I’m a veteran. I didn’t serve in combat, I wasn’t sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. I spent a total of about 3 months in a “combat zone”. I served from 1985 to 2006. I was in military intelligence.
I did not try and avoid going into combat. Indeed, I tried as hard as I could to get into a combat zone. During Desert Storm, I was at my Battalion Sergeant Major’s door just about every day asking if I could be sent to Southwest Asia. When my enlistment was up in 1991, I volunteered for Arabic language training because I knew there would be continued tensions and probable combat in the Middle East.
I then requested to be sent to the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) so I could have the biggest chance of deploying to a combat zone in the future. When 9/11 struck, I had already been transferred to a joint unified command (in 1999) with no chance of going to combat. When my time there ended, I received orders to go to Korea. I called my branch manager in D.C. (who makes assignment decisions) and asked why I was being sent to Korea when I was a German / Arabic linguist with a special operations identifier and a war going on in Afghanistan.
I requested to be sent back to the 5th SFG(A) or to Central Command (CENTCOM). But both were turned down because I had spent eight years stateside and had to serve an overseas tour. It didn’t matter that both units had already deployed to Afghanistan (and I knew it was just a matter of time before we were back in Iraq) and so were “overseas”. So they approved a request to transfer to Special Operations Command – Europe (SOCUER) in Germany. I thought I might have a chance to deploy from there to the Middle East. But that never happened either. Finally, after my tour in Germany ended in 2005, I requested to return to the 5th SFG(A). It was approved and I was to be there in July 2005. After speaking with them, I knew I would deploy to Iraq in August 2005. But sadly, this was not to be as well. When I arrived at Ft. Campbell, KY, I was diagnosed with 4 herniated disks and degenerative arthritis in my neck. The doctor told me I could not be on airborne status anymore and so 5th SFG(A) was going to try and transfer me out. I had received telephonic notification that I was going to be reassigned to Ft. Knox, KY to write intelligence doctrine for armored units (This was sheer stupidity. I had never been assigned to an armor unit and wouldn’t know the first thing about intelligence doctrine for armored units. I was not happy at all). At about the same time I received notification that I had made the promotion list to Master Sergeant. But I had already put in my retirement packet.
To this day, I feel less of a soldier because I did not serve in combat. The closest I got was going to Jordan for a month when it was labeled as a combat zone for some reason and to Kuwait in Oct – Nov 1995 when Saddam Hussein threatened to invade again. We arrived there 3 days prior to this in support of an ongoing operation in that theater. For those few days before two U.S. divisions came into Kuwait, we were the only combat unit in country.
There is little anyone can say to make me feel different about this. So don’t try. I am proud of my service, but I will never live down what could not be. I believe I contributed significantly with my service through intelligence assessments and such, but it doesn’t equal what others have done.
I have gone through stages of being a veteran I suppose. When I first retired, I wanted to stay as far away from the military as possible. I didn’t go on the nearby base except as needed and I I stayed out of contact with anyone in the military for the most part. That lasted about 5 years I suppose. But as time went on, I began to have dreams of being back in the Army and wanting to be back on base. It isn’t the misery I remember, it is the camaraderie and shared misery I remember – making the most out of the little you had when you were deployed.
I’ve never been ashamed of my service, it’s just that I don’t think I did anything spectacular or “above and beyond” so I think such congratulatory accolades should be saved for those who did more. I appreciate the appreciation from civilians, but I think it is undeserved in my case at least. Save the appreciation for those who actually did put themselves in harm’s way.