"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Veteran – combat or non-combat?

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I’ve always argued that the combat/non-combat debate around the title ‘veteran’ is inane. I believe this is a discussion mostly promoted by people who don’t understand military service…although I have become aware of a minority of ex-military who did a combat tour who are very jealous in guarding their ‘war vet’ status. I’ve also heard stories of Afghan veterans being told by WW II vets in the local Legion that they weren’t ‘real’ vets.

Those who feel the need to exalt themselves by claiming titles that you prohibit others from holding, I think you’ve really lost the way of the soldier. From the first days I was in uniform I was taught about the humility of the warrior, that those who had done the most often would say they had done the least.

My great-uncle, Lloyd Cummings, who won the MM for valour in the Scheldt Estuary campaign of WW II, when interviewed said he had done nothing special, and that it was ‘his boys’ who deserved all the credit. I’ve met many true heroes, who looked into the eye of the fire and emerged victorious. To a man (and woman) they are dismissive of what great things they have accomplished.

The reason for the deep humility is the understanding that any soldier could have been asked to stand in the shoes you filled. Also that many other soldiers had done even greater things, but had never been recognized or observed for those deeds.

How many ‘unknown soldiers of the Great War’ lie in Flander’s Fields have great heroism behind them, but will never be known because their entire section was wiped out shortly afterwards?

The one thing that links all soldiers together as brothers and sisters in the profession of arms is that unlimited liability to serve. The commitment to give up one’s life if required in pursuit of duty. This is why the highest compliment one can pay a soldier is not a medal, but to say, “You did your duty.”

I find any suggestion that the seven pilots I knew on Squadron who died in safe, peacetime training were not veterans because their death was in Alberta is highly offensive. A soldier trains like they fight. Each exercise is treated like the real thing…if it’s not, that person is not being true to the creed of the warrior. A death in training, is no less honoured than a death in combat.

Now I’ve seen a wonderful article about this exact topic, and written by a civilian journalist, but one who clearly gets the ethos of the soldier. His point – you can’t parse soldiers into different groups. All those who enable a rifleman to walk patrol share in that mission, even while they may be safe behind the wire (or back in Canada). As a fighter maintenance engineer, I knew all too well that my ability to do my job in a combat unit was dependent upon 1,000’s of others throughout Canada. To say that the supply clerk in the depot in Montreal was somehow not a ‘real’ veteran because they weren’t on the pointy end is ludicrous. (this is a copy of that article saved in case the link breaks)

Sure, there are people in uniform who are not worthy to call themselves warriors.  I’ve run into those here and there who sought to get every medal they could without ever having to work a day of overtime.  But, the vast majority of soldiers I served with over 20 years in uniform were dedicated, professional and willing to do whatever it took to get the mission accomplished including pushing their own needs aside.

As a final word, because the journalist mentions this, Cold War warriors bore their own burdens.  I trained for years to operate in an NBCD environment (nuclear, biological, chemical).  As a leader I learned that my job was to fight the war of attrition, sending people out to load and repair aircraft knowing that I would lose a certain percentage each time…there is no second chances with nerve agents, and ionizing radiation eats you up even in controlled doses.  I explained this to one of my more technical co-workers on a long trip up to the PLER in Alberta.  Never having served on a fighting unit, he said with shock, “How do you sleep at night?”  Yet I count him as a veteran because of his willingness to serve.

Those Cold War days have left scars on my soul that still trouble me.  That’s without even bringing up the post-911 things that I still can’t speak about in public.  If you wore the uniform, you are a veteran…and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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Written by sameo416

February 10, 2014 at 7:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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