A Veterans Day Message to My Friends
By Justin C. Cliburn
NOTE: This has nothing to do with fantasy football. It is merely the opinion of the author.
I don't know about you, but I have mixed feelings about Veterans Day. Being thanked for my service always feels awkward . . . almost fraudulent. I am a veteran, and I did serve in a combat role. But I feel like my service was meaningless. No one at home is any safer or more free because of my actions in Iraq in 2006. And it's hard to convince me anyone in Iraq was (or is) safer because of my service. So I shudder when I'm thanked for the time I spent in uniform . . . feeling like I just received an undeserved award and don't know how to politely return it.
I did serve though. And, no matter the short- or long-term effect it had on Americans and Iraqis, I risked my life every day in Iraq while wearing the U.S. Army uniform. Hence, the mixed feelings. But I know that these are all my own personal feelings, and it would be rude to unload all of them on an unsuspecting stranger just trying to do the right thing on Veterans Day. So I say thank you and move on, but the mixed feelings remain under the surface.
Those that know me from the 2006 deployment also know that I came home and joined Iraq Veterans Against the War. Many in our unit were unhappy with that. They told mutual friends I'd betrayed them for giving my personal opinion on the war. That hurt, but it did not stop me from using the First Amendment freedom we all swore to uphold. If I could do anything differently, it would be to choose my language more wisely back then. I think some of our guys perceived what I said as an indictment on my unit, my fellow soldiers, the Army, and our country. But it wasn't. It was an opinion on a policy and its effects. Of course, when I gave my opinions on the policies that made up the Iraq War, I was a young 20-something fresh out of the sandbox. I hadn't taken classes in communication, public relations, law, or journalism. I didn't think about all the ways my language could be interpreted before spouting off at the mouth. I didn't even own a thesaurus. I once said that we were subjugating Iraq. That wasn't accurate, and I earned a lot of criticism for that statement. But the hyperbole made sense in my head. If I could do it over again, I wouldn't have used that word. But that's because I'm now in my 30s with more life experience and more education . . . and a thesaurus.
I also wrote about the possibility of refusing to go back to Iraq. I wrote about maybe seeking a conscientious objector discharge. I considered both as my thoughts on the war weighed heavy on my conscience. The problem is that my life back then was a stream-of-consciousness journal routinely published online. So, even though I quickly dismissed the idea of refusing to deploy again, I was labeled a traitor by some. Others said I was a member of the female anatomy for seeking a conscientious objector discharge . . . even though I didn't. I researched it and ultimately decided I wasn't a conscientious objector. I was just a young, angry, confused, bitter soldier who should have been discussing his issues with a trained professional rather than posting them all online for the world to read and interpret on their own terms.
So that experience speaking against the war fuels the mixed emotions I have on Veterans Day. Personally, I still think the war was a disaster and my service helped no one. But I'm proud of my (our) service. I woke up each morning knowing it could be my last and still rode off the base standing out of the top of a humvee. I followed orders. I got shot at. I experienced IED blasts; Hell, we all did. I did my job the best I could. I protected my friends and comrades while treating everyone with the most humanity I could in the situation.
And that's what brings me to my message for all my fellow veterans of that 2006 mission.
You did, too. Just know that I know that. And I won't forget it.
No matter my opinion, your opinion, or anyone else's opinion of that war, we all did our jobs. We risked our lives every day because our country asked us to. Some of us did it because we thought it kept the country free. Others because of the adventure. Still others to provide a better future for their families. But, no matter the reason, you risked your life doing something that the vast majority of our citizens never will. Thank you. I am proud of my service. I am proud of your service, and I respect all of you more than you'll ever know. If I didn't, I wouldn't devote so much time to this website. To our oral history. To keeping in touch. To remembering our fallen friends.
However you feel about Veterans Day, I hope today is the best Veterans Day it can be for you . . . wherever you are now.