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.

ShareShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someone

American Sniper Movie Review (and my own personal sentiments)

I couldn’t be more proud of all the accomplishments veterans and especially members of the SOF community have made during the past decade, both in and out of uniform. I’ve seen various spats between other vets working their way towards success in the public eye for books, movies, websites, podcasts, etc, and I can’t help but hang my head in shame a bit every time I see that.

As my former Green Beret Brother, close friend and 18D course classmate Klint Janulis (who now has a reality show on the BBC and is working towards his PhD at Oxford) loves to say, “a rising tide lifts all ships,” in respect to those of us who have formed alliances outside of our time in uniform to help each other with our pet projects.

I myself am part of a group called “The Military Media Mafia,” comprised of book publishers, magazine publishers, and a radio network. All of veterans, by veterans, and for, well, anybody who loves veterans and wants to hear what we have to say.

I do everything I can to support other veteran projects, and as such I found myself with a little free time one day last week, so my girlfriend and I decided to take ourselves to see “American Sniper.”

Before I get started I have to admit that I have not read the book, and as a veteran author I know that makes me a bad person! But, in all respect, I’ve just finished writing my second (“The Pact,” available next week through Tactical 16 publishing), and try to stay away from reading other military works while writing my own so as not to subconsciously plagiarize in any way, shape or form.

With that out of the way…I loved this movie. There are people who complain about the fact that the book was written by two ghostwriters, which took it a few steps away from Chris Kyle’s own words, and the screenplay was then written by another non-veteran Hollywood type, taking it another step away from reality. But all in all this movie captured things that no other war movie on the OIF/OEF conflicts ever have.

There are only two movies I’ve seen on our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan which have done those conflicts the justice of reality, and those films are Restrepo (an amazing documentary I suggest everyone see) and now American Sniper.

I loved Restrepo because it showed the reality of warfighters in Afghanistan and the real face of war that visiting politicians, generals, celebrities on USO tours and journalists who hide behind the Green Zone hardly ever see.

Living in the dirt, daily firefights/mortar/rocket attacks, living on whatever food you can scrounge and a shower every month or so. That was my Afghanistan, and while many who spent their time in Kabul, Bagram or Helmand never lived that, I know my Brothers and I sure did.

American Sniper shows another side of war that Restrepo touched on, but took it to a whole new level. Academics have pondered the causes and effects of PTSD since the Vietnam war, and while the books “On Killing” and “On Combat” by LtCol Dave Grossman (a must read for anyone who loves and wants to understand a combat veteran) were the first to address this in an academic sense, American Sniper was the first I’ve seen to truly address it in the public eye.

This movie portrayed the following in such great and vivid detail that I found myself shedding tears throughout the movie; thankfully we were all alone in the Town Center theatre at the matinee showing, and thankfully Natalie knows me well enough that she didn’t have to ask why. It wasn’t a particularly sad part of the movie, but several that were glaringly familiar to my life and experiences in war and at home.

Being in Special Operations, both the SEAL teams that Kyle was a part of and Operational Detachments-Alpha (ODA’s) that I was a part of have the privilege of going after extremely High Value Targets (HVT’s) while we are at war. A thing that separates us from other units is that we don’t just go get the bad guys; we study them, learn their patterns, the bad things they’ve done, and get inside of their heads.

In doing so we see the darkest depths of the human soul, and levels of depravity no man should ever have to know exists in the world. Kyle was criticized in the public eye from many fronts by calling the Iraqi’s “savages” multiple times, but those of us who have been in that community and on those missions know exactly what he was talking about.

Sometimes we get the bad guys, and for us it’s a happy ending. We target, find, locate and kill or capture people that do despicable things to other human beings, and the world is a safer place.

Other times, however, we spend all of that time preparing to get the bad guys, and as American Sniper showcases in his hunt for “the butcher” on his first tour, we return home without the satisfaction of introducing them to a prison cell or their maker.

The toll this takes on your psyche is difficult to describe, and as a parent it keeps you awake at night, knowing that your tour ended before you could get this evil human being, that he’s still out there, and that there is a chance, albeit a small one, that evil could come here to our shores and harm our families and countrymen.

Another aspect of war that is excellently showcased in this movie was that of the time between deployments. Kyle and I were both members of the “four deployments” club, and while his were all in Iraq, mine were hopping back and forth between Iraq and Afghanistan, so at least I had the pleasure of changes in scenery!

A part of multiple deployments that is difficult to describe and even harder to understand is the feeling that you don’t “belong” home. It defies all logic, but makes perfect sense to we combat veterans.

We know we’ll be miserable back in Iraq or Afghanistan, that the food is horrible, we’ll rarely eat, sleep or shower, and only get to talk to our loved ones via satellite phone or shoddy internet connection occasionally.

But despite all of those truths, we know that our place is there. We know that we are the Sheepdogs, and that it is our place in life to protect those who need our protection. As the Green Beret motto goes, “De Oppresso Liber: To Free the Oppressed.”

Although it is amazing to be back home, in the comfort of our bed, hopefully wrapped in the arms of loved ones, there is an emptiness in our souls knowing that other Americans are in harms way and we are sitting comfortably at home.

Veterans are respected by our country for our selfless service, but it is that very same selflessness that keeps us awake at night, feeling guilty for allowing ourselves a break from the horrors of war.

I don’t want to give too much of the movie away, but I felt that with all of the other people in the country weighing in, veterans or not, I had to give my two cents. This movie was extremely gratifying from an entertainment perspective, and extremely honest from a Special Forces combat veteran perspective.

I highly suggest that everyone see it, especially those of you who know and/or love a combat veteran. There are certain things they just can’t tell you, not because of security clearances, but because of our own walls, barriers, and unwillingness to bring our knowledge of the darkest depths of human depravity back to our own shores.

Go see this movie, enjoy it for the entertainment, but learn something about the veterans around you, what they’ve gone through, what they’re dealing with, and why sometimes they just need a little time to themselves after coming home.

http://www.americansnipermovie.com/

ShareShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someone