November 11th, 2019.

What a bittersweet day at my house and in my family. The sweet parts, today, my beautiful wife turned 30 for the 14th time, and my service to our country was celebrated.

The bitter? My oldest left for basic training in the Army, and my service to our country was celebrated. 

Let’s start with the former.

I have the privilege of being married to my wife for almost 24 years. We have 4 amazing kids, and even with all the ups and downs, we have had an amazing life together.

Today, we went to lunch to celebrate her birthday and Veteran’s Day. We are Texans. We like steak. So, we went to Texas Roadhouse because vets eat free there on Veteran’s Day. We got there at 1:30. It was a 35 minute wait.

I spoke to the manager while we were there. That particular Texas Road House was projecting to give away $40,000 in free food. They did a little over $4,000 in the first hour they were open. My heart was warmed seeing the room filled with veterans from numerous eras. There was a lot of selfless people in the room.

Throughout the day, I received texts, Instagram messages and face to face acknowldgements of my service. My favorite came when my wife, who was upset that another of our kids was leaving the nest, wrapped her arms around me and simply said, “Happy Veteran’s Day. Thank you!”

Now, let’s look at the latter.

My son left for the Army. He will be spending the next 16 weeks in One Station Unit Training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri as he begins his career as a Combat Engineer (12B). I am so excited for him to be a member of the greatest Army to ever exist. To feel that camaraderie, esprit de corps and sense of belonging, I want that for him.

For the very reasons I am excited for my son, I still feel moments of depression and lack of fulfillment. There are 3 dates every year that I struggle with those feelings more than the other 362.

July 2nd. September 17th. November 11th.

July 2nd was my End Tour of Service (ETS) date. After 8 years, 2 months and 24 days, I was medically separated from the Army due to injuries I sustained in the line of duty. That ETS date came in 2004. I have now been out of the Army for a little over 15 years.

September 17th was my Basic Active Service Date. This past September would have marked my 23rd year in the Army, had I not been separated. I often think about where I would be stationed right now and what my rank would be.

And today, November 11th.

So many times, throughout this day, I was thanked for my service. I was asked which branch I served in, what my MOS was and what my rank was when I got out.

“Where did you serve,” I have been asked.

I regurgitated the info like it had been scripted.  I was a 35J20 in the Army. I left as an Sergeant/E-5P (promotable). Basic training was at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Advanced Individual Training was at Fort Gordon, Georgia. I did Airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia. I then went to Korea for a year. I spent 2 years at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. After graduating form Primary Leadership Development Course and promoting to Sergeant, I re-enlisted for 6 more years, and went to Fort Polk, Louisiana for 2 ½ years. Finally, I did almost 2 years in a NATO assignment in Madrid, Spain.

And then I was medically separated.

That was the last time I had a sense of belonging at work. While I accomplished things, I didn’t feel the camaraderie, the esprit de corps. I didn’t feel like I was part of anything that mattered professionally. While I always felt I belonged at home, I didn’t feel the same at work or in the world.

So, every time someone thanks me for my service, as sincere as their thanks may be, I smile and say, “it was my pleasure.” That is my go-to response. It isn’t a fake statement. I do mean it. It was absolutely my pleasure. 

But here is what is in my heart and head that I don’t say out loud.

Thanks for the reminder that I no longer have the privilege of serving this great nation. Thanks for tearing off the scabs of the wounds the Army gave me, the same ones that led them to deem me incapable of continuing to serve.

I carry that knowledge with me daily. I am no longer bitter, but I do struggle with it from time to time.

I am a man of strong faith and conviction. I know that God had something else in store for me, but why? It took me years to come to grips with the fact that He wanted me somewhere else.

So, yes, I struggle with doubt, fear, depressive moments and feelings of not belonging. And days like today, I really wish people would stop thanking me. It is just too hard to be reminded with every new acknowledgement, that I was no longer capable of standing in that gap and fighting for those incapable of fighting.

But as I sat here this evening reflecting on this day and those feelings, something occurred to me.

I do still serve. I do still have a sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps.

I am just part of a different team now.

See, back in January of 2019, I joined the LET as a writer. The first few months, I only wrote a few pieces here and there. But those opportunities began to come more frequently. I am now writing all the time.

And here is the deal that makes it worth every late night I spend researching, typing and spell-checking.

Somewhere out there, someone reads one of our articles, and they reach out to us via email, Facebook or LinkedIn.

And they simply say:

“Thank you for saying what I wish I could, but can’t. For telling the truth that the mainstream media won’t tell.”

And it was this afternoon at the steakhouse when I realized all of this. I didn’t ask the manager how many free meals they were going to give away for fun.

I asked, because I knew that there are readers out there who would love to know that as veterans, there was at least one group that had their back, even of just for lunch or dinner. Someone took their time and gave their resources to say:

”We love you and support you. We have your back.” And it was an act of service.

That is when I realized…what I do on the pages of LET is my service. What I write, it matters to someone, even if just for the few minutes it takes them to read it.

Hopefully, as you read the things I write, you can feel that someone took their time and gave their resources to say, ”I love you and support you. I have your back.” And it is an act of service.

Happy Veteran’s Day to all of those who have served and continue to serve this great nation.

Thank you for serving your communities.

And thank you for letting me serve you in this small way.

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