"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Combat Veterans versus Non-Combat Veterans

with 13 comments

From a comment on a CTV story (http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/Canada/20111105/veterans-hold-protests-over-budget-cuts-111105/#ixzz1cqr6XP9g)

We need to distinguish between COMBAT VETERANS and NONCOMBAT VETERANS (career desk jockeys and others who may have served in the military but faced no more peril than bad coffee). I fully support doing everything and anything for our combat veterans, especially those suffering grievous psychological and physical incapacitation. However, the ones that fall into the category of NONCOMBAT VETERAN deserve nothing more than any anyone else. Sorry, but lots of people outside the military suffer far worse than this. Stop thinking of everyone in the military as a war hero because the honour of that title belongs to a very small percentage.

and a second one:

Give your head a shake. Canada has an all volunteer force. That means nobody is “asked” to serve their country. You have to want to. And no, a veteran is not a veteran is not a veteran. You mean to tell me some guy who loses a leg to an IED is the same as some lifer DND-HQ person who ordered office supplies? Give me a break. All veterans are certainly not the same. For most the military is a job, nothing more. For a handful it’s a life altering event. For those who have sacrificed their lives or their health and well being, our undying gratitude and our unending financial support. For the rest, you’re no different than a retiring plumber or a retiring postie or a retiring garbage man. As Canadians we all do our part to make this country a better place, some in uniform and some without. A NON COMBAT veteran deserves nothing more than their pension and a pat on the back. Sorry, but did you volunteer for the perks or did you volunteer for your country?

(ed note: it isn’t the clerks in NDHQ that are the ones claiming VAC benefits for serious injuries.)

It is hard to describe how angry such comments make me, even though they are borne entirely of ignorance. Ignorance of history, the place of the military in a first-world democracy, and of the law.

It also makes me think of past comadres who are now dead because of their military service, Rich Corver (who we called ‘Opie’) who died on a night mission in Inuvik…Hollis Tucker (who we called ‘Tuck’) who died on a day mission off Vancouver Island. When I compare those two (and several others whose memory I hold dear) to another comrade, Geoff Parker, killed by an IED in Afghanistan, I have no difficulty in seeing a great equality in their sacrifice…and I have no doubt that Geoff, Opie and Tuck would all agree with me.

The whole idea of somehow dividing those who die in combat with those who die in training is completely foreign to the entire ethos of the soldier. We look on those who have seen combat with great respect (and more than a little envy). You don’t spend decades of your life training for something, to not have a bit of envy at someone who has undergone the test of war and survived. Indeed, the soldier does not lust for combat, while at the same time knowing that there is no better test of his or her craft than the fog of war. In that test there is only one question of import – did I do my duty? did I let my buds down? That duty applies in non-combat and combat situations. In fact, a serious military always operates as if it is in combat – training like they will fight.

Ignorant of the law, because the soldier can’t be easily equated to other civilian professions (see my comments on police below). The police come as the closest fit, but to suggest that a soldier injured out of combat is on the same ground as a miner injured in a mine collapse displays complete ignorance of the law. First, all workers in a province fall under Occupational Health and Safety legislation, Employment Standards and Workers’ Compensation Legislation…except for the soldiers. There is no OH&S that covers a soldier. That means no stop work orders, no OH&S officers inspecting job sites, and no ability to refuse to follow a lawful order – even if that order means your death. I’m also very familiar with Veterans Affairs benefits and the WCB system, intimately with both of them in fact. There are aspects of VAC that are better, but the WCB system provides more benefits, more medical aid and more rehabilitation support more quickly and more directly than VAC. You’ll have to take my word on that, but as I’m a VAC client myself…and have at this point reviewed over 400 WCB files in fine detail, I’m pretty confident about that assessment. {and the biggest point I missed: no soldier is an employee, unlike every other job referred to in those ignorant comments}

It is also ignorant of the work of a soldier. One of my young technicians almost lost his thumb while working…early, early morning hooking up a weapons trailer to tow live missiles to load the NORAD alert aircraft for a possible real-world scramble. What we used to call DCO = defence of Canada ops, and something we did many more of after 911. I would be hard pressed to call any of the people I worked with “desk jockeys”, as they were exposed to real risk on a daily basis, and risk in excess of that faced by most civilians, even in non-combat.

Have you ever seen a live fire mission in training? Those shells will kill you no less dead than shots fired in combat. Have you ever flown at 100 ft AGL at 350 knots on a strike mission in training? Have you ever shaped a brick of C4 or DM-12 to destroy 500lb GP bombs which fell and went dud after a training drop (after having to dig them out of the muskeg with a front-end loader)? There aren’t many plumbers facing unexploded munitions, neither are there many carpenters firing CRV-7 rockets in a steep dive from a fighter aircraft. That is all ‘non-combat’ work.

The list goes on, and I can think of a 100 other things that distingush the risk faced by a soldier, in peace, that make most workplace hazards pale by comparison. Are there dangerous civilian jobs? Yup, and they’re surrounded by legislation that provides protection and regulation (including the role of unions), all of which is denied the soldier even when he is performing work identical to that of a civilian counterpart.

Ignorant of the place of the military, because of the unlimited liability to serve that comes with the vocation of arms. There is no other vocation that asks its followers to die if required by the mission. None. This includes the police and firefighters and EMS, who regularly expose themselves to risk, but cannot be ordered to do so. That unlimited liability is the defining characteristic of the profession of arms, and it is the reason why the only person who can call another ‘civilian’ is a soldier (when I regularly hear police refer to the population as ‘civilians’ I have to point out that the police are necessarily civilians as well…much of the abuse of the law at the hands of police, I am convinced, can be traced back to that category error in their status in a free society). I regularly have people argue this point – but if you haven’t been a student of history, and haven’t read up on the ethos of the soldier, don’t bother objecting because you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Ignorant of history. How many of the WW II veterans we honour actually served in combat? The reality of warfare is that most of the military force involved are in support roles not exposed to enemy fire, and least directly or frequently. Most of those we honour as veterans of past wars, who wear the same medals as their comrades who carried rifles, were never ‘combat’ veterans. Does this make any sense?

Finally, on the question of psychological injuries, I also have to disagree. A soldier who watches his buddies die in a training accident can be no less traumatized than one in combat. In some cases it is worse, because when you have an enemy to focus on it provides some degree of protection against those injuries. I’ve done things in my military service that are still heavy burdens I wrestle with today…and I never personally fired a shot in anger. Sometimes knowing that you’re deciding how to best kill several hundred people at once, and using your years of training and experience to do so, leaves a mark on you even if you never had to pull the trigger. Sometimes, the act of loading the rifle is enough.

So, I get quite heated when I read these comments, even as I know they are made in complete ignorance. The prime reason is that they tarnish the sacrifice of a handful of my friends and comrades who left behind barely enough to bury…and all while involved in ‘training’ far from any threat of enemy action. Can you imagine their young sons and daughters reading those ignorant comments and wondering about the death of their parent as a “non-combat” event. Yup, my reaction exactly.

And a follow-up post on this same topic.


Written by sameo416

November 5, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

13 Responses

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  1. I only made it through a paragraph before I realized how backwards your views are. Maybe it’s different up in Canada, but as a USA non-combat veteran, my life was in constant danger for well over 2 years, serving just shy of 3 years. There are multiple instances where I luckily made it out of the situation alive. I wore body armor in a foreign land for 365 days. I’m considered non-combat but after talking to multiple combat vets, some were actually in safer situations IN IRAQ than I ever was, never going to Iraq. But hey, think what you want, you bias, prejudice bastard. Hold those combat vets high up on a pedestal while you forget the other brothers and sisters and leave them behind. I meet non-combat vets every day with so much trauma from what they went through (yes people died), that you can barely get them to talk about it. Generally, it happens in an area that “isn’t at war” so even though there is risk, and people die, and bombs go off, and lives are in danger, the status of “combat veteran” is never awarded to these individuals. So they go on in the night, silently, treated like they accomplished nothing, as if they’re somehow worth LESS than the combat vet, often being misdiagnosed with things like Bi-Polar and ADHD due to their anger and constant racing mind. Same symptoms as PTSD. Unfortunately with all the real COMBAT vets around, nobody has time to treat these somehow less than par veterans.

    I for one am sick of pretending shit didn’t happen and for anybody who truly thinks their somehow better because of their combat status and for those who think non-combat vets consist of people who pulled desk duty and HQ duty…. F–K YOU! For real. You don’t know s–t about s–t and your ignorance will be your downfall. But what difference does it truly make. The more the WAR veterans are glorified, the more the silent hero’s off themselves in the night cause nobody cares, listens, or even wants them around. They just, aren’t worth a damn.

    I disagree and simply say F–K YOU to anybody who thinks they’re better than a non-combat vet. Doesn’t take combat to develop PTSD. It takes a life threatening event. Period.

    No you may not have my name.

    April 27, 2012 at 1:41 am

    • …and I made the first two paragraphs block quotations so they stand out better as not my thinking, but the commments I’m responding to.


      April 27, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    • my mos is 63k20,heavy equip.rpr. make it short,i was tdy to a 173 airborne group on lz uplift. my job,keep a generator and water pump wrking so that the guys have clean clothes and a shower with water from a pond.muddy water in monsoon ,didnt matter it served its purpose.With sometime sappers and occasional firefights on the perimeter we survived on a half mile by half mile shit hole. There were only 4 of us from different companies with different mos’s.We are not qualified combat vets because of being tdy’d. still trying to get ptsd and agent orange .We got combat pay but no fkn ribbon……am still there ….lzuplift….after 50 yrs.

      Jiga Dbull

      November 6, 2017 at 2:02 pm

  2. rofl I guess I should’ve read paragraph 3! Clearly non-combat vets have just as much anger as combat vets. I wouldn’t have spewed all that after the second paragraph if that wasn’t the case. rofl!

    Btw, yes, I know people who have even died in training. My drill sergeant was K.I.T. in a live fire that the military quotes as “perfectly safe”. It’s my affirmation that if you make it through basic, you have PTSD. That’s the point of basic. to traumatize, brainwash, and prepare the mind for the stressors of warfare. and anytime bullets are flying over your head, regardless of they may lead you to believe, your life is in much danger.

    the a--hole who posted last

    April 27, 2012 at 1:48 am

    • I left those two comments as is (except to edit out the profanity, as this is a ‘family-friendly’ site) because the poster makes my point perfectly…along with reflecting much more directly the kind of anger I feel at people who do not understand the distinction.

      The reason it makes me so angry is because I still feel responsible for my co-workers and the troops I commanded who were injured in ‘training’ or ‘non-combat’ activities. And to sum up my argument in one sentence: there is no such thing as ‘non-combat’ for the military, because every task is focused only on either combat or training for combat.

      (…and of course, I am a ‘non-combat’ veteran who was left permanently disabled by reason of a MVA while I was on duty…at a place and a time I would not have been but for that military duty)

      I also missed one of the main differences in the law…that a soldier can never sue his employer for negligence. So when the body armour is not up to the task, or an IED death or injury happens because there are no helicopters to fly the troops over the roadways, a soldier cannot use the legal protections in place for every other person who works in Canada. A soldier follows orders, even if those orders place then at much higher risk, or even if those orders will certainly result in their death.

      That’s the reason I continue to advocate for those ‘non-combat’ veterans, and particularly the injured veterans. There is a real danger that the citizenry will lose site of those, with the large number of combat injuries coming back from the sandbox.

      My November 11th talks this year are going to be focused on these other veterans.


      April 27, 2012 at 11:01 am

  3. Excellent write up. There is a lot here that is worth thinking about.

    I’ve often wondered about my status, if I’m able to call myself a veteran or not. Though I do claim the “status” of veteran, I am quick to point out that I never saw combat and am nothing special. I seek no privileges, free meals, assistance, discounts, ribbons or recognition but I do like to distinguish that yes I did serve and yes it was a combat MOS because I do see a difference between someone who never “served their country” and those who did volunteer to be the ones to do night jumps, kick in doors, be fired upon and kill people, if needed.


    May 16, 2015 at 5:51 am

    • Thanks Ron, I am in the same situation as you. My attitude has always been to look at the service as the marker of a veteran, which is the way it is treated in Canada. I lost a number of friends in training or domestic operations (back when the Soviets were regularly challenging our northern airspace). The suggestion that those deaths were somehow less noble or honourable because they weren’t overseas somewhere hot is silly. However, when people ask I am quick to point out that I didn’t serve in the sandbox. Most civilians, when I tell then I was medically released, assume it was because of Afghanistan.

      A veteran in my mind is someone who agreed to serve as ordered, up to offering their life if that was required by the mission. That’s the crucial decision that marks you apart from civilianhood. Any other approach means that my friends who died in training are somehow not veterans, and I can’t see that as being just.


      May 16, 2015 at 9:00 am

  4. If you were exposed to deadly munitions in a support role for the front lines, then, you were “Active Combat” qualified, regardless of the Military’s or anyone else’s opinion…. If you sat Stateside, and were never in an active combat support or front line role, then don’t ask me to call you a hero, because, simply put, you are NOT! (I could call the wife/children of “Active Combat” soldiers more of a hero than some desk jock in the military just to draw the paycheck)… If you joined for the job/money, screw you! If you joined to serve, then you would have made it to, at least, near the front lines…………… Period……… I know a guy that never served in ANY dangerous situation while he joined, and he joined admittedly, during peacetime, because there were no jobs in his hometown…. Just recently, 20+ years later, he had a large tattoo placed on his back reaching from shoulder to shoulder, and he was only in for 3.5 years never seeing ANY dangers.. Is he a hero, hell NO! And to top that off, recently the same guy, 20+ years later, went and got himself a military styled haircut and acted like he had “just got out”… lolol, OMG! You’ll see this jerk at any local bar, bragging about his “service”???? My father faced gun, torpedo, cannon, and rocket fire while supplying and delivering troops on most of the islands in the Pacific and earned over 5 bronze stars, he IS a Hero………….. So don’t call someone that simply found employment in the military a hero, because they are NOT! If you faced certain death dangers supporting or were deployed to “Active Direct Combat”, then I’ll proudly call you a war hero…

    John Stanford

    May 24, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    • I think my point was missed, and I love it when civilians dictate to a veteran how they should properly be treated. If you weren’t formed in that particular sub-culture you really don’t have any basis to speak about it. A relative who served helped, but to say that my daughter understands the military just because I served is nonsense.

      First point…I have never met a soldier comfortable with being called a hero. That word is foreign to a soldier, as I’ve already pointed out. I don’t ask that you call any veteran a hero, because they won’t like it. The cult of the hero is not the creation of soldiers. I’m not a hero, I’m a veteran. A bronze star or five doesn’t make you a hero…to a soldier valour decorations means you did your duty. Soldiers don’t ever use that word to describe themselves.

      As a side note, most of the people I’ve encountered who were decorated for valour were a bit embarrassed by it, and also carried more than a little guilt. I got a medal, but my buddies died. Why did I survive and not them?

      Second…if you’re making these kinds of assertions you really don’t understand what the conditions of service are. There is enhanced danger in many military occupations that far surpasses the civil sector, even before someone starts shooting at you. Ever looked at how many people have been wounded or maimed by being driven over by tracked vehicles during night ops? Not something most civilians ever need worry about. I’ve flown at 600 knots 500 ft altitude in training, because you always train like you fight, and I’ve had friends die doing that type of training.

      Third…military is not “employment” in the civilian sense of that word. Most of the markers of employment are missing. Greatest is the ability to order someone into a task that leads to a risk of death. Every civil job, by law, has the ability to refuse to undertake such work (I’m writing this in Canada, I won’t claim knowledge of the US context). This includes police and firefighters.

      Fourth…pointing out a couple of jerks doesn’t prove the rule.

      Fifth…joined for the money? Are you kidding me? Most of my peers who got out are now making multiples of their military salary. I served with US exchange officers for many years and I know the pay stateside is even worse. Maybe we all joined because we liked giving up our weekends and months away from family to make a pittance?

      Sixth…making it to the front lines is not a question of desire. Much of it is timing and luck. 70,000 some soldiers in the Canadian military and 25,000 some served in Afghanistan. Some of those were repeat tours. I knew lots of people who wanted to go but couldn’t get a spot. I went through work ups for two combat deployments to within weeks of leaving, only to have them cancelled.

      Final point…there are ‘combat’ domestic operations involving heightened risk. I’ve operated in the high arctic in such operations with live ammo and real-world missions. You don’t have to go overseas to be exposed to real ops, and I can assert this without even mentioning the navy. Two of my coworkers died in those domestic ops.

      It’s also risky to point to WW II as ‘the’ example of combat. Things are a lot different today, including a much lower risk of death or serious injury. The media made sure we knew the body count hourly, but compare those numbers to that 1940’s Pacific theatre. Even more dramatic, did you know more soldiers died in WW I from the flu than from enemy action? Does the fact that today’s soldier stands a much lower chance of dying make them somehow less of a veteran than Korea or WW I or II? That’s the logical extent of your argument.


      May 25, 2015 at 9:02 am

      • and this comment from retired soldier Paul Floyd, wounded in the battle for Ramadi…which nicely underlines my point. Soldiers don’t join to fight, they join to serve, where ever and on what ever mission their nation calls them to serve. Sometimes that’s tamping plastic explosive in a hole on a training exercise in the mountains…sometimes that’s working as a pay clerk in a safer rear area in Afghanistan…sometimes that’s returning fire under contact.

        If service in an operational area is the measure of soldierhood, as I’ve pointed out, the uniformed servers at Tim Horton’s at Khandahar airfield (who did come under some rocket fire in the earlier days) have more of a claim on veteranhood than I do, in spite of my 20 years in a different uniform.

        The partial fallacy is in how we tie the significance of a soldier’s last valiant action to the place where it happened. A soldier might die taking or defending a critical hill, for example, but they do not lay down their life just for the hill. No one joins the military to fight for a specific piece of terrain, city or inanimate object. We join to serve our country, which is accomplished by finishing the missions we are called upon to take. Viewing warfare as an extension of diplomacy by other means, soldiers are the ultimate executors of the national political will. A specific mission may well include the taking of a particular hill, but the soldier is not there for that specific piece of ground. They are there because the mission required them to be.


        May 25, 2015 at 9:26 am

  5. […] in England in 1942.  This story is particularly significant for me as it follows one of my past rants about the difference between combat and non-combat veterans.  Horncastle died during the war, but during training.  Is he less of a veteran than those killed […]

  6. Hows that V.A. Veterans health program working out for you .Non- combat veterans in my opinion are placed on the back burner all the time. In fact many veterans who don’t fall into the( in country combat group) shy away from the V.A. because of the way they are treated at V.A. Hospitals and by V.S.O personal . Some are reluctant to even sign in because society places the focus on combat and( in country vets) in general. I have personally seen this at my V.A. Primary care station . I have seen some of the V.A. paperwork ,you have too, with the wordings in questions, (combat Veteran or non-combat veteran) What the F—?. Did we not all fall off the bus in signal file and raise our hands high in defending this nation under an oath to allegiance to defend this nation . We all did. We all agreed that upon signing that pledge. We pledged to give our life if called upon to do so( a blank check). A lot of veterans are looked down upon by even there fellow solders as less then deserving of the recognition of there existence because of there non -combat status .Even draftees set there heads higher at the premise that they were forced into service as if compared to RA our volunteer service should be less recognized because we came in for a job. Bull Sh– for i would say as many that were drafted the R.A.s i would say not all but most wanted to serve there country and heeded a call to service by there hearts and pride for this great country . V.A. and Americans all STOP grading each other in past or present in placing solders in groups of sacrifice , yes all gave some and some gave more and some gave it all but gave we all did.Respect the cause and give the respect due to all who severed without pointing fingers and grouping a united front to defend this nation with honer to service to all veterans by a grateful nation under God .

    Robert A White

    February 12, 2016 at 6:20 am

  7. What an idiot. I may not have been In combat, but I in instructed hand to hand combat. And I would love to use those skills on this morons face. Sounds like a bitter man who the military wouldn’t accept. Said little pathetic man


    February 18, 2016 at 6:48 am

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