Proud to be a Gulf War veteran

Dressed in my blues, sometime in the Spring of 1991. Just after the swift conclusion of the first Gulf War.
Dressed in my blues, sometime in the Spring of 1991. Just after the swift conclusion of the first Gulf War.

It’s sad to admit, but I was almost going to leave out the “Gulf War” part of the title, because I didn’t want to trigger any negative responses. The word veteran is pretty easily used among my friends, and we say how proud we are of veterans. But “that damn war” is a different topic altogether.

Of course, no one blames the soldiers. They are the ones dying. And their families are the ones suffering for the loss of the youth and strength of their loved ones. As one friend reminded me, the ones who don’t die have a more difficult battle: coming home scarred. Missing limbs, unexplained ailments from the desert, gone wrong in the head. There is radiation poisoning from depleted uranium that gets passed down to their kids. There is traumatic brain injury.

This does not describe every veteran. Many odd vets are like me. I don’t have physical scars, yet I’m burdened with conflicts. I am proud to have served my country. Proud to have sacrificed some comfort and some personal freedom in order to be at the President’s beck and call to answer some future unknown summons and do the job I was trained to do. It’s a proud calling. It’s just that, among civilians and military both, my calling was support staff. I wasn’t in the battle. I worked in weather, ensuring that the aircraft could take off and land safely. A critical part of every operation is support staff…but support staff (in any possible meaning of the word) are rarely lauded as they deserve to be.

Out of frustration of the pressure of this social inadequacy, I and other members of my unit volunteered to be sent directly to the desert sands, at the onset of Operation Desert Shield in August of 1990. Our offers were rejected because our mission at that time was too important for us to be let go. We were in Alaska, and our mission was support of the Star Wars program (it has since been declassified, so I can tell you and I don’t have to take you out, heh heh).

But the thing that sticks with me is the idea that our image of ourselves: “defenders of the country,” prompted us to volunteer to be sent directly into battle, rather than stay safe in Alaska. Isn’t that curious?

Then there is the civilian side of it. I just came from years at a University: not the best place for solider support. People asked me how I could agree to become a soldier when it meant that I could have to kill others. People asked me how I could agree to support the Air Force when I believed that war didn’t solve problems. Didn’t I ask all these moral questions of myself before I joined?

Well, actually, no. I believe in my country. I had committed myself to the support of my nation, and committed myself to obeying orders as I was trained to do. I didn’t think about politics, or morals, or peace tactics vs. war tactics. It was simple and elegant: I wanted to give of myself to the country I loved and was proud of. I left it up to my superiors to decide what should be done with me.

I did not ask moral questions when I volunteered to join the Persian Gulf conflict. I was a member of the US armed forces. My country was at war. I saw myself as a warrior, and I felt impotent while stuck in Alaska observing weather for secret spy missions to Russia. The mindset is hard to explain unless you’ve felt it yourself.

McCormick & Schmick’s is a seafood restaurant that – at least locally – offered up free dinners to veterans last night. My partner and I went to sample the fare, but sampled more of the atmosphere than we were expecting. The place was jammed with members of the 187th Helicopter Company, Vietnam Vets and their spouses. I met a woman with the 187th group in the bathroom who was visiting from Texas. I asked if she was a veteran. “No, I’m with my husband-” she began. Then she said, “Yes. I am a veteran. I stayed home all by myself and raised 5 kids!” I saw her point. “You served your time,” I affirmed.

I am glad that our nation stands behind our soldiers now better than we did during the Vietnam War.

It feels like there is a persistent collective recollection of how we further injured returning Vietnam Vets by taking out our political frustration on them. Americans are careful not to do it openly anymore. But… I can see the confusion lingers with us still. While we do not spit on vets any more, many of us have unvented anger. Many Americans are frustrated about the war, and have no one else to engage with. Washington authority is this Wizard of Oz idea, mystical and powerful and unattainable. Returning vets ARE attainable, sitting in a University class for example.

My message here is getting to be about as convoluted as my feelings. But the final point I’ll come back to is this: aside from all the anxiety I feel about the war we are in that I don’t believe in, and aside from the strange sense of shame I feel for having been a soldier but not having been in a battle, and aside from the pure anger I feel about how our military is a perfect hegemonic weapon to keep the weak and poor down while buoying the strong and rich, I am proud to have served. I am proud to have been a solider who supported Desert Shield and Desert Storm. I love my country fiercely, and I have done something about it.

16 thoughts on “Proud to be a Gulf War veteran

  1. Wonderful post. I am also a veteran, though I never saw war time at all. Sometimes I feel embarrassed to even admit my vet status, as I did not give my all for my country. But at that time, I was willing to. I gave up my share of freedom, giving it to the military. Letting others dictate what I wore, where I lived, and who I could associate with. It was a terrific learning experience, though. If not for my time in the military, I wouldn’t be the pacifist I am now. Now days I don’t tell people I am a vet.

    1. Hello fellow veteran! It’s great to learn this about you. I’m also glad you read this post (I had to re-read; it’s been awhile) and got to share the feelings of someone else a bit embarrassed about her veteran status.

      But what you say is absolutely right: You were willing to go to war. That’s what you signed up for. You sacrificed a lot of your personal freedom to be available to defend your country. Just because you weren’t needed in battle at that time does not in any way minimize what you did for your country.

      Thank you, my friend.

  2. Reblogged this on Conscious Engagement and commented:

    I came across this old post and found that it still resonates with me. Written in 2007, this was a few weeks into my current employment with the Department of Veterans Affairs…so some of my perspectives here lack the education I have today. It is a good snapshot of how I was feeling eight years ago, just coming out of Brandeis University, and not connected to the military community at all, like I am now. Guilt for not having served in a combat zone continues to be a topic that comes up between myself and veteran friends.

  3. Even with my history and age, then 45, I called the Navy to volunteer for the Gulf War. They were projecting a lot of riverine and coastal salvage projects, and I figured, “I’m already ruint, better me than somebody who has her/his innocence to lose.” Because Crystal, survivor guilt is better than having gone halfway around the world to kill somebody for the wrong reasons. It’s your desire to serve that sets you apart. Cherish it, love it, be proud you’re one of the few. I salute you.

  4. Good post from long ago. 🙂 You are a vet anyway you look at it. I’m also in agreement with the woman who stayed home raising kids all alone. My mother did that and we kids were dragged all over the world and country leaving behind every friend we ever made. Leaving the military feels a lot like pulling the plug from the power source though. You are a unit and then all of a sudden, you have no support system. I sure understand how you feel about serving without combat. But you did serve and that’s a big deal. My dad was a 20 year vet and first husband did 3 during Vietnam. Dad in supply, husband in signal corp. A lot of those guys went home and sat on corners with a brown paper bag for years trying to get their heads on straight. They knew too much and couldn’t talk about it. Sorry I didn’t get her sooner. Hope you are doing well. How’s the college kid and the chickens?

    1. Marlene, you’ve had a lot of military experience from another perspective we don’t hear about as often as I would like to: the families who support servicemembers and vets. Support roles are some of the most powerful in the world, and I thank you for the sacrifices you made by being in a military family. We as a nation are still trying to figure out how to take care of our vets. We still fail, but we are getting better and we haven’t given up. That’s another thing to be proud of. 🙂

      The kid continues to make me happy with their reports from school. I think the growth and maturity is amazing. Not unexpected, but still so much delight for me to witness. I always knew Tara was going to be a strong force in the world, and now they are proving that I was right to think it.

      The chickens…. argh. What a saga. I think it’s going to have to be my next post. Those ladies are running amok through my little neighborhood and I fear their reputations will be ruined. *sigh*

      1. I’m sorry, I’m smiling here at the reference to the chickens. Do you have a good coop for them to keep them in safely? I think about them a lot. Our children will continue to surprise us forever. My daughter still surprises me at her age.
        I don’t talk about the years as a military dependent. It was a tough time as a daughter and a wife. There was some good as we were all family and when I went back to civilian life, that was harder. No family anymore. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  5. Crystal,

    Thank you for your service. That sounds so, so trite. But please accept my gratitude. I believe that people who join and serve in our military deserve so much more support than they receive from those of us who don’t have the military background.

    I don’t have standing to talk much about how you feel about your role in the Gulf War, but I am glad to know that you are proud of your engagement.

    I too was safe in Alaska during the Gulf War, although my dress blues weren’t quite as snazzy as yours. (Nice photo.)

    Bruce

    1. Thank you, Bruce. Personally, I don’t think there is a thing lacking when someone says “thank you for your service.” At least, I hope not, since I’ve gotten into the habit of saying it to total strangers when I can tell they are military. Your thanks mean a lot to me.

      Where in Alaska were you? I served out on the Aleutians in 1990-91, but I lived a short time on the Kenai peninsula, with my aunt and uncle outside of Soldotna. I’ve explored a few places, from Chugach State Park, down south to Whittier, Seward, and Homer.

  6. Thanks for sharing Crystal. I know what you mean about not asking those moral questions before you signed up. Most of my working years were spent with the British Ministry of Defence. I got used to not being able to talk about my work because of the Official Secrets Act but I was glad of it really. People misunderstand. They can’t see why a pacifist like me would want to work for the MoD, but the operative word for me was “defence”. I was glad to be useful to my country (which at the time was under constant threat of terrorism from the IRA by the way). Funny how life turns out.

    1. Oh Sarah, I am so glad to hear your personal story and I appreciate the chance to know we understand each other on another level. Your experience at MoD sounds very similar to my own. Thank you for that public service! “I was glad to be useful to my country.” Now that is exactly how I felt.

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