hand the incredible bravery and courage of those around me and was continually humbled by those who chose to serve and who became my brothers and sisters. I also saw those who had first joined for the free college tuition, grow to become individuals with a passion for the country and a deeper understanding of the sacrifices necessary to maintain the American way of life. The military forces you to value the members of your team above yourself. For many of us, it was the first time we were able to be a part of something that mattered. It was an amazing experience, but also an experience which makes it difficult to adjust to normal life. Two of those I met in my first iteration of training didn’t come home after their first deployment, and two more came home with mental scars which resulted in suicide.
Although I see lots of similarities between those four soldiers and the hundreds of students I’ve met here at CWRU, it’s hard to imagine that, given just a slight tweak in circumstances or preferences, the girl sitting next to me in SAGES could just as easily have been one of 2,467 service members between the ages of 18 and 22 who were killed in conflict in the past 13 years. Or one of the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day.We joke about all of our majors just being “pre-unemployment,” but the unemployment rate for ‘Gulf-War II’ veterans is 9 percent, compared with the 6 percent experienced by non-veterans. The unemployment rate for veterans between the ages 25 and 34 was 9.1 percent.
Military veterans face significant challenges that many traditional students will never have to face. And whether they signed the dotted line out of courage, patriotism or desperation, these individuals served their countries with full knowledge of these challenges.
Most of us know someone who has made this choice. Maybe it’s a family member or that Facebook friend who is always spamming your news feed with pictures of themselves decked out in camouflage or crisp dress uniforms. Take the time to reach out to them in honor of Veteran’s Day next Tuesday. It may not seem like much to you, but for those who feel left behind by their peers or by institutions that expect them to ignore any selfish impulse, the appreciation goes a long way. Not everyone who served had to rise against spectacular odds or struggle to live through another day, but we’ve all chosen to put our destiny in the hands of the American people and serve in whatever way was determined to be necessary.
I’m glad that I chose to stand in that room ten years ago. I have few regrets about my time in service and am grateful for the opportunities I received. But the aspect of service that I’ve come to value most was the community. I will never forget those I served with or stop mourning the loss of my brothers. Please join me in remembering these individuals and all of our veterans this week.