8 years ago, I enlisted in the Air Force
I was 21 years old, and this was one of the biggest decisions of my life.
During the enlisting process, I was told a lot of things by my recruiter. Some one could probably make a Tumblr page of crap recruiters say… cause there’s a lot of it. “You’ll see the world” is a big one.
Well. I was born in New Mexico. I was living in Texas at the time. My basic training was in Texas. My tech school was in Texas. And my first/only base was in New Mexico. I didn’t get very far on that traveling gig.
I went in with every intention of being a lifer. I’m sure a lot of us did. Some didn’t make it through basic, due to health concerns. Some didn’t make it past tech school, because they just couldn’t make the grade. Some were removed for behavioral issues. But most of us made it to our first base.
They say that first base makes all the difference. I think it’s more than the base. I think it’s the squadron.
Every year, they talk about the suicide rate in the military… and in the Veterans. Today is Veteran’s Day, and this issue is still being discussed.
I have first hand experience with why the suicide rate is so high. It’s not for lack of briefings, although that’s the first thing they ask when something happens… “do we need more briefings?” Gosh no. There’s a briefing every other month on something. Maybe it’s suicide prevention, maybe it’s sensitivity training, maybe it’s sexual assault prevention… but there’s always a briefing.
The problem is that no one takes them seriously. People walk out of the assault briefings, and turn to their buddies, purple nurple them and say “nice rack bro… hahaha it’s not assault cause you’re not a chick… chicks get offended too easily.” They walk out of suicide prevention and say things like “if you’re such a candy ass that you’re gonna threaten to kill yourself, do us a favor and just do it already.”
The military spends so much time hardening their people, and then wonders why so many of them are cruel. There’s a fine line between tough, and mean. And too many in the military cross it.
I was going through a terrible time. My ex-husband was abusive, so I got divorced. My daughter wasn’t living with me. I had no friends, and no family nearby. Before we got divorced my ex husband spent all of my money putting a down payment on a car, which he then totaled. So I had no vehicle either.
My world was crashing in around me, and I wasn’t getting any sleep. Insomnia makes everything seem worse… so they tried to put me on sleep meds. Apparently sleep meds can mess with your head too. I was up at work, drawing lines on my arm with a pair of scissors. One of my supervisors walked by and saw me. Now at this point, I should clarify… I wasn’t suicidal, but I had every right to be, and the evidence was very compelling.
Rather than following procedure, which would have been to have a chat with me, and evaluate whether I should be put in a psych hold for my own safety… he squinted his eyes and said “whoa… you probably shouldn’t do that at the front desk.”
The meds were making me so loopy that I told my boyfriend about it. His response was more like a sane, normal human being… “you were doing what?! That’s not normal… you should probably stop taking them.”
So I did… I stopped taking them, and when my head cleared, I realized how scary that really was, and I called my doctor to tell them I wouldn’t be taking those anymore.
Everyone at my shop knew what I was going through. No one reached out to see how they could help. No one offered to sit and have coffee with me. At one point I was even sick, and put on quarters (basically you’re restricted to being at home, unless you need food, or to go to the hospital), and no one checked on me to see how I was doing.
The only people who checked on me, weren’t in my squadron. And they couldn’t figure out why my squadron was so terrible.
When I separated from the military, several people who knew me said that if I’d been in any other squadron, I might have felt differently about leaving. And it’s probably true… I sang in over a dozen on and off base events during my term. One sergeant from another squadron looked over my paperwork, and when he saw what I’d been graded on my last performance evaluation, he said “If the only thing I knew about you, was that you’d sang in 2 retirement ceremonies, I’d know this grade is wrong. Because they don’t ask dirtbag Airmen to sing for retirement ceremonies.”
But I had. I’d sang in retirement ceremonies, 2 3rd of July celebrations (yes 3rd.. they leave the 4th open for families to be together), 1 change of command ceremony, 1 squadron merger ceremony, 1 volunteer appreciation ceremony, and an assortment of sporting events.
But the problem isn’t specific to that squadron. Yes other squadrons may have treated me better, but that attitude is pervasive in the military, not just my squadron, not just the Air Force.
And then our men come home, and things aren’t what they were promised to be either. You’re told “we’re your new family, we’re going to take such good care of you.” And then you get out, and it’s months before you have your appointment with the VA. Sometimes it’s over a year.
You get out, and all the jobs that you were told would be thrown at you by the virtue of you being a Veteran, now don’t want to hire you because your experience is more than they’re willing to pay for. My husband got out of the military, with 6 years of mechanic experience, and was on unemployment for over a year, because no one wanted to pay for it.
Life is hard for a Veteran. And we try not to be angry or bitter about it, because we didn’t serve for the benefits. But it’s heartbreaking to see how some of us are treated. And as annoying as it was to be on unemployment for so long, and to be waiting for our VA appointments for so long, I’m even more concerned for the Veterans who came home with a piece of them still overseas.
The good news, is that my story ends well. I’m happily married, with 5 beautiful children, and a business that I love. But today, I want to point out that unfortunately that’s not always the case. Many, many Veterans are stuck in crappy, thankless jobs. Or they’re disabled beyond the point of having a job. Many more are homeless. I can’t pass by homeless men now, without wondering if they were once a proud soldier.
I’d like to encourage you to look in your local area and see if there are any Veteran non-profits that you can help out with. There are ones that rescue shelter dogs and train them (alongside the Veterans) to be service dogs for Veterans with PTSD. There are art therapists, music therapists, dance therapists… someday I’d love to team up with my horse-crazy sister, and bring equine therapy to my local region.
I leave you with this video… the last part is a song that’s very special to me, and the first part is a little bit of the story on why it’s so special. Please enjoy!