I am a 24-year-old veteran. I served 4 years Active Duty in the worlds greatest Navy as a Master-at-Arms, which is the Navy’s military police force. About 4 months before my separation from Active Duty, I received my acceptance letter to the University of Delaware, which allowed me to realize my dream of getting an education. After my separation, I had less than 30 days to readjust back to a normal lifestyle here in the United States after spending the last 18 months living in Bahrain.
During my freshman orientation is where I realized that there was a civilian-military divide. The orientation started with an icebreaker, during which we had to tell everyone something unique about ourselves. As my turn was approaching, I was thinking about what I could say about myself that would really make me stand out, without seeming pretentious. It was now my turn to speak and I blurted out, “About 3 weeks ago I was living in the Middle East, where I had been station in the Navy for the past 18 months.”
I was hoping my statement would elicit some conversation with some of the students so that I could have the opportunity to tell them about some of the great experiences I’d had serving. In fact, my statement did quite the opposite. The amount of blank stares spoke clearly that what I had said made some people feel uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure if they were anti-military, but that made me realize that maybe telling others that I was a veteran was not the best approach.
A while later, one of the students in the orientation asked me how it was being in the Middle East. “Well for starters, it sure was hot,” I told him. We both laughed a bit until his face turned serious as he asked, “So did you get to shoot at anyone?” I was thrown off by his question and replied, “No. That’s not really what my job entailed.” He replied and said, “Well that’s too bad. You were there for that long and didn’t even get to shoot anyone.”
This made me realize that this is the perception that I had given myself. All I did was mention that I was a veteran and that I had spent some time overseas and automatically others assumed that I had been tasked with killing people. They didn’t understand that the military was so much more than that. They didn’t realize that the military was an opportunity for me to earn the GI Bill so I could get my education. They didn’t seem care to hear about any of the good experiences that I had. They just wanted to hear about the possibility of bad ones. It was at that moment, on my first day of orientation, that I realized that the current state of civilian-military relations was not in my favor and that it was a topic that required immediate attention.
During my final year at the University, I had the privilege of meeting a group of young and ambitious ROTC cadets. They told me about the organization they had created which aimed to address the current state of alienation that I had been experiencing. After hearing them speak and watching them run from town-to-town and city-to-city, they had my attention. I was amazed at the the incredible impact that a handful of students could have on improving the perception of veterans and how civilians could be of help by just talking the time to talk to veterans about their experiences. With the help of Reviresco, I am confident that the state of this country’s civil-military divide is in fact mendable and will improve through their efforts.
Brandon Bristor, Petty Officer Second Class (ret.), United States Navy