I have a lot to say, and much of it I shouldn’t, so what does make it out of my head often ends up in a blog.
Before the age of 22 I had graduated from Navy basic training, Nuclear Powers school, qualified submarines, trained in firearms (9mm, shotgun, M-14, and M-16), went on deployments, and separated from the military as a disabled veteran from a service-connected disability.
I am not a combat veteran. I was never deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere in that part of the globe.
In junior college I had taken a speech class as a requirement and one of our projects was to present an argumentative speech. I chose a topic that centered on I don’t know what else to call but deployment guilt.
I graduated from nuke school the weekend before 9/11/01 and, with good reason, was asked by all of my friends and family if I was deploying to the Middle East with the orders I had just received. After separating, whenever my veteran status came up in discussion I was posed the question if I had served in Iraq or Afghanistan. When sharing with them that I had not, and that I was on a special-ops submarine (aka sans battle group), their mood often changed, seeming disappointed that I was not a part of the military that was the focus of every media channel. I don’t remember the exact statistics of my speech, but I remember the proportion of it. Of all the service members of the United States Armed Forces, approximately a quarter of them deployed to Iraq and/or Afghanistan. For a fairly recent article with more credible sources, click here.
Now, I can’t blame the general public for inquiring about my location of deployment, and this is in no way a statement against those that did deploy to (or currently still are in) those locations—this is just the opinion of one veteran with one story. Contrary to the belief of a couple of my professors through college, I am not the singular spokesperson for the military, my experience is not indicative of everyone’s, and I am not making the decisions that send our troops over there.
I just occasionally feel like my time in service was negligible.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for some national commendation, a movie deal, or a free lunch, but with the recent events of seeing Ajax in Iraq at CSULB and attending the Vet Net Ally seminar for CSULB staff and faculty, the story of my own service has been fresh in my mind.
Aboard the (now decommissioned) USS Hyman G. Rickover(SSN-709), I lived and worked among men—only—no, really, there were no women on board, and many times, these are the guys that I want to go grab a beer with after work, watch football with, and talk about what’s going on with my family, my upcoming nuptials, and life in general. We were brothers, fathers, sons, boyfriends, uncles—we were shipmates. We were all very different, but because of our isolated world of the silent service, we all held a common bond. On liberty, you may have different interests and drink in different bars, but underway, in the waters that have absolutely no regard for your skin color, your age, your creed, or even what flag you fly in port—we knew what it meant to get a job done. We left our families, friends, homes, and everything we knew for weeks at a time to do a job that we all voluntarily signed up for. Yeah, sub duty is voluntary. Many other details are assigned, often with preference, but submarine duty is something you go out of your way to take part of.
For weeks there is no sunlight—just fluorescent, buzzing ballasts and maybe a personal incandescent lamp. There are no windows, and fresh air is determined by the efficiency of the fan room. You smell of carbon dust, lube oil, and tin cans. After two weeks, your crew has already gone through all the fresh vegetables and fruit and you’re back to canned tomatoes, breaded chicken patties, and what resembles scrambled eggs. Emails were few and far between, and even then it’s extremely limited, and it’s probably mission-related. Television was limited to whatever movie the crew’s mess voted on after each meal, and if you’re lucky, you can stay awake for a couple games of spades or maybe a jam session or two with the guy that brought his guitar (or bought a violin “just because” in Norway).
There is no sand, incoming fire, or 120 degree heat (unless the fans go out back aft). There are no 70lb rucksacks, IEDs, or fear of snipers. CNN isn’t sending any reporters to talk to us, and there aren’t any photojournalists scurrying around hoping to shoot the cover of TIME magazine.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging, or if I said there weren’t many times I just “wanted to go home.” Likewise if I told you I loved eating those unidentifiable meals or hot racking. I will say that those weeks and weeks underway, and those days I stopped in my tracks on base to observe morning or evening colors are missed more often than not, and that joining the military right out of high school (or technically, while I was still in high school) was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
I did what I signed up to do, most of it completely unplanned and usually by orders of people I had never met, but the intangibles that have stayed with me years after my last LES have continually reaffirmed that I learned what I should have and that my status as a veteran is hard-earned—combat veteran or not.
Fortunately, I’ll never truly know what those men and women experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to be honest, had I not been medically discharged, I probably would have tried to go back into the military at different times in the last eight years.
This “deployment guilt” I write about is no result of your actions—it’s from within my own mind as a result of my own environment and I see myself, and as blogs would have it, writing it out has produced another clear realization for myself—every veteran has a very distinctive story, and no person, organization, channel, or medium can diminish that. It is what it is for yourself, and my only hope is that it benefits you in the long run no matter where your story took you.