I think we’re all lost to some extent. We wander through our lives picking up pain like suitcases, traveling with trauma, and never really opening these suitcases to fully deal with what is stored inside.
Almost every service member I’ve ever known has trauma they carry around. We hide it so well, blending the trauma in like makeup into our daily work uniform, so buffed in that sometimes we forget it is even there.
We forget until we get triggered — we forget until we remember again. And we wonder if it’s just us. We wonder if we’re the only ones that remember the faces of those we’ve lost. We wonder if we’re the only ones that suffer through the flashbacks of trauma inflected in part by the homogeneous conformity required of those in uniform.
Ever since leaving the military, Veterans Day from 2006–2016 has carried an empty meaning for me. I never told people I served because I was never prepared to answer the questions that come afterwards from civilians — “Did you ever see combat?” is usually the first one.
(An aside: Why do civilians feel like they can just ask such blatantly personal and placing questions of us when they first learn we serve? Sometimes all I wish for a simple nod — a simple acknowledgement of the uniform I once wore.)
I also never told people I served because I never felt like I fit into to any veteran’s spaces — American Legion and VFW halls are blindingly white, and well, the fortitude that is required to step into those spaces as a woman of color is something I just can’t summon. I’ve walked into one VFW hall in my time as veteran, and the looks I received from the old, tough bearded white men, were enough to tell me that I wasn’t welcome there without conforming to their standard of what a service member looked like. (For more on this, my friend and fellow vet Lindsay Church piece on her experiences as a former American Legion Post Commander is an insightful read).
2017 however, has completely changed my perspective of the veteran’s landscape. I’ve found a new platoon of veterans, battle buddies — people I’d be proud to wear the uniform with again — and people who represent the best of what America is about, because of my advocacy work.
The vets I’ve met through Veterans for American Ideals, and the vets I met at the Veteran’s Organizing Institute this past weekend are some of the best human beings I’ve ever known, and collectively, we have created a space where we can all fully exist as the multidimensional beings that we are. We’re a group of veterans that span race, class, age, sexual orientation, and beliefs. But we all value each other, the voices we have, and the stories we carry with us. We all recognize the trauma that we carry around, and we share our stories with the hope that we can heal together. And what’s most special is that each one of is here for each other as we work in our own ways to change the world.
So, on this day, I salute my platoon mates — my battle buddies — people I would have loved to serve alongside with in the military, but am so honored to know as a veteran. Let’s keep marching on, fighting the good fight, and working each day to make this world a better place. Hooah!
P.S. If you’re looking for a more inclusive and welcoming veteran’s space, check out these groups:
Minority Veterans of America — new group started by Lindsay Church and Katherine Pratt
Veterans for American Ideals — military veterans advocating for human rights
Common Defense — veterans mobilizing against Trump
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The original version of this post was shared on Arti’s Blog. Arti Walker-Peddakolta is a senior product manager, activist, microbiologist, and U.S. Army veteran. Arti advocates for the empowerment of women and underrepresented groups in STEM, and is a co-organizer of Ela Conf. Arti is also a leader with Veterans for American Ideals, a non-partisan group of military veterans that speaks out against anti-Muslim rhetoric, and advocates for refugee and immigrant rights. Find her on Twitter at @ajpeddakotla.