The Combat Veteran’s Paradox

I’ve been a guest on some of the world’s top podcasts, radio and television programs. I’ve been asked to be the keynote speaker at Fortune 200 company events. I’m a national spokesman for a veteran’s charity. People line up for book signings to ask about my book and to talk about life in Special Forces. Most every person I meet thanks me for my service.

But in the eyes of the state of California, I am a menace to society and undeserving of the same rights as the person next to me in line.

This is what I refer to as the “combat veteran’s paradox,” or the current state of affairs where, on one hand, most of society dons yellow ribbons and shows their undying support for the combat veterans of the past decade, those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, who’ve suffered the tolls of war and lost too many friends in the process.

And on the other hand, the state believes those same skills and bravery that were so handy in combat zones fighting for that same state’s flag become a danger to society, causing them to strive to take away our arms, benefit of the doubt, and, yes, many times even children.

While the 22-a-day statistic is staggering and gaining much-needed attention in social media and the greater landscape of society, there is another military-related statistic that has fallen off the public radar: the military divorce rate and subsequent broken families.

It seems I find stories every day in the media, through conversations with friends or in social media of another veteran having his life torn in two by an angry spouse with full support of the state.

There was once a time when I believed every story had a logical explanation, that there must be some integral key factor that these men were leaving out to paint themselves as the victim in the story.

And then I experienced it firsthand.

I cannot explain to you how maddening it is that every friend or legal authority I tell my story to – whether it be a lawyer, police officer, or court official – responds with the same answer: “they [the court system] can’t just do that.”

In a logical world they would be correct, as I would have been in my assumptions before walking the line myself. But in today’s world, the same government whose flag we soldiers run to pick up, fight for and protect has no issues with throwing us to the wind when we need their help the most, claiming the same skills they needed when it was time for war leave us incapable of being a good father, owning weapons, or receiving the benefit of the doubt.

 

As a man who grew up in the South and spent quite a bit of time in military towns, I can attest to the masses of young girls who just “love a man in uniform.”

And when the nation is in a time of peace, it works out well for both parties.

The soldier is only gone for short-term training assignments, and may come home with some anger or resentment towards his chain of command or the system from time to time, but that is much different than the unwavering wounds of war.

But in a time of war, things are much different. It takes a truly strong woman to love a veteran – more than loving the man in uniform, more than just singing along with empowering songs or watching empowering movies, but a truly strong and amazing woman with steel in her veins.

To love a veteran is to understand that sometimes he just can’t see why your world is collapsing because they didn’t have a shirt in your color. He doesn’t understand your crying because you hurt yourself and a tiny speck of blood is momentarily on your little finger. And your power struggles at work with your arch nemesis in the next cubicle? Not on his radar of things to get worked up over.

A veteran who has walked into certain death time and time again, watched multiple friends die traumatically in their early twenties and toiled in the high desert heat while wearing a full uniform with well over a hundred pounds of gear and rucksack will have a difficult time showing empathy for your first world problems.

And in the days where everyone is a special snowflake, reality tv teaches young girls that if Kim Kardashian can be a star for nothing so can they, and filing for (and getting) a divorce is not only easier than getting married but almost just as common, these strong women quickly change the “till death do us part” portion of the marital contract to “till it gets a little tough.”

And in the eyes of the state, it’s always the veteran’s fault. While the rules state that a restraining order is a serious move (and does quite a bit of damage to one’s reputation, record and any security clearance they may have held), it is quick these days to levy one against a veteran with zero evidence, history of violence, or police record.

There are many documented cases (mine as well), where an angry spouse will perjure herself in court, contradict herself repeatedly and give no clear evidence of need, but the court will rush to file a restraining order and take the children away from a loving veteran father in favor of a proven liar because she’s angry and spiteful.

Why? Because the father is a combat veteran, and as he loves his children more than anything the state allows an angry spouse to use them as weapons against him.

And there seems to be little attempt for the court to curb this disturbing trend. Much like trial lawyers can be disbarred for frivolous lawsuits but rarely are, it seems the court system has turned a blind eye to women abusing the system (and our nation’s veterans).

The onus to write this article was not my own experience (although it was a huge mitigating factor), but several others that were so egregious I felt I had to spread them as far and wide as possible to show the gravity and scope of this epidemic.

In a veteran divorce case in Key West, Florida in 2010 attorney David L. Manz of Marathon, Florida implied that all military veterans were high risks for spousal abuse and domestic violence by virtue of their military training, which aggressively teaches them to kill and destroy.

This was not only kept on record in that case but seems to be echoed time and time again since in divorce courts around the country involving veterans, where the “innocent until proven guilty” attitude required in other court cases is thrown out of the window.

Another case in Pasadena, California involved a soldier who was deployed for a year to a combat zone. While he was deployed, his wife filed for divorce and left with their children. When he returned and petitioned for custody rights, the Pasadena Judge deemed him an unfit parent due to the year he had spent away from his kids.

It didn’t matter that it was an involuntary deployment that would have landed him in jail as a deserter if he refused; again, in the eyes of the State, the combat veteran has no rights.

In another case, a spouse filed for divorce from her disabled veteran husband because caring for him was too much of a nuisance. As a parting gift, the judge awarded her half of his disability income. You read that right – she didn’t want to help with his disability anymore, but more than gladly took the money for it.

Unfortunately, I could fill pages upon pages with examples. Last night I read another message from a fellow former Green Beret on a secret group we belong to speaking of the courts giving him the same treatment, only allowing him to see his kids in supervised visits which their mother has chosen rather frequently not to even bring the kids to.

And her punishment for contempt of court? Zero.

It’s amazing with treatment like this that anyone even wonders why we’re seeing 22 veterans commit suicide every day.

A characteristic that I’ve often written and spoken about is that while we veterans may have a gruff and solid exterior, inside each of us has more love for our families than I’ve ever seen in the civilian sector – so much that we would rush to sacrifice our lives in order to protect that which we hold so dear.

It is said that “nobody loves a warrior until the enemy is at the gate.” Our nation’s veterans have been keeping that enemy at bay for well over a decade now, but when they come home to find the only people in their lives they are supposed to trust, rely and depend on have become the enemy, how can they choose to go on?

And the fact that our nation would support the soldier by wearing a ribbon but also support a court system or angry ex-spouse that would treat our veterans like this?

That, my friends, is the combat veteran’s paradox.

Robert Patrick Lewis is a Green Beret OIF/OEF combat veteran with 10th SFG(A), an award-winning author of “The Pact” and “Love Me When I’m Gone: the true story of life, love and loss for a Green Beret in post-9/11 war” and the host of “The Green Beret MBA” on iTunes.

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soldiers, troops, war, meals, deployment

Leading by example/hot meals for troops

What Happened to Leading by Example?

            I really try not to complain just to complain, but I feel that this media provides me the ability to have a sounding board to address issues which, for some reason or another, I feel qualified to talk about, and/or see that the mainstream media isn’t honestly or accurately covering a subject.

I was reminded of something today that I heard whispers and rumors about not too long ago, but seemed to die in the wind very quickly.  Being that I haven’t been back to Afghanistan in about five years, but it looks like I may be back there very soon, this was an issue that for me, like many Americans, fell off the radar as it didn’t get much coverage.

The issue that has me all hot and bothered today is one that, when I really sit down and think about it, has many parallels into the bigger picture of how our country is being run, and by whom.  The issue that I’d like to remind everyone about and discuss today is the fact that troops in Afghanistan are no longer receiving hot breakfast or midnight chow.

I’m going to address why this is a much more important issue than say, you missing lunch breakfast because you were in a rush, but I’d like to remind you of a few things to put this in context.  In his time as President, Obama has now taken more vacations and played more rounds of golf that any former President to this point.

Congress and the Senate have made no cuts to their own pay or tax breaks (even while the Democratic politicians decry that large American CEO’s companies who pay millions in taxes aren’t paying their fair share, they haven’t made a single move to lean themselves).  There are rumors that the Obama Africa vacation (not official business, but another vacation) will cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Way to tighten the belt while so many Americans are in financial straits and hard times Mr. President.

As much as the Left likes to decry and punish hard working industrialists and business owners, I know quite a few small business owners, and several who have turned their fledgling businesses into successful behemoths (which THEY built, not the government).  Every one of these men I know who is now extremely successful is only that because they understand delayed gratification, and were able to follow the age old saying “if you can be a lean cat in fat times, you can be a fat cat in lean times.”

This means that when times got tough, they tightened their belts.  When times were great, they didn’t loosen those belts very much.  When the business was hurting, they took pay cuts before any of their workers, spent much more than 8 or 12 hours a day working, and paid for their success in blood, sweat and tears.

The old joke that all Republicans are businessmen, and all Democrats are lawyers seems to be singing quite true these days, and the fact that our country is being run by someone who’s never run anything before or had to face fiscal responsibility is showing in the way that Obama is treating the USA as a lawyer looking for padded billable hours, rather than a businessman trying to keep the ship afloat and maximize efficiency.

So even though we have the most lavishly spending President anyone can recount, a Congress and Senate who don’t pay taxes, can legally benefit from insider trading, and billions spent yearly on duplicate services because our government is “so transparent” that it doesn’t even know what its own branches are doing, we have to cut meals for our troops because we can’t afford to pay for it.

Bullshit.  The media outlets I’ve found who have reported on this story have brushed aside the important aspects of these meals, and being that most of our blue-blood journalists and politicians no longer have military service under their belt (God forbid they actually give something back to this country), they don’t understand the severity of this issue.

The two meals which have been cut may seem like no big deal to someone who’s never been downrange, so let me explain to you why breakfast or midnight chow to a soldier in Afghanistan is MUCH different than the oatmeal or breakfast bar you eat on your way to work.

Most of us here, safely at home, stateside in the USA (or wherever you call home), have a relatively normal schedule.  Even my busiest friends in the music industry like Mike Dawson or my movie producing friend Mike (man I know too many Mike’s) have at least a general time where they eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, hit the gym, talk to the family, etc.

When you’re downrange in a combat zone, all of that goes out the window for combat operators.  The support and logistics soldiers have a little bit of normalcy and routine, but when your job is hunting bad guys, time is non-existent.

In Special Forces, we had a routine called “reverse cycle,” which plays a number of tricks on your mind and body, and was probably the toughest part of a deployment.  You see, we are called “The Green Eyed Devils” because we typically do our hits (missions) in the dead of night, and the Taliban and Al Qaeda got to know us by our beards and “Green Eyes,” illuminated by our night vision goggles.

But after you put enough of a dent in a terrorist network by pulling bad guys out of beds in the middle of the night long enough, they, like all of nature adapt.  To keep on top of them and never let them know what we were doing, we would go on “reverse cycle” as often as possible, switching from all night-time hits one week to all broad daylight the next.  They all have to lie down sometime, and our goal was to get them while they were dreaming of their 72 virgins, goats, or wherever they spent their trips to la-la land.  Doing this is highly effective, but means bed time will be 10pm one week, and 10am the next, hence the name “reverse cycle.”  When your sleep schedule is reversed that drastically, imagine what happens to your eating schedule.

So now put that in context of the midnight meal that was typical on big bases which housed many Special Operations units who do these types of missions.  When you’re in the middle of a heavy combat deployment, you really do not know which day might be your last, and you have to treat every single moment like that is the day.  As such, every single meal that you eat could very well be your last; the last time you enjoy that creamy, chocolaty bite of ice cream, the salty, juicy and bloody bite of steak, or more importantly, the last time you break bread with your Brothers.

You see, this isn’t just some trivial treat, as the media and non-Veteran politicians would think and like you to believe.  For many soldiers downrange, there is no such thing as 9-5.  Special Forces, Infantry, Intel specialists, computer techs, gas pumpers….a base downrange is running 24 hours a day, which means there is a large group of people working around the clock.

When a non-Veteran politician or journalist looks at something like midnight chow, they think it must be some lavish luxury for fatties to stuff their faces with pizza and cookies if they can’t sleep.  When a combat veteran looks at something like midnight chow, we remember just how good that omelet tasted, sitting around with your Brothers, trying to crack jokes, make light and forget that in an hour you’ll be on a helicopter, headed out to a dangerous mission which one or all of you may never come home from.

I still remember the first meal after the day I was blown up and shot; too high on morphine and fentanyl to have any appetite, still couldn’t feel the fingers on my left hand, any of my arm except the screaming pain every time I moved it, I just sat around the table with my Brothers, thanking God with every breath that I was still alive.

It wasn’t until they started poking fun at me for not eating (it’s a very well known fact amongst my friends just how much I love to eat) that I decided to go back and get a plate of food, which I devoured once my brain turned on from the constant buzz I was hearing and realized just how hungry I was.  If it hadn’t been for that meal I may have never popped back out of the numbness that comes from the shock of being injured in combat, so yeah, I take meals in a combat zone pretty seriously.

There was a day when we used to cherish terms like “lead from the front” or “the buck stops here.”  We are in an era where people see fit to elect politicians based on whose going to give them the most benefits for doing the least, rather than those who have proven themselves to be capable leaders and have stood up and defended this country by donning a uniform when it was time, and we are reaping what we sow.

Remember that politics and public relations are all a game and a play on words; when you have a politician or journalist with zero military experience trying to tell you what’s best for a soldier, don’t waste your time listening; find a veteran or an active soldier and ask them, the only people who seem to have the true picture and idea of life in a warzone.

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