I have always personally struggled with Veteran’s Day. Unlike other veterans, I do not struggle with being thanked by strangers for my service. It is a small gesture, but any action of personal thanks for service sets a good example for others to follow. My struggle with Veteran’s Day has always been how to appreciate and understand the context of my own service.
My struggle stems from two truths.
The first truth is that no matter your experience, rank, position, unit, or branch of service, combat always exposes your weaknesses, flaws, and mistakes with the stark glare of reality. Everyone who experiences combat is found wanting in their performance. As veterans we always wish we could go back in time and have done this on that mission, been more aware or compassionate of a comrade suffering post-traumatic stress, or have done more to prepare our units before deployment.
The second truth is that as veterans we always mitigate, underestimate, and under-appreciate our own military service. We talk little of what we did in the service, our significant accomplishments, or the full depth of our contributions. We do not speak fully about what we did to accomplish our assigned missions, but also fail to tell the stories how we developed skills and leadership in those we led, improved processes to progress efficiency, and, most significantly, helped the citizens whose countries we were deployed in.
Veteran’s Day fully brought home the struggle for me between these two truths. My combat experience in Iraq gave me a greater appreciation of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam veterans. Once, when I praised a World War II veteran (my stepgrandfather) for his service as a bombardier flying in a B-24 bomber on incredible missions over Germany, he shocked me with the comment, “Well, you contributed so much, too!” I realized then that I needed to do more to appreciate my own service and contributions.
Every year on Veteran’s Day, I reconfirm a commitment that I made several years ago to abandon the tyranny of the “What If and If Only.” Yes, combat exposes mistakes, it does that to everyone. What I came to understand and to appreciate that even with mistakes, I still accomplished and achieved great things under incredibly challenging conditions.
I also look for every occasion and every instance where my military skills continue to make me a better person, husband, father, educator, and businessman. Finally, I communicate with everyone I can about how military service and its lessons make us better as people and as a nation.
On Veteran’s Day, veterans need to understand and appreciate that our military service and sacrifice have made us better. We need to tell that to ourselves and the country that service made us stronger and better people. We need to tell ourselves that our service was the first steppingstone to achieve even greater challenges ahead.
Chad Storlie is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces officer with 20-plus years of active and reserve service in infantry, special forces (green beret), and joint headquarters units. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab. He is currently a midlevel marketing executive and an adjunct lecturer of marketing at Creighton University. He has authored the books “Combat Leader to Corporate Leader” and “Battlefield to Business Success.” www.CombatToCorporate.com
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.