Combat Veterans have an affinity for other Combat Veterans.
Combat defines vulnerability, and vulnerability threatens life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Vulnerability steals our peace. The result is a fight or flight response.
We learned that in combat, some people really do try to kill us. Alone, we are vulnerable to the ultimate. The only comfort in combat is the support of our comrades.
The man beside me stood willing to fight to his death to protect me. Sure, he fought for his life, also, but he did not abandon me. He had my back.
We learn these two conflicting facts in combat: Some people really are trying to kill us, and some people really are risking their lives for ours.
And for the rest of our lives, we remain obsessed with determining friend and foe.
Two Vietnam Veterans can disagree about politics, religion, music, sports, or branch of service—yet there remains a bond of trust between them that can lead them beyond all these disagreements. Of course we argue like brothers. But, we protect and support each other like brothers.
With the swiftness of jet planes, we are scattered from our comrades in arms and sent packing to our pre-trauma homes. We are immediately and irrevocably vulnerable in a dangerous world, alone. This is how our families receive us back home.
Life threatens us. It threatens our safety, our dignity, our purpose, even our identity. Without my insignia, how can anybody recognize me?
Here are two hard facts I have learned from my fellow Veterans in Dr. Hart’s PTSD Aftercare Group: Many of us pass through multiple marriages, and those of us having wives who have stuck with us from before or soon after combat seem to make faster and more complete recovery.
Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his brother (my paraphrase of John 15:13).
Greater love has no woman than she lay down her life for a Combat Veteran, and make no mistake, to endure life with a Vietnam Veteran, she had to give up much of her romantic notion of love and marriage.
(Note: It is not that I am being sexist in my discussion of Veterans and wives. It is that this is my only experience in our little group.)
Today is a good day for me—a very good day. On Valentine’s Day, it is my professional privilege to address my colleagues at Arizona Western College and Northern Arizona University—Yuma Branch Campus on a topic of my heart. I will share thoughts on things we can do for Veterans, on “Accommodating Combat Veterans in the Classroom.”
For you, I will share the secret of accommodation: We can take steps to help them manage their vulnerability. This will not only relieve some anxiety, it can literally liberate cognitive resources from the tasks of survival to the tasks of learning.
Love is the answer. It is always the answer and it is the only answer. Only love can manage vulnerability to allow faith to grow.
I will not be alone, today. A fellow Vietnam Era Veteran will be there and she will have my back. My Valentine, Nancy, a Veteran Women’s Army Corps medic, will be managing my vulnerability while I lay my heart open, sharing my story. She will be accommodating me in the classroom.
Happy Valentine’s Day.