How does a veteran learn to trust again? When we are in a combat situation, we have to trust those to our left and right. Eventually, we learn to trust (at least on some level) all of those who wear our nations uniform. We may not like them as a person, but we learn to have some amount of trust that they will have our backs if the SHTF. While there will always be some numbskull that we would rather avoid at all costs, we know that we would still have their backs. So what do we do when someone we trust betrays us? Stolen Valor aside, what do we do when those we identify as a ‘battle buddy’ betray our trust in a fundamental way?
In the last year, I have lost several friends. No, they were not killed in combat. They lied to me. I’m not talking about the little white lies that we have all been guilty of from time to time. I am talking about the big lies. The kind of lies that either get the folks from Stolen Valor involved or were intended to manipulate and/or garner your sympathy…repeatedly.
We all have friends who have endured some horrendous shit in a short period of time, and those who seem to have a crappy hand dealt to them through their entire life yet somehow manage to keep their head above water. We know them, we support them the best we can, picking them up when necessary. It is part of the bond we share as brothers (and sisters) at arms. We have each other’s backs because we know no one else will fully understand the measure of what we have experienced through military service. We do this hoping and trusting that one day, if we were in need, they would unquestioningly return this honor. We are a family, for better and worse, we have each other’s backs.
When we return home, many veterans find it difficult to form that level of trust with civilians. Perhaps this is because we can’t know with the same level of certainty that they would support us the same way as our military counterparts would have done. We almost expect them to drop the ball, so it doesn’t hurt as much when they let us down. So what do we do when it’s our fellow service members who betray our trust?
Too often, I’ve seen my fellow veterans become hardened. They have lost all trust in their fellow human (military and civilian) and feel they are destined to go it alone. I have fought this battle several times in my life. Each time it gets a little harder to trust again. We, as a family, MUST make a concerted effort to reach out to our brothers and sisters. We have to know that even though we no longer wear our nation’s uniform, that we are still a part of the most prestigious fraternity in our nation. We must continue to have each other’s back. We also need to make it quite plain…there is no room for manipulation of facts or emotions. If we are to truly care for each other, we must be able to expect honesty and integrity from those we have learned to trust. Integrity is the cornerstone of what makes us honorable and trustworthy to others. It is also the one thing that cannot be taken from you; you are the one that destroys it. You are the only one who can repair it. It is something you must own, cultivate and maintain. Sometimes it can be personally painful to keep your integrity intact, but it is a cost that you must choose every time. Unlike respect, integrity is not something that you earn, it is something you must possess and exhibit in your daily activities and decisions. We all know this, it is drilled into us from the day we enlist to the day we hang up that uniform for the last time.
We should be able to trust those who are veterans just as readily as we trusted our squad, our platoon, and our fellow service members.
When we come across a veteran who has lost his integrity, we have the responsibility to each other to appropriately call them out. As a family member, they deserve nothing less from us. They need that opportunity to make things right. If, however, they choose not to fix the situation, then it falls upon us to take appropriate action. Whether that’s simply cutting slingload, or reporting them to Stolen Valor, etc. We have a responsibility to protect the rest of our family from the possible fall out.
As far as trusting again… all we can do is choose to try. Each time we are deceived or manipulated, it becomes more difficult to form that trust with another person, but we are the ones who must put forth the effort. Other members of our family do not deserve to be punished for the deception of another. Those who follow after us must be able to know that they are part of this brotherhood. We must take that step, no matter how many times we get burned. We are a family…for better and worse. We are the only ones who know the full measure of what we have endured. No civilian, no matter how well intentioned, could ever have our backs the way that we do. They are a great resource but they have not experienced the bond of being someone’s “battle buddy” and know the weight and the honor that title carries.
We need to continue to be each other’s battle buddy, we must continue to trust each other even if we trust no one else.