When the country is in danger, the military’s mission is to wreak destruction upon the enemy. It’s a harsh and bloody business, but that’s what the military’s for. As George Orwell pointed out, people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

-Richard Grenier (1993)


As kids, we played army. It was cool. We would get down in the dirt & crawl on our elbows carrying something that represented a military weapon (sometimes it was our Daisy BB gun). We hid behind trees and mounds of dirt hoping to get our heads up enough to see the enemy without giving the enemy the opportunity to shoot us. When we got our position secured we would stand up, yell, and charge while making machine gun noises. Eventually we would all be lying in the grass playing dead. Every one seems to die when playing army. After everyone made his grand final stand, we would begin to laugh and talk through our heroic battle. It was great fun. It kept us out of the house. It kept us in shape. It also kept us dirty!

I’m sure some psychiatrist could explain why young boys play army. I think it has something to do with the stray testosterone that makes it past the groin to the brain. It seems to be pretty universal. Some speculate that those who choose the military as a career are still acting out those childish urges. I think it’s different. I’m not completely sure what it is, but I don’t attribute it to childish leftovers.

Let me make one thing clear. I never served. To be perfectly honest, I never actually wanted to. Playing army was enough for me. Having someone boss you around all the time sounded like a nightmare to me! As a teen I never understood why anyone would choose to submit themselves to that environment. I dreaded signing up for the draft. I was sure my life would eventually be destroyed because some president decided he needed a bigger military. I also had no respect for those who served. I don’t know why, but I guess it wasn’t popular to show that respect. That has changed now. I hold in highest regard those who wear the uniform.

The training these men endure is nothing short of incredible. Much of the training is designed to change who they are as a person. It is designed to turn normal men into fighting machines. If the training is done correctly, these men act instinctively when surrounded by the harshest of situations. And they are placed in those situations. In times of war they must kill or be killed. It’s the way war works.

What happens to these fighting machines when they have completed their mission? What happens when they’ve been injured bad enough that they can’t continue? What happens when their minds are no longer willing to fight?

Up to this point, we have everything organized. Warriors are over there with the war. Civilians are over there in civilization. Nice and neat. That all changes when the warrior re-enters civilization.

The change of location or the change of job description does not change the facts. A warrior is a warrior. They have spent years being “Rough Men.” Most of civilization is put off by rough men.

So then, what do we do?

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. I don’t think that anyone does. If you will allow it, I’ll offer my advice.

Recognize. Be on the lookout for these rough men. They are out there in your every day life. If you pay attention you can see the signs. Many of them are proud of their service and/or their branch. You may see a bumper sticker or license plate. You may notice a hat. Sometimes it’s a tattoo. Many times it’s just obvious. Only a soldier or sailor carries himself that way. Take notice.

Say “Thank You.” These people have, at one time or another, taken an oath to replace your life with theirs. At the very least, that is worth two words.

Forgive. “Rough Men” means rough men. Their speech may be offensive. Their driving may be aggressive. It’s a side effect of their training and service. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that veterans should be given free reign. They need to do their part to merge back into civilization. Just keep in mind that the process is a long one. It took the military leadership years to harden them. It can take a good while to soften. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Support. It is an abomination what has happened to the VA. There’s no two ways about it. It’s unforgivable. No one should die waiting for care, but those who have offered their lives for us should receive the best care available. We need to get angry over this one. It’s not over. There is still corruption and waste in the VA that is diminishing care and ending lives. Unacceptable.

Understand. There’s a term that has become offensive to me. “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” This is not a disorder. This is a natural reaction of trauma. Stop treating it as a disorder and understand that it is now a part of that person’s life.

Pray. These rough men often feel as out of place in civilization as you would on a battlefield. They are expected to blend in with people who simply don’t understand their way of life or what they’ve experienced. Many of them are tortured daily by their own brains. Pray for them.

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