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Dear Veterans: Recognition Is Not A Zero Sum Game

  • 5 min read



This is the statement I posted on January 27, 2020 on many Veteran-associated pages after they re-posted the news article reporting Kobe Bryant’s death.

“Brace yourselves for the veterans that will post about how Kobe Bryant’s death shouldn’t be mourned because he didn’t die on a battlefield.” 

Oh, the hate I received!

 “Military men have done more for your pathetic life than any basketball player, keep being a grade-A douche”, said one.

“Just shut the F*** up and quit insulting veterans, you are a human piece of crap!”, screamed another. 

Here is the plot twist: I AM a military service member and veteran, so I don’t know whether to feel complimented or insulted. I served ten years in 2 branches, the Army and the Navy. I started out in December 2009, dropped out of BUD/S (SEAL training) and became a Navy Seabee before re-attempting BUD/S and failing again. I decided to try my luck with the Army, starting as an 11B Infantry Soldier then eventually graduated special operations combat medic training and became a spec-ops combat medic. I ETSed in late 2019 after two combat deployments to Afghanistan and some random European rotations in between. I am in no sense a hero, though I wish I could have done something to earn the title. I spent ten years in vain pursuit of it.

Now I notice a growing number of entitled veterans who seem to think the title is theirs by default, that a semi-weekly paycheck and a lifetime of benefits are insufficient recognition for their service. Where will America stand when half of the military/veteran community can’t handle a celebrity being mourned in their death? I’ve heard the term “Vetflake” tossed around, and I think the phrase exemplifies this type of veteran pretty accurately. 

In the word of Greta Thunberg, “How dare you!” 

Are we that repulsively entitled that everyone must talk about us 24/7? We live in a free society that admires success, wealth, glory, hard-work, and the pursuit of happiness, but we cannot accept that those who achieve those things might get attention when they die? What happened to selfless service? Why did you even join? So everyone can post about your death on Facebook? 

“Everyone is talking about Kobe’s death, but no one is talking about the dead soldiers that were blown up this week!” 

Bullshit. Everyone is talking about us. You are just too selfish and entitled to accept that not every moment is about you. We serve so other citizens have the freedom to choose for themselves what they want in life, but you get upset when they want something outside of the military? 

So, hear me out, “warriors”, for if you truly are worth the title, you will realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Kobe Bryant, one of the most famous basketball players in history, died alongside his daughter in a horrific helicopter crash. Then a bunch of Facebook vets discouraged mourning his loss, because the man didn’t die in Afghanistan. Get over yourself, dude, your meme depicting a soldier as a “hero,” with a side-by-side comparison of Bryant with the caption “not a hero” is just a little inappropriate at this time. Actually, it’s hugely inappropriate. It would be much more appropriate to extend some fundamental human decency and acknowledge that it’s actually tragic when nine people die? Maybe acknowledge the woman and kids who must lost a father, husband, sister, daughter? Maybe just don’t be a self-aggrandizing piece of shit for a minute? Maybe, just maybe, practice the stoic and soldierly virtue of maintaining your silence if you have nothing helpful to contribute? 

If the world decides that Kobe Bryant should be richer and more famous than millions of service-members, so be it. If he had some challenges and made some mistakes, and people chose to ignore them, so be it. You fought for his freedom to do so, and you should be proud of that. We will forever be collectively remembered and glorified for it. Leave it at that. Let our society mourn their sports heroes or celebrities. You’re embarrassing those who moved beyond military service. Besides, this is how being “famous” works. You get a lot of media coverage when you are alive and you get a lot of media coverage when you are dead. If you are upset about this, don’t join the military; move to Hollywood or start pursuing a sports career, and focus everything you have in pursuit of a one in a million shot. Complaining on Facebook about how people are calling the wrong people “hero” is not going to change anything. It only makes you look like a whiny, self-righteous dick. I’m sorry, PV2 Snuffy, but Kobe Bryant probably worked his ass off a little more than you to become one of the greats. 

When service members say, “America’s priorities are off,” I can’t help but laugh. Though I do agree that a large number of the general populace does not understand our country, our military, or what we sacrifice daily, America actually has a ton of respect and backing for its military and I, for one, am quite proud of it. When I hear vets complain about how no one cares about them my stomach turns. Have you been to other countries? Many nations HATE their military! In the 70’s, it wasn’t cool to thank warfighters for their service. In 2020, America LOVES its military! It is socially unacceptable to speak ill of our military or service-members. Society will crucify you if you commit such atrocity! That is awesome! I love the fact that our nation loves its defenders. At the same time, it creates an entitlement within the military community that make service-members think they must be honored, everywhere, all the time. Thanks for your service bud, but millions have gone before you and lost much more and didn’t ask for half the glory that you demand. 

Personally, I am ashamed that I even need to write this essay. When I joined in 2009, I wanted one thing: to fight for my country. I cared not about pay or benefits. I wanted to be a war-fighter to its fullest definition. I wanted to fight for what I believed in and defend those who couldn’t or wouldn’t fight for themselves. With the new recruiting ads and promotions targeting people to join as an alternative to college; to get free schooling and a stable job, maybe it is no surprise that the notion of selfless service is dissipating. It appears only a small percentage of people in service even realize that this is a thing. If that’s you, go ahead and steal your glory from another man’s death. It is probably the most accomplished you will ever feel. But your legacy does not end with the DD214. You still have much to offer beyond the uniform. Your rank and MOS does not define you, it is simply a job you performed and can rightfully be proud of. 

If you still believe in the uniquely American tradition of the citizen-soldier serving the nation in a time of need, have the humility, compassion, and common-sense to realize that you do not need to chastise others for mourning the death of people who inspire them. 

Perhaps the solution is for you to better exemplify citizen worthy of respect? Be the man or woman you envision yourself as. Be a fighter. Be a symbol. Be the one that inspires a nation. 

Or… just shut the fuck up. 

Jeff mitchell is a business owner/entrepeneur residing near Ft Bragg, NC. He is a former petty officer in the Navy Seabees and then served as an Army special operations combat medic. Cash him outside, how bout dah?